SOUTH SURREY â€” What does it take to become a Felion? Just ask Alexandra Severyn, the cheer team’s dance co-ordinator for the last 10 years. A former Felion herself, she knows the B.C. Lions’ dancers needs more than flashy moves and bright smiles to excite a sold-out B.C. Place.
"You have to have some kind of enthusiasm that we see," said Severyn during the team’s weekly rehearsal at the Steve Nash Sports Club in Morgan Crossing. "There are hundreds of girls who audition, and you need to separate yourself from the girl next to you.
"It’s kind of silly to say, but it is that sparkle."
This year’s crop of 40 dancers was picked from more than 120 auditions in March. Most are new but some are repeats, like Madison Grist of Surrey, who’s on her second year with the orange-clad team.
"I wanted to continue my dance training once my degree was done," said Grist, who was previously the president of the UBC Dance Team.
"I saw an outlet with the Felions and I’ve been here ever since.
"It’s been nice stepping into it with a little more confidence. We’re learning routines faster, getting them down stronger and quicker, and I think that will translate when you see the final product at the games."
Of course, the routines are new to Nicole Fabbi, one of the fresh faces of the Felions. She assisted in running the auditions this year, then tried out and made the cut.
"It can be a little overwhelming – there’s a lot of choreography," she said. "But it’s been a lot of fun so far."
They’ve spent the last nine weeks honing their techniques in time for the Lions’ first pre-season game. The Felions pride themselves on their high-calibre dance abilities that set them apart from other cheer teams in the CFL.
"Some of the other cheer teams across Canada are just that, cheer teams," said Severyn. "They do stunting, verbal cheers – we don’t do any of that. When someone goes to a Lions game and they watch our girls, they can tell that they’re technically trained."
They perform four routines on the field at each game, plus 20 to 40 "adlibs" on the sidelines. Every week is a new routine in rehearsals and they only have a few hours to get it down before the next one.
"It’s a lot of pressure, but they know that coming into it," said Severyn.
The Felions aren’t your stereotypical ditzy cheerleaders: Grist has an Honours Bachelor of Science in Biology and studies endocrinology in a behavioural neuroscience lab while also working for Lululemon, and Fabbi graduated university, went through SFU’s Professional Development Program, and is now a school teacher by day and a dance teacher in the afternoons and on weekends.
"A lot of girls are university-educated or are in university or have career jobs – they’re doing this as an outlet to make new friends, to meet new people, to keep up their physical activity," Severyn said.
"I think we all, generally, are either in school or working two or three jobs and doing Felions on top of it, and fitting in our dance training on the side," added Grist.
And that hard work pays off when the Felions enter the stadium to the roar of the crowd, about to blow the retractable roof off the building.
"It’s impossible not to smile," Grist said. "You step on the field and you can feel the energy from the fans."
Even with the Grey Cup in Vancouver this year, Grist said she’s really looking forward to the Lions facing one particular team.
"I always look forward to the Roughriders game – the energy in the stadium at that game is so exciting," she said.
"I’m just looking forward to the first game," said Fabbi, "because I’m not quite sure what to expect."