I’m waking up in a soft, plush bed at Bahia Principe Ambar Green Hotel & Resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, after a glorious nine hours of sleep. So I should be well-rested and raring to go for today’s workout. But as I sit up amongst the crisp white pillows, I immediately notice one thing: My neck is hella sore. And it’s not because I slept funny or got a crick in my neck from the flight over. It’s because the day before, I spent hours tossing my hair over and over, learning the art of a sexy hair flip. Or, as the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders call it, hair-ography.
This, my friends, is a crucial part of cheerleading training, and it’s one I definitely was not expecting. “I never expected it either when I first started, and it’s funny because you never really think about your neck being sore,” says Sage Cifaloglio, the 26-year-old co-captain of the Eagles cheer squad. “But it takes effort to flip all of your hair around. I still don’t think my neck is used to it after all these years.” (She’s been doing this for six seasons.)
When I signed up to sweat with this group of 35 women, who were on location for their annual calendar photoshoot, I knew that I would be attending plenty of dance practices, stretch sessions, and yoga classes. And I wasn’t worried—I work out regularly, and while I don’t have a dance background, I figured I’ve attended enough 305 Fitness classes that I could pull through without a problem. But honestly, this neck thing threw me. I’ve seen cheerleaders do plenty of hair flips on the sidelines of football games, but it’s always so quick that I didn’t think they were a big deal. But just like anything else you do 50 times over, a tiny little hair flip can get the best of you. And it certainly got to me.
So rather than hop out of bed and simply step into my sneakers like I usually do, I took a few minutes to roll my neck around and slowly give it a few stretches. Over the next few days, I’d learn that’s another crucial element to being a success on the Eagles squad. “We warm up every single practice for at least 30 minutes. That’s how important it is,” says Victoria Caruso, 22, the other co-captain. “And we’re always encouraged to stretch more when we get home, to make sure our bodies stay loose and ready for the next day.” (Dance your way fit with Women’s Health’s High-Intensity Dance Cardio, the first-ever socanomics DVD!)
Curious about what else it takes to be a part of the Eagles squad? Here’s what I found out.
When Sage and Victoria first started teaching me a hair flip, I thought it’d be pretty simple to pick up. Step 1: Flip hair over. Step 2: Flip hair back. Done—right?
Not so much. First, the hair flip down requires you to engage your core, stagger your steps, and gently bend your knees. Then, you shake your chest while flipping your hair over, bending your knees until you’re basically in a half-lunge. And you can’t forget to bring your arms out to your sides—remember, pom poms are in hand. Then, to flip back, you straighten your legs, keep shimmying your chest, and flick your chin hard up toward the sky. That last part is key—if you don’t, your hair won’t make it back up and over, and instead you’ll look like this.
When I wasn’t learning to whip my hair back and forth—and practicing it over and over in my hotel room—Sage and Victoria were teaching me bumps, or 18-24 counts of a dance routine that’s performed on the sidelines while the game is in play. As I progressed through each eight-count of moves, I realized how relaxed I needed to be so that my movements could seamlessly flow from one to the next. “You’re too stiff, don’t be afraid to loosen up!” Sage kept telling me. “Come on, you’ve got sass!” echoed Victoria. Their encouragement made me feel like I was in a safe space to really go for it—after all, if you don’t believe it, nobody in the stands will—and by the end, I was swinging, shaking, and swaying my hips more than I ever have in my life.