Most people wouldn’t find a common thread between a cheer, a dance and an argument. But for Fisher & Phillips attorney Terri Stewart, weaving them together makes perfect sense. Aside from law, dance is Stewart’s passion.
Stewart explains to the Daily Report how she has incorporated dance throughout her life.
First things first. I understand you were an Atlanta Falcons cheerleader in the 2005-2006 season. How did that come about?
I grew up dancing, and it was always my passion. I competed throughout high school, college, all the way from elementary school. I captained the University of Georgia dance team and danced all four years for the university. When I was in law school, I really just missed it and so my third year of law school — while I was clerking — I tried out and made the team. It was wonderfully fun, a lot of work and kind of like a second job.
I think often people may have preconceived ideas about professional cheerleaders, and you just told me it’s a lot of work. Tell me a little bit about it and your experience.
There are many preconceived notions, but when you actually get down to it, there are a lot of wonderful girls and the Falcons have always put an emphasis on having well-rounded women. My year, there were stockbrokers, lawyers, accountants, pharmaceutical sales reps, because professional cheerleading isn’t a career in itself. Most people have other jobs, and it’s just a continuation of the passion that they’ve had growing up. So that’s exactly what it was, and we were more like ambassadors to the community, encouraging young girls and students to stay in school, to read, to choose their first path career while still being able to realize that you can have fun, too, doing something like Falcons’ cheerleading or anything that’s your passion.
Do you have any takeaways from that experience?
There’s a strong emphasis on community and outreach. We did 20 to 30 outreach events a year where we would go into the community with charities with children. It might be reading a book to a class, it may be teaching underprivileged kids to dance, and all those charitable experiences really helped the community and kind of made Falcons and the experience what it was.
Is your volunteer work with the Falcons how you became involved with the organization Moving in the Spirit?
I was actually introduced to Moving in the Spirit through my LEAD Atlanta class this year. LEAD Atlanta is a division of Leadership Atlanta for 25- to 32-year-olds. It’s a leadership development program … and it is a really unique experience, because you are placed with a very diverse group. There are so many things that you do, but one that I was exposed to was a group called Moving in the Spirit. Obviously, it fit perfectly with my history, because it is a charity, and what they do is dance-based. They get underprivileged kids or kids that may not have exposure to something like dance because of the cost or whatnot and they … use dance as a method to teach them commitment and leadership. Their main goal in life is not to make them the best dancers in the world, but to give them a dance skill that they can take throughout life.
You’ve said you’ve always loved to dance. What is it about dance you like so much?
Well, to put it bluntly, I was really bad at everything else with respect to sports. When you’re a kid, your parents try different things and see what fits. Once I found dance, it was just a natural connection. Being a lawyer, I have always been analytical and very fact-specific. Type-A personality. So dance is like the other side of the coin, that artistic outlet. I think it’s just fun. I love the opportunities it’s brought me. It really helped me as a kid develop the confidence and life skills you need for the rest of your life.
Dance is very athletic. I don’t think a lot of people realize that.
I used to teach football players in college to tap dance so they could be the first one off the line.
You taught UGA football players tap dancing?
Yes, to get quicker with their feet and faster on the line. So, that was fun.
How were they?
It was just a small, little group, so it wasn’t everybody. But it was fun. I didn’t know they made tap shoes that big.
Did it help?
Yes, but maybe I’m biased.
Has dance impacted your life as an attorney?
I certainly think it has. I think it gave me confidence. I think a lot of sports do this. When you’re on stage, it’s really no different than being in front of a judge or jury or someone else. So those skills have translated. My mom likes to tell me my very first oral argument was when I was a kid, and I didn’t get into the dance group that I thought was the one that I should be in. I wanted to be in a different one. My parents said, “You know what? That’s something that you’re going to have to address. We’re not going to fight that battle for you so go see the director of the studio, and see if you can make your case.” Gosh, I must have been 10 years old, but I did. And it worked. I got into the class that I wanted to and (my mom) still likes to talk about that today.
Did you ever think about going into dance instead of law?
Only for about five minutes (laughs). I certainly like it, but it’s just a part of my life. I’ve always had a huge focus on my education. I’ve always had the goal of going to law school. I was offered a scholarship to go to New York to a small dance school. But, in the end, I’m a Southern girl who always dreamed of being a lawyer even more than being a dancer. I just thought that was the right path for me.