Sainsation more than a dancer
Published: Thursday, October 14, 2004
Updated: Sunday, December 14, 2008 15:12
Like most people in southern Louisiana, Loyola communications senior and third year Saintsations veteran Mandy Schexnaydre grew up watching New Orleans Saints games. But unlike most of those watching, she wasn't watching for the football, she was checking to see what the Saintsations were doing, what music they were dancing to and what they were wearing.
Schexnaydre knew she wanted to be part of the Saints cheerleading squad at a young age. She started dancing when she was 2 years old and hasn't stopped since. There wasn't a Junior Saintsations program when she was young, but she did get to dance in the Superdome with the Saintsations when the NFL cheerleaders invited her high school dance team. Schexnaydre was on the Desterhan High School dance team for four years. For two years she served as a lieutenant, and her senior year she was line captain of the Desty Darlings.
Auditions were no mystery to Schexnaydre, even her first time at age 18. When she was too young to be on stage herself, she and her mom would go to watch the final day of auditions, which are open to the public.
Hopes for becoming a Saintsation were a big factor in Schexnaydre's decision to stay in New Orleans and attend Loyola. There was a lot of pressure to make the team in 2001,
but she knew that she could always come back the next year to try out.
Saintsation auditions are highly competitive and take into account more than looks and dancing abilities. For three weeks the contestants go through photo shoots, interviews and testing. They are weighed, measured and asked impromptu questions. The tests range from NFL knowledge to current events.
The squad is not owned by the Saints but by American All-Star, Inc. The organization looks for a professional group of women to represent the Saints at press conferences, charity events and other public appearances.
Dancing for the Saintsations Schexnaydre gets paid to do what she loves to do: dance. She is also paid for other Saintsation public appearances outside of charity events.
The Saintsations have to reaudition every year, and Schexnaydre said she is more nervous now that she has been on the squad.
"It doesn't become easier because now it's something you can take away from me, and before I didn't know what it was like," Schexnaydre said.
She has kept her tenure as a Saintsation every year since she first auditioned. The longest she can think of a Saintsation being on the team is eight years. Auditioning every year, she said, keeps members on their toes.
Being a Saintsation is a lot to keep up with. The 32 women have to try out to be on the field each week that there is a home game. They have to remember 10 routines as well as choreographed moves to the music that will play in the Superdome.
The women also have more than 10 uniforms that the Web site, www.saintsations.org, says is a precedent in the NFL. The site even claims that it was the Saintsations team that began the idea of changing uniforms at halftime in order to create a different look.
The Saintsations, like any NFL cheerleader squad, don't travel with the team on away games. They are even contracted not to fraternize with the Saints players to maintain an image of professionalism.
Schexnaydre said she respects all the women who dance with her because they all balance their responsibilities to the Saintsations with either a full-time job or full-time school.
"They are a very successful group of women with admirable jobs," she said.
Schexnaydre has juggled her Saintsation duties with other responsibilities since her first semester at Loyola. She is set to graduate in May 2005 with a bachelor's of arts degree in broadcast journalism. Every day after school she works as a nanny for three children, and every Tuesday and Thursday she goes to Saintsations practice for three hours. She is also the social director for her sorority, Delta Gamma.
"Saintsations is helping me with my career because I get to meet a lot of people, and I have a lot to put on my resume now," she said.
On her padded resume, Schexnaydre is a finalist for Fear Factor and works as a Live Web Cam host on Bourbon Street for www.nola.com. She is also featured in the Saintsation 2004 and 2005 calendars. UPN Channel 54 produced a special each year during the making of the calendars called Cheerleaders in Paradise and Saintsations II: Back to Paradise. On both shoots, Schexnaydre said she was able to use her knowledge from her broadcast classes to help out with the studio equipment.
Even though she will be moving on from Loyola soon, Schexnaydre said she's not ready to give up being a Saintsation.
"I'd like to do it for a few more years," she said.
Gigi Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.