HOUSTON -- Set among a sea of cheerleading candidates, a 21-year-old classically trained dancer walked into the Methodist Training Center clad in an army green tank top and black spandex shorts.
Dixon Hernandez was about to become the first man to ever try out for the Houston Texans cheerleading squad.
With a girl on each arm, Hernandez was stopped by a security guard informing him only those trying out were allowed to enter. A mix of nerves and excitement, Hernandez waved his online registration form.
After a skeptical look, he was granted access to join the ranks of the 999 women inside competing for the team's 30 spots.
Hernandez carried himself with poise, and with a decade of technical and artistic (mostly ballet) dance experience, he fit in perfectly in the Texans practice facility.
Hernandez admits he got a lot of strange looks and requests for photos but said he wasn't trying to draw attention to himself.
“I was more focused on stretching and getting my head right,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t expect to be so nervous.”
Making the team was a serious goal for Hernandez for more than a year. He says he looks up to many of the Texans cheerleader vets as role models.
“They are doing exactly what I want to do,” he said. “I plan to try out again next year and bring more men with me in hopes of showing that diversity can be on the squad. Our time is changing.”
Hernandez was cut after the first round of tryouts, but was satisfied with his performance.
“As far as entertainment value, I feel like I gave them what they were looking for," he said. "For my short freestyle routine, I did an aerial [a cartwheel with no hands] and landed in front of Ms. Alto [Gary, the team's coach]. I got a standing ovation, even from the guys in the audience.”
Another male hopeful, Sacha Heppell, tried out for the Denver Broncos squad after Hernandez's attempt.
“I reached out to him on Facebook and we became ‘friends,’ but he never responded to my message. I was so encouraged another guy had the same goal as mine, but after what I’ve heard and seen, I’m not so sure,” Hernandez said, referring to Heppell’s tryout video on YouTube. The day after the Broncos tryouts, Heppell’s Twitter feed was filled with congratulatory comments, but more for the “efficacy” of his “media stunt” than his brave tryout.
“I take great pride in my dance history and all that I’ve accomplished,” Hernandez says. “Sacha came to the table with his sign-twirling experience and that just doesn’t cut it for an NFL cheerleader.”
“I don’t want to be that guy who tries out for everything,” he said.
Hernandez still has some work ahead of him in terms of understanding the game of football. When asked to predict the Texans' record for the upcoming season, he said simply, "52."