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Gotham Gigs: Meet the high school counselor who spends her summers cheerleading for the Brooklyn Cyc

By HILARY POTKEWITZ

IN THE BALLPARK: Bursting with energy, Avery wows the crowd at Cyclones home games.

Susan Avery's cheerleading career didn't start at a high school pep rally. It started in Madison Square Garden when she was in her mid-40s, pretty much on a dare.

Avery has had a long-running joke with her daughter, Natalie: Whenever they're watching a great performance, whether it's a ballet or Cirque du Soleil or Olympic figure skating, Avery will deadpan, "Eh, I can do that." Natalie always responds, "Sure you can, Mom."

But during the halftime show at a New York Liberty basketball game in 2005, they discovered the team's senior dance squad, the Timeless Torches, consisting of dancers ages 40 and up.

Watching the group's routine, Avery uttered her famous line, and, for the first time ever, her daughter replied in all seriousness, "Yeah, Mom, you can!"

A few months later Avery tried out and made the team. She performed with the Timeless Torches for six seasons.

"It was a major dream come true," Avery said. "I'm just a regular person who can move well, and there I was, performing in front of 20,000 people."

Last year the Brooklyn Cyclones, a New York Mets minor league affiliate, announced they were scrapping their all-female cheerleading squad, the Beach Bums, in favor of building a coed, multigenerational dance team. "I've been a baseball fan my whole life and a Mets fan all the way, so I figured, What the heck? Let's just see," Avery recalled.

At the April auditions, she was one of the first dancers chosen for the 13-member Surf Squad. "I almost died when they called my number. I did the Miss America thing with my hands over my mouth," she said. Avery, 57, is the oldest dancer. The youngest is 17.

The Surf Squad stirs up the crowd from the top of each dugout at home games, doing dance routines, leading cheers and giving away T-shirts. It's a part-time, seasonal position that pays $11 to $14 an hour, so most squad members have day jobs. There are actors, food-service workers and students. Avery, a former reporter for newspapers and magazines, is now a college counselor at Harvest Collegiate High School in Manhattan.

Recent graduates may have learned of her summer gig through her Facebook page, but Avery keeps her social media strictly off-limits from current high schoolers.

During a sixth-inning break at a recent game, Avery received a text message from one of her students. It read, "Are you at the Cyclones game dancing on the dugout?!"

She said, "Later I went and found him in the stands, and he just said, 'My mind is blown.'"

 

Susan Avery

AGE: 57 BORN: Far Rockaway, Queens RESIDES: Lower East Side EDUCATION: B.S., Hunter College; M.S.J., Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism ON THE BEAT: Avery's byline appeared in such publications as The New York Times and New York magazine for more than 30 years. SET IN MOTION: She began dancing in college, picking up everything from ballet to tango to make up for a childhood when dance lessons were not affordable. ROLE MODEL: At first Avery performed in baseball pants at Cyclones games instead of the squad uniform. "I was thinking, I'm a middle-aged woman. I shouldn't be wearing shorts. Then a friend saw me at a game and said, 'Think of the message you're sending.' And she's right."

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