Gunderman takes the passion for cheerleading to new heights

Born in Guilford, Allyson Gunderman fell in love with cheerleading at a young age and is now fulfilling her dream of becoming an NFL cheerleader for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Photo courtesy of Allyson Gunderman

It’s not every day you hear that someone from a Connecticut town is on a professional National Football League (NFL) cheerleading team. Born in Guilford, Allyson Gunderman has proven that anything is possible.

Allyson started cheerleading when she was in sixth grade, and after many years of hard work and dedication, she is now part of the Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleading team. Allyson started learning the necessary basics of cheerleading when she was three years old when she took dance lessons.

“I have been taking dance classes since I was 3 years old and am grateful to have had many dance opportunities and experiences in the studios I have visited in Guilford. I competed, performed in Disney’s Main Street Parade, and danced in New York City while I was in high school,” says Allyson. “Dance has always been my happy place and my stress relief. On days when I had a bad day and had loads of homework to do, I would love to go dancing.”

Allyson graduated from Guilford High School and then attended Hofstra University. She continued to dance in Hofstra’s club team and graduated in Mathematics. After graduation, she realized that dancing was still her true passion.

“I moved to the DC area and realized I didn’t want to stop dancing, so I continued taking classes and working on auditions for professional teams,” says Allyson. “I earned a spot on the Baltimore Blast cheerleading squad, cheering for Baltimore’s Major Arena Soccer League team.”

The Baltimore Blast Cheerleaders are coached by director Liz Guaraldo, who is entering her 16th year as head coach. Guaraldo knew Allyson had a lot of talent when she first earned her spot on the team and knew she had the drive to go far in the sport.

“Ally is a technically very good dancer. When she auditioned, I saw she had technique. What she lacked was performance quality,” says Guaraldo. “As we traveled through the audition process, she immediately applied feedback, practiced alongside it, and asked several veterans for help perfecting our style for the team before the audition.”

Allyson was a member of the Baltimore Blast Cheerleaders for a year and was able to grow enormously.

“There I was able to grow as a dancer, performer and human being. I’ve learned from some of the most incredible people I’ve met in the professional cheerleading world,” said Allyson. “Their support gave me the confidence to audition for the Jacksonville Jaguars last spring.”

Guaraldo says she takes pride in seeing her dancers grow and helps provide them with the tools they need to reach the next level.

“I’m asking all girls to announce which teams they’re auditioning for to put them in touch with the right people, whether that’s a team director or girls I know,” said coach Guaraldo. “I also like to engage choreographers to imitate that dance style and expose it to it. I run my program so that when girls become NFL teams, it’s like a seamless transition.

After Allyson made the Baltimore Blast team, she performed in front of about 5,000 people whenever there was a game at the stadium. That notoriety — and using the word “no” as a motivation to succeed — has helped Allyson throughout her career.

“The hardest thing for me and other girls trying to make an NFL team is turning that ‘no’ around, accepting it and realizing that the no might not mean you might not make it,” says Allyson. “It means it might not be the right fit right now with that coach or the style the team is going with that year. That’s okay, because it means you can keep working towards it and your hard work will pay off.”

For Allyson, her hard work actually paid off, as she eventually auditioned and landed a spot on the Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleading squad.

If you are auditioning for an NFL cheerleading team, auditions take place in May. Thereafter, the team practices throughout the summer and preseason games, regular season, and off-season. When the team is not practicing, it is often asked to perform at various events during the off-season.

“We also still do out-of-season gigs related to the Jaguars Foundation and can practice when asked to perform,” says Allyson. “Usually we perform for the Jaguars design party in April, so we still have events until the next auditions.”

One of the biggest problems with being an NFL cheerleader, and often an unknown fact to the public, is that it’s a part-time job. For Allyson, this means taking on other jobs in various capacities to make ends meet.

“I am currently working several freelance jobs. I work as a florist for Florida weddings, and the florist I work for is amazing,” says Allyson. “A lot of it is also time management, because most of my work is in the evenings when people are off work.”

Despite working multiple jobs, Allyson points out that her main focus is performing with the Jaguars, especially during football season. Last fall, she had the opportunity to travel to London with the team.

“This season I’ve been given the opportunity to perform at a sold-out Wembley Stadium for the Jaguars’ London game, choreograph a pregame routine and fulfill the dream of becoming a professional dancer,” says Allyson . “The energy and excitement that comes from doing what you love is indescribable, and the energy and excitement of being on the field for an NFL game is unlike anything else.”

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