It's an average Wednesday night at the D.C. Armory across from RFK stadium. Thirty-three young women in brief costumes, glossy tights and white boots are shimmying and shaking to the music of the Pointer Sisters. Choreographer Betty Johnson is sitting in a lawn chair reviewing the troupe. Dick Garrison, owner and director of the group, stands in the midst of all these gyrating bodies, watching the assistant choreographers put the dancers through their paces.
The Redskinettes, cheerleaders for the Washington Redskins, are practicing their half-time routine for today's game against Dallas. They are also breaking in their new cheerleading uniforms, which will be worn on the field for the first time today.
The Redskinettes have been searching for a new uniform since Super Bowl XVII. John Kent Cooke, son of Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, went looking for a company that would design the outfits, and his search ended with Jantzen. The new one-piece burgundy suits -- less than a yard of skin-hugging Lycra spandex -- are trimmed with gold lacing up the front and down the back and come with burgundy flared shorts, a wrap skirt and a velour warm-up suit. The Redskinettes say they like it.
Can this be considered ammunition against the highly rated Dallas Cowgirls? "We don't know them," they said, emerging from the Armory's restroom after wriggling into their new suits. They do consider the new uniform "nice" and "shiny." If there is any question about the fit, they say, "Ask Dick" -- meaning Garrison -- "he'll know."
"C'mon! Get in here and learn the end of this routine," Garrison calls to several cheerleaders who are concerned about whether they are size 6 or 8.
The Redskinettes have a crew that comes in to lay down chalk lines on the Armory floor so the cheerleaders will know where to stand later on the gridiron. "The guys come in faithfully every Wednesday night," says Carol Duvall, director of publicity for the squad. "They don't seem to mind simply sitting around watching."
Even the band members, who work closely with the cheerleaders, show up early for practice.
Every season, a new entrance into the stadium and new sideline cheers are choreographed with the latest music and dance steps. There is a lot to learn, and this year almost half the squad is new. But there are veterans as well. Johnson became a Redskinette in 1962, when the squad was formed as the first in the NFL. Duvall marched for 10 years before switching to publicity four years ago.
Many in the group have backgrounds in dance, baton twirling, cheerleading and body building. Yet behind these well-tuned bodies and flashy smiles are nurses, secretaries, models, travel agents, administrative assistants, college students. The average age is 22.
"This is the farthest many of these girls can go as dancers," says Duvall. "They love the crowd and they love the team, though it's not the best way to see the game. They are there to work, to entertain the fans and to help the team."
If a Redskinette doesn't know much about the game when she starts, she can't help picking it up on the job. "And of course, there's always husbands, boyfriends and fathers to fill them in," Duvall laughs.