For the first time ever, there will be a man in the Saintsations’ ranks this season.
Jesse Hernandez has earned a spot on the Saints’ dance squad, the team revealed Friday. The 25-year-old native of Maurice, a town outside of Lafayette, is one of 34 dancers chosen to represent the Saints during the upcoming NFL season.
Hernandez sparked plenty of curious discussion just by trying out for the role, vying to become one of the first male dancers in the league.
What kind of uniform would he wear? people wondered.
Would he use pom-poms?
For the record, he wore a tank top and shorts to his final audition at the Saints indoor training facility in April. No pom-poms.
NFL teams, including the Saints, have had men and women perform cheerleading stunts before. But two men hired by the Los Angeles Rams in late March are believed to be the first in league history chosen to perform dance-squad routines in a group that is otherwise all-female.
Hernandez, who’s been dancing since he was 2 and works as a dance instructor, said he decided to try out for the Saintsations when his mother texted him a story about the Rams dancers, Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies.
He attended a clinic in Biloxi, Mississippi, to learn what he would need to perform for the first round of tryouts and then went to the initial auditions on April 20 at the Saints’ practice facility.
Hernandez performed well enough to earn one of 51 invitations to the final round on April 25.
That night, he introduced himself to the judges and those following along via an online stream by saying, “I’m Jesse from Maurice, Louisiana, and I use about two bottles of hairspray a week.”
He was grouped with two Saintsations vying to return to the squad for one dance during the final round, a number that was set to a mix featuring Pitbull and Lil’ Jon. Commentators on the online stream called the group “strong.”
He was among a group of four performing to a Justin Timberlake mix for another dance, which involved a kick-line.
Hernandez has spent a lifetime developing his elite dancing skills. His mother is a dance instructor who taught him his first routine when he was a toddler — a number to KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty.”
He’s won numerous accolades at dance competitions and conventions and was a member of his high school’s dance team. He’s worked with the Universal Dance Association, which teaches routines to high school and college spirit squads that are integral parts of each football season across America.
And he used to coach a dance team that was affiliated with a defunct minor-league hockey franchise in Lafayette.
“It was nerve-wracking at first,” Hernandez said about taking on tryouts for the Saintsations. “But once I got out there, it was go time. … I’ve been training for this my whole life.”
The addition of men to NFL dance squads comes just as the league is facing broader questions about the tradition.
Female cheerleaders have accused team officials around the country of subjecting them to demeaning treatment.
One former Saintsation, Bailey Davis, has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit accusing the Saints of holding women who work for them to different standards than their male counterparts.
Jesse Hernandez has been dancing ever since his mom taught him a routine to “Shake Your Booty” by KC & the Sunshine Band when he was 2.