Mekial Singleton learned at a young age that if she wanted to accomplish her dreams she had to toughen up and work hard.
In fourth grade, she attended her older brother John’s meet-the-football-players event at Downers Grove South High School.
“I saw the Phillies on stage and I was star struck,” Singleton said of the school dance team and the moment she knew what she wanted to pursue. “I was very determined and diligent.”
Singleton, who was born and raised in Bolingbrook and moved with her family to Plainfield in 2008, made the Phillies varsity team as a freshman and served as captain junior and senior years.
After graduation in 2004, she heard a radio commercial that would change her life.
She had started summer drills with the Cardettes dance team at North Central College in Naperville, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and master's in leadership studies with a focus on futuristic terrorism.
“I was listening to B96 on a Friday and heard about Chicago Rush Adrenaline Rush Dancers auditions that Saturday,” Singleton, 26, said. “I told my mom about it, printed the application at the library and the next day at 7 a.m. went in to auditions in a basic black sports bra and dance pants and there was a line of 200 decked-out women in glitter and makeup and all.”
After morning routines and lunch, Singleton said she was so intimidated she wanted to go home. But her mom Edna encouraged her to return. “And she was driving,” she said with a laugh.
After an afternoon of more routines, cuts and callbacks, Singleton was one of two 18-year-olds who made the team.
“It wound up being the best experience and best choice I’ve made in my life and I owe it to my mom for telling me to believe in myself,” Singleton said.
“We were taking a chance as that was the first year we lowered our age limit from 21 to 18,” dance coach Gloria Esposito said. “We knew right away that Mekial was a great person inside and out. To this day she has never swayed that decision for me. She continues to be extremely dedicated to the Rush, her fellow teammates and me.”
Singleton served three years as a co-captain of the dance team before being promoted to captain this season, which finds the Chicago Rush leading the Arena Football League national conference central division with a record of 6-2. Remaining home games at Allstate Arena in Rosemont are June 3, 16 and 30 and July 8.
As dance captain, Mekial is responsible for contributing choreography for auditions and the feature dances, which are performed after the third quarter. A different feature is performed at each of the nine home games.
“She is my right-hand girl when I am not around,” Esposito said. “I know that I can count on her to help me no matter what is needed. Every year she comes back eager as ever to get the new team under way.”
Being an Adrenaline Rush dancer and captain involves more than showing off hip-hop moves for diehard fans.
“It teaches you how to work with other people and be patient when learning new things, how to approach team members with friendly, constructive criticism and respect,” said Singleton, especially when mastering new choreography, which can be frustrating. “It teaches you how to take things one at a time and apply that to life to pace yourself.”
In addition to home games and practice two nights a week, the dancers appear at corporate, community and charity events throughout the season.
“We visit sick patients at hospitals, go to nursing homes and go to local cheer competitions and junior football games all over Illinois, from Huntley to Dixon to Bloomington,” she said. “It’s nice to step into a child’s shoes and see girls whose dreams are to dance and boys who want to play football. It opens you up to a lot of people and experiences.”
Dancers often tailgate with fans and sign autographs after games. Fans treat the dancers, who are only paid for home games, to food and drink at restaurants to watch away games, and host various events, such as a recent sold-out fan night at Brunswick Zone in Woodridge.
“We do it because we love it, love to dance, for the love of football and love of our fans,” Singleton said. “We get paid through friendships and that’s the best compensation.”
Dancers are expected to juggle the demands of the Chicago Rush season around college and careers.
For Singleton, that means interning in a secretarial position at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago in hopes of one day working in national security, and helping at John’s Rib House in Lisle. Her parents Edna and John opened the restaurant after retiring from, respectively, teaching and Chicago Carbon. Co. and Unocal oil refinery in Lemont.
“I love to cook with my mom,” Singleton said. “She always pulled me into the kitchen at a young age and I’d have flour on my face and dough in my hair.”
Her mom also enrolled her in gymnastics at a young age and then in ballet, jazz and hip-hop classes at the YMCA. Singleton cheered and danced with the Downers Grove Panther Youth Football and Cheer organization in fourth through eighth grades.
“I definitely credit my dad and my mom because they have been there with me through everything to teach me life lessons and to stand my ground,” Singleton said.
She also credits her brother John for being a role model. He earned a track scholarship from Lewis University in Romeoville and was ranked 13th in the nation for hurdles.
Singleton, who is single, said she hopes her internship will eventually lead into a career with the CIA or FBI. For now, she’s content to cook ribs and bake peach cobbler, travel the state meeting fans, do choreography and dance.
“I have no intentions of stopping. As long as the good Lord lets me keep dancing, I will,” she said. “I love dancing with my girls and I love the fans, who are some of the most diehard fans in Chicago. I thank Gloria for bringing me back every year.”
For Chicago Rush tickets or information, call 855-RUSHWIN (855-787-4946) or visit www.arenarush.com.