By Jacky Huang
Backstage, a line of women in cocktail dresses with asymmetrical hemlines and off-the-shoulder straps waited anxiously, hoping for an announcer to call their number. Some of the 61 hopefuls would make the 2019 Philadelphia Eagles cheerleading squad. Some would not.
“Contestant number 32!” an announcer called out. “Kyle!”
A man in a black suit ran onto the stage, beaming, and took a bow. The crowd roared.
Kyle Tanguay had become the first male cheerleader on the Eagles squad in 35 years. As one of a small but elite group of NFL dancers, Tanguay challenges preconceived notions of cheerleading in the macho world of professional football. “All too often, whether it’s cheerleading or not, men that are going into dance often think about how other people are going to receive them,” Tanguay said. “I’m guilty of that, as I get nervous and sometimes think, ‘what if they don’t like me?’”
By all accounts, Philly likes him. A New Jersey native, Tanguay grew up with sports. He was a Boy Scout who played T-ball, hockey, and soccer. None of them stuck. Then he found dance. There was something about the gold floor and mirrors, and the twists and turns of his first jazz class that made him keep going back. He never felt like he was marginalized or outcasted because of his gender.
Later, Tanguay pursued dance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. There, he became a fan of the Eagles after watching them play every Sunday with his friend and her boyfriend. Those two worlds combined on New Year’s Eve last year, when, while waiting for the ball to drop, he took a chance and emailed the Eagles.
They responded. An official told Tanguay they “were open to the idea of men trying out for the squad.” As it turned out, the team had had male dancers in the 1970s and ’80s. The Eagles, the team official said, have “always been inclusive and diverse.”
For weeks, Tanguay practiced with his roommate Rae Holtz, who was also auditioning for the squad. Tanguay and Holtz made it through three rounds of auditions before final cuts. He waited to hear his number called. “I was very nervous. I was shaking. I was very quiet,” Tanguay said.
He made the squad. “The world has never stopped spinning since,” he said, “and it’s been such an honor.”