News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

April 6, 2014

Measure of spirit, testament to youth

At 18, a Terre Haute girl one of youngest to shoot for Colts cheerleading squad

TERRE HAUTE — Reaching the final round of this year’s Colts cheerleader auditions was one of Mariah Whitaker’s most exciting life experiences. It was also the “hardest thing that I’ve ever worked for,” she said during an interview on Saturday.

The 18-year-old Terre Haute resident was among the final 50 competitors — and one of the youngest — who  participated in the 2014 Colts Cheerleaders Final Showcase event at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis on Thursday. Although she wasn’t selected for this year’s team, she learned many things from the experience. She gained confidence, made friends and has become a better dancer.

“It taught me never to give up in the end,” Whitaker said.

She’s already planning her next move, which is auditioning for the Indiana Pacemates — the official dancers of the Indiana Pacers — in August. In addition, she also plans to start studying fashion design at The Art Institute in Indianapolis this summer.

“I just got cut a couple of days ago,  and I’m already contemplating on the next thing,” she said smiling and somehow amazed at herself.

“I’m just looking at it as a new beginning.”

And Whitaker can look back proudly on her recent experiences from the Colts auditions.

In addition to it being the hardest she’s ever worked, she said it was also “the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.”

The process, which included online voting, month-long workshops and more than a week of auditions was hard physically, mentally and emotionally. Colts officials really put the candidates to the test, Whitaker said.

In addition to the work-outs and having to learn dance moves in a short period of time, there was also a football test and a swimsuit round, which she was particularly nervous about.

“It takes a lot of guts to get up on stage in a swimsuit,” she said. It’s not too often that she’s had to do that, let alone walk in 4-inch heels, she said with a giggle.

“This whole process puts you out of your comfort zone,” and makes you just go for your dreams, Whitaker said. “In the end, I did things I could never do before.”

She credits her faith and the support of her family for helping her through it.

Being one of the youngest can sometimes give anyone a “negative mindset” in competing against those who are older, she said, “but I just had to have faith.” She was proud to have made it to the finals at only age 18.

Mariah started dancing when she was in third grade. Her dance floors were some of the dance studios in Terre Haute. She danced jazz and ballet. Then, she joined the dance teams in middle school and high school. The soon-to-be Terre Haute North Vigo High School graduate simply loves to dance.

“It’s my passion,” she told the Tribune-Star in February.

Whitaker has been aspiring to become a Colts cheerleader since childhood, and this year — the first year she qualified to audition — she gave it her all. Despite her busy schedule at school and work (she is employed by the Terre Haute Parks Department), she spent countless hours preparing.

Instead of being sad or mad about not being selected for the squad, Whitaker said she is content in knowing that she gave it her best shot and left it all on the dance floor.

And others who intend to go for their dreams can also learn from her experience.

“If you have an idea, you have to go for it with full force,” she said, giving her advice to others. “That way, you can also end with no regrets.”

Whitaker has no regrets, and because she knows she gave it her best shot, she’s happy in the end.

Her mom,  Nicole Whitaker, was with her eldest daughter through it all, and she was amazed at the talents her daughter showed on stage. Mother and daughter have a close relationship.

“She did give total dedication to it,” Nicole Whitaker said. “She kept her poise very well during a stressful time,” she added.

“She has grown within these last two months so much,” the mother of two said with pride. “I’m very impressed by the young woman she is evolving into, and her possibilities are endless.”

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.

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