Monday, 8 February 2010

Go Dolphins!

Here's my article that went in the Times on Saturday (Feb 6th 2010) about working out with the cheerleaders of the Miami Dolphins. I think I'll leave it to the pros.

Cheerleading with the Miami Dolphins

A holiday to Florida where you shake your stuff and meet fit new people? Come and join the Super Bowl’s finest

She’s lying. I know she is. Helped by worryingly bright incisors, ludicrously long legs and a taut, tanned tummy, the blonde in the micro miniskirt is spinning me a line.

I’ve just tried out with the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders, ruining their sizzling, high-energy dance routine with a shambolic, stumbling, uncoordinated performance. “Good job, Will!” says Miss Congeniality, in the same way you might lavish praise on a toddler finishing a yoghurt.

So I’m not giving up the day job. Yet. But if you’re going to bust some all-American high kicks and booty shakes, now really is the time. Super Bowl XLIV — America’s heavyweight answer to the FA Cup Final with extra chicken wings and razzmatazz — touches down in Miami tomorrow night when the New Orleans Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts, and a Florida holiday could give you the perfect chance to meet the players, wiggle like a cheerleader and, if you’re there from September to February, take in a Sunday afternoon pro game.

It’s why I find myself — along with my natural English sense of rhythm — at the Dolphins’ training ground near Fort Lauderdale. Anyone can gain access to the sportsmen at pre-season summer training camps, while, from February to April, wannabe cheerleaders can join in hour-long dance classes at the exact spot where the Dolphins’ gals train — and it costs only $20 (£12). And ladies, if you’re good enough, according to the myth, you’ll be considered for the squad.

When I stepped inside the cheerleaders’ training room, three rows of miniskirted young women were tossing their hair and thrusting their pom-poms in time to Pitbull, never losing their smile. “Uno, dos, tres, quatro,” he crooned. “I know you want me, I know I want you . . .”

Emily Newton, the cheerleaders’ coordinator and director, invited me to join in. Either everyone needed cheering up or it was national “make fun of a limey” day. Michael Jackson was on the sound system, enouraging us not to stop till we got enough. The women high-kicked, while I just looked like an arthritic old labrador on a one-way trip to the vet. I moved right as they moved left, and I shimmied when I should have sashayed. Being American, they were all too polite to laugh — at least in public.

All are volunteers with other jobs. Missy is in medical sales, Kelly is training to be a concierge, Melissa is an elementary school teacher, Fabiola a marketing rep, and Ariana and Monica are students at a local college. “We practise three times a week for three hours, and we eat right,” Melissa told me, explaining their rigorous fitness regimen. She wasn’t kidding — I’ve seen more fat on a throat lozenge. “But we like to party too,” Missy said. “We all go out in South Beach, hang out at clubs like Liv at Fontainbleau,” she said, referring to the revamped hotel on Collins Avenue, a favourite Rat Pack hangout in the 1960s.

I met Vernon Carey and Yeremiah Bell, two of the Dolphins’ star players, hoping to ask for tips on what to watch out for during the big game. But they had been training hard and in the humid Florida heat seemed in little mood to chat. Since Carey is almost 26 stone (163kg), I wasn’t going to push my luck, let alone launch my back-up questions: “Why does American football keep stopping the whole time?” and “Why do you wear so much padding when our rugby players don’t?”

Bell did tell me that he enjoyed eating out at Prime 112 on Ocean Drive (where Kobe beef hot dogs go for $25 and the 20oz New York strip will give you a few bucks change from $60) and Joe’s Stone Crab on Washington Avenue, where a pound and a half of “Killer King Crab Claws”, served chilled, steamed or grilled, costs $50.

I saw the lads in action on Sunday, when they and their team-mates took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A football game makes a great afternoon out for anyone on holiday in southern Florida. The first thing that struck me was the number of families and children, mostly dolled up in green and orange, the Dolphins’ colours. The car park was full with people enjoying pre-kick-off “tailgate” picnics, while inside the stadium bands played and a huge American flag was unfurled across the field to salute the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Flames shot into the air beside the stands, fireworks exploded and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA filled the air.

The kick-off whistle blew and the teams tore into each other. “Think of it as a war,” said a friendly man on my right using words such as off-ence and dee-fence. “They’re trying to capture territory and the ball is their weapon,” he said. “After this you can teach me cricket.”

The play seemed to stop an awful lot over the next few hours and watching the passionate crowd was as much fun as seeing what was going on on the pitch, sorry, field. But then the players would be off again, hurtling into each other, throwing the ball high through the air before grinding to another halt. The crowd would groan and roar and holler some more, so I shouted with them and ate hot dogs, lapped up the sun and resisted the urge to buy a $35 baseball cap.

In the end the Dolphins won 25-23, with a late surge that sent the Buccaneers home to swash their bucklers another day. Like so much about America, it seemed familiar yet somewhat alien, a warming slice of mom’s apple pie for the soul.

Need to know

Getting there Virgin Holidays (0844 5732460, offers seven nights’ B&B at the Gansevoort South hotel with flights from Heathrow and private transfers from £1,099pp (two sharing).

Where to stay
This year new hotels set to open in Miami include the Dream South Beach, Tempo Miami, Soho Beach House, Beaux Arts Miami and the JW Marriot Marquis. See for more information.

For more information The American Football season runs from September to January, with training camps accessible to the public in July. For more information on tickets and the cheerleaders see and