The NFL is finally back in London, yay!
This weekend, the Raiders take on the Seahawks at the home of football, Wembley stadium and we're going to be in for a treat. Not only is Marshawn Lynch going up against his old team for the first time, but UK fans get to see Russell Wilson in action as two of the NFL's most famous teams go head-to-head.
The Raiders have another weapon in their arsenal, not just Beast Mode. Joining them in London are the Raiderettes, the franchise's cheerleading squad, who'll be getting the crowd hyped and putting on a show. We wanted to learn more about the wild world of being an NFL cheerleader, so chatted with Kara - the Raiderettes Line 2 captain - to hear all about it and how she became a cheerleader in the NFL.
GMS: Hi Kara, how’s London and the jet-lag treating you?
Kara: It’s been good, and I’m rested. We’ve finally powered through the jet-lag, after landing at 7am we stayed up all day yesterday so I’m good now.
And London… I love it here! I came to London in 2016 and felt at home. I know it’s weird to say, but I felt more like myself here than in the United States. In public, the way people behave and how the population treats each other is fantastic. I love London and I’m so happy to be back.
GMS: Amazing, we do our best and I’m glad you like it here. So… what’s your story? How did you get here and become a Raiderette?
Kara: Going all the way back, my dance and cheer career started before I was age appropriate to even dance. My big sister danced when she was 6 and my mom used to take me to her ballet class. I was 3 and would dance around in the back trying to follow her haha.
I stuck with it and danced in high school competitively on a nationally-ranked dance team. I danced in college for a competitive hip-hop team and before I left UCLA I started a contemporary dance company that’s now in its 7th season. It’s student-run and they’re still dancing to this day.
I also taught some classes, where we taught dance class up and down the west coast of the US.
But I’d never picked up a pom-pom in my life. I was never a cheerleader, I always danced. So you can imagine my surprise at an NFL cheer audition when they handed me the pompon and I had no idea how to hold it or what any of the techniques were at all. I had some quick lessons and four years later, I’m very happy I’m in the industry.
GMS: So what made you want to try out to become a cheerleader?
Kara: It’s tough to pinpoint an exact moment, but growing you idolize those women who appear to have it all. And that’s what NFL cheerleaders were to me, beauty, brains, confidence, dance abilities and talent. They just seemed so put together and growing up as a dancer, I knew the value of working as a team.
Being an NFL cheerleader pulls all those together. Being an exceptional woman, an exceptional athlete and an exceptional teammate.
It’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
GMS: I read an interview where a former cheerleader called the job empowering for her, is that the same for you?
Kara: Absolutely it’s empowering. It takes a lot of confidence to put on a crop top and perform in front of thousands of people in front of you and millions at home. There’s nothing quite like being on the sidelines after a touchdown, with the camera red light turned on and you know you’re sharing that moment with millions of people and representing the Raiders when you do it.
Being on the sidelines and having that confidence to do it is very empowering.
I’m surrounded by some truly exceptional women in the squad, women who have excelled in their careers and personal lives and have command over their goals and dreams. Being around them, you find your own power inside you.
It pushes you to be powerful.
GMS: That’s incredible. What’s your weekly schedule look like? What sacrifices have you had to make?
Kara: I work full-time in Sacramento, at an agency, working 8-5. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, though, I finish early at 4pm and arrive in Oakland at 6:30. We dance for three hours so usually finish at 9:30 and then I make it home at 11:30 at night. Then do it all again on Wednesday.
We also have rehearsals on Saturday morning at 7:30. So you’ve got hair and makeup on running laps at that time in the morning, and that’s every Saturday for 8-9 months depending on the season. No weeks off, unless it’s a national holiday.
It really is a demanding schedule, driving four to five hour round trips twice a week for a three-hour rehearsal. It's a lot of commitment and commuting but there’s no other group I’d want to dance for.
It’s what I want and it’s a blessing to be this busy.
GMS: What’s your favourite story or memory from your time as a Raiderette so far?
Kara: One that comes to mind, is last year we had a chance to go to Mexico City for the International Game in Mexico. In advance of the game, I was selected to lead a cheer clinic in Zocalo Plaza - which is the third largest public square in the world.
I had the opportunity to teach hundreds of school-aged kids in Zocalo Plaza and I will never forget what it looked like. There was a microphone in my hand, cameras all around, hundreds of parents in the bleachers, and a giant Mexican flag against a backdrop of all these amazing historical buildings.
I had to take a moment to just realize how amazing this was and how I’m on the microphone, speaking Spanish to children and strangers, in one of the most fantastic places in the World. That was a highlight.
GMS: That’s amazing to know there’s more to it than just standing on the sideline, dancing in a stadium. It’s good to get that out there.
Kara: Exactly. It’s not often you get to make jokes, in local slang, with a bunch of students in a place you’re not from. It’s truly incredible I got to do that with this organization.
GMS: So, what are your plans for the next few days? Will you be out and about?
Kara: Well, we’ve got a variety of appearances. I know we’re going to be heading out to a couple of schools in London. Not sure what neighborhood but we’re looking forward to meeting the students and putting on a cheer clinic out here.
I believe we’ll also be at a fan fest, so football fans and Raider fans can come see us and get autographs and pictures.
GMS: And finally, do you have anything special planned for the UK Crowd on Sunday?
Kara: We have certainly prepared something very exciting for halftime and pre-game. Jess Glynne is going to be performing and we’re looking forward to having the opportunity to share a bit of space with her.
We do have something special for half-time, but I can’t divulge it yet. You’ll just have to wait and see.
GMS: Sounds amazing. We can’t wait. Thank you very much for speaking to us Kara, have a great time in London.
Kara: Thank you. It was really great to chat.
The Oakland Raiderettes are in London for the Oakland Raiders vs Seattle Seahawks NFL game at Wembley this Sunday, live on BBC Two and Sky Sports, kick-off 6pm.