March 7, 2010 at 1:00 am

Donna's Detroit

Motor City Rah Rahs: Have pompoms, will travel

Motor City Rahrahs
Motor City Rahrahs: Motor City Rahrahs

Ask Julie Hecker about cheerleading and she'll tell you: "Once it's in your soul, it's in your soul."

So what do you do if you're 45 years old and can't bear to hang up your pompoms?

Well, if you're Hecker -- entrepreneur, wife and mother of two -- you start the Motor City Rah Rahs. This group of eight middle-aged women dress up -- or strip down-- to their fishnets and go-go boots and hit the road with their pompoms to promote Detroit.

"Our city was really desperate for some cheerleaders," she says. Hecker, who lives in Royal Oak, was teaching her classes at Punk Fitness when the women of the Detroit Roller Derby asked her to form a cheering squad for their meets.

Hecker turned to her ready pool of energized dancers.

That was four years ago, and since then the Rah Rahs have taken their mobile pep rally to events from the Woodward Dream Cruise to Paczki Day and the Hamtramck Blowout. They were even asked by Detroit City Councilman Kenneth Cockrel Jr. to add some pizzazz to his election night party in November.

But mostly the Rah Rahs shimmy at performances of local bands. Their connection to the local music scene is strong. Two of the eight are in bands, and two more are married to musicians. The rest just love the scene and the music.

Hecker's husband, Bob, plays bass in the Orbitsuns and Something American, and her son Andrew, 17, plays bass in The Displays. Andrea Edwards is also married to a musician; her husband, Jim, sings in the Hell Drivers.

The musicians in the group are Karen "Queen Bee" Neal, 44, of Oak Park, who plays bass in They Never Sleep, and Vivian "Vee" George, 45, of Harper Woods, who fronts her own eponymous band.

The Rah Rahs' day jobs run the gamut. Susie "Susie Spike" Forkin, 49, of Southfield, is a cheerleading coach. Founder Julie Hecker owns her own business, Punk Fitness, giving classes weekly at Hamtramck's Belmont bar and the Magic Stick. She also teaches toddler fitness through the Berkley and Royal Oak parks and rec departments.

At 35, Wendy "Starz" Mastal of Northville is the youngest. She does marketing for a kids crafts products company. Nancy Krzezewski, 46, of St. Clair Shores, is comptroller of a tier one automotive supplier. Kat "Katnip" Fegler co-owns Royal Oak's Noir Leather with her husband, Keith Howarth. Andrea "Andi Rah Rah" Edwards, 43, of Sterling Heights, is a hair stylist.

"I'm truly reliving my youth and I was kind of able to re-create it with a bunch of women that are just fabulous," says Hecker. "We are a group of mature women who refuse to get old."

Last weekend, the Rah Rahs were all over the Hamtramck Blowout. On March. 14, they will be marching in the St. Patrick's Day Parade on Michigan Avenue in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood.

The Motor City Rah-rahs cheer on the band Something American at the Crofoot Ballroom's Pike room in Pontiac. / Donna Terek / The Detroit News
Julie Hecker, left, and Wendy Mastal cheer on people waiting for paczkis ... (Donna Terek / The Detroit News)
The Motor City Rah Rahs perform at the Magic Stick for the kick-off of the ... (Donna Terek / The Detroit News)