It took 28 hours of travel for the Bucs Cheerleaders to get to Alice Springs, Australia, but it was well worth it
Alice Springs, Australia is a long way from Tampa, Florida.
Taylor Shine recently came to that conclusion, and it had little to do with the 28 hours of travel it took her to get from her hometown to the outback.
Shine and nine other members of the Talent Troupe, a sub-group of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders, spent six days in Australia earlier this month as part of an Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE) tour of a U.S. military base outside of Alice Springs. The Talent Troupe combined with alt rock band Five Star Iris and comedian Keith Barany to put on an expansive variety show for the servicemen and women and their families.
The AFE performers put on two shows while in Alice Springs and were very well-received by the families from the base. However, the truly rewarding moments of the trip, said Shine, came between the staged performances. The Buccaneers Cheerleaders were in Alice Springs for three days, and they used much of that time to hold meet-and-greets with the military families. They even conducted a junior cheerleading clinic for approximately 50 kids from the base.
It was during these opportunities to chat quietly with the men and women on the base – with the beautiful but unfamiliar Central Australia desert as the backdrop – that it struck Shine how far away from home she was. She knew those American families stationed on the base felt the same way.
"When we are on one of these tours, we do a lot of personal meet-and-greet events where we interact with the people on the bases," said Shine. "We have meals with them and get to know them, just give them someone to talk to. A lot of times, especially on this trip, you end up in a very secluded location, the most secluded place you've ever seen. The families on these bases don't see people at all, other than the small group of people that they live with. They appreciate just having somebody new to talk to."
The Talent Troupe – which for this trip consisted of Shine, Erica Benavidez, DeShay Eurice, Tiffany Jimenez, Tomoko Kojima, Sahara Sears, Tramane Shuler, Jennifer Summers, Erin Verdel and Rachel Watson – left Tampa on March 2 and spent 24 hours traveling to Sydney, Australia. After two days spent rehearsing the show and establishing a good flow with Barany and Five Star Iris, the Troupe set off on the four-hour trip to Alice Springs on March 4. They went back to Sydney on March 8 and flew back to the States the next morning.
Shine, who was a rookie on the Buccaneers Cheerleaders squad in 2007, had never been out of country before a similar trip before the football season took the Talent Troupe to Ecuador and the Honduras. The tour of Australia brought her to even less familiar ground, but that only made her interaction with fellow Americans abroad more poignant.
"Not many people move from, say, Dallas, Texas to Alice Springs, Australia," said Shine. "It can be a culture shock. Imagine going from a city like Tampa to, literally, the outback. So the best part of the trip was getting to know people and seeing their lifestyles in these places so far away from what they're used to.
"I enjoy performing, obviously, like we do year around, but the most memorable part of the tour was meeting the military families. We met people from all over the United States. They couldn't have been nicer. They were so welcoming – they would invite us into their own homes, tell us to use their phones to call home, everything. I think they were just thrilled to interact with some people from the States."
Of course, Shine and the rest of the Troupe also wanted to put on an entertaining show, and they worked hard on the act before going on tour, developing a program that included dancing, music, frequent costume changes and individual talents such as baton twirling and clogging. Of course, there were a few spots of the schedule set aside for site-seeing, and the cheerleaders took advantage, checking out kangaroos and koalas in a Sydney zoo and visiting another preserve that allowed them to feed wallabies by hand.
"You'd be looking out there and all you would see was a blank mountainside, then all of a sudden there are about 20 wallabies trickling down toward you!" said Shine. "It was amazing. You'd hold the feed out and they'd come down and eat right out of your hand."
Buccaneers Cheerleaders – and, more recently, the specific Talent Troupe group – have become very welcome regulars on the AFE docket. A year ago, the Troupe embarked on a lengthy tour of the Far East and Hawaii, visiting bases in Japan, Korea and Pearl Harbor. The experience was still new to Shine, however, and she quickly learned what so many of her teammates and predecessors have appreciated on previous tours: the military men and women make great audiences.
"Putting on the show was so much fun," said Shine. "I love going out there and dancing and performing. I mean, it's always fun performing but it's especially fun when you're doing it for somebody who really appreciates you being there. A lot of times when you perform, people don't realize how much work you've put into it, but they seemed to really appreciate us being there.
"This is a trip I'll remember for a long time."