In first grade, Ambria Ollie's teacher pointed out to her parents that she had naturally turned out feet and suggested they enroll her in a ballet class. Ollie said she hated the class at first, but her parents encouraged her to stick with it for at least a year.
“I hated it so much, but after that one year, I could not stop dancing,” said Ollie, 2015 Ball State alumna and former Code Red Dance Team member. “I was just meant to be a dancer.”
At 11 years old, Ollie began taking private dance lessons at Turning Pointe Academy of Dance in Indianapolis under Jennifer Rivers, who has owned and operated the studio for the past 22 years. As her student and “surrogate daughter,” Rivers said, she remembers how Ollie inspired the younger dancers and encouraged them to always put forth their best efforts.
"Ambria was driven, and her attitude was contagious,” Rivers said. “She always demonstrated the highest level of respect toward those around her and never missed the opportunity to help others.”
Ollie continued dancing throughout her high school years for three different teams: competitive dance at Turning Pointe Academy, as well as the dance and Latin dance teams at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.
In 2011, Ollie auditioned and made the Code Red Dance Team as a freshman. The Code Red Dance Team had very diverse routines, Ollie said, but she did not have a hard time switching between the different styles of dance the group performed — whether it was jazz, hip-hop or POM, which mixes cheer, dance and tumbling with pom-poms occasionally added to the performance.
Ollie knew college could have been a difficult place for her if she did not get involved and make friends. She said being a part of the Code Red Dance Team was “one of the best things she could have done for herself.” Being a Code Red Dancer not only improved Ollie’s dancing techniques, she said, but gave her many memorable moments along the way.
“The first practice of the year was a photoshoot,” Ollie said. “That day, I met my best friends. My best friends became my bridesmaids, [and] we lived together and we were roommates.”
Anne Cardimen, 2018 Ball State alumna and one of Ollie’s Code Red teammates, danced with Ollie at Turning Pointe Academy when they were 11 years old. Cardimen said Ollie possessed a positive and fun energy on the team but also had a serious work ethic.
“When I met [Ollie], I remember thinking she was so talented,” Cardimen said. “She was always in the hardest turn sections and could do leaps that no one else could do. I really looked up to her and just thought she was the coolest person ever.
“She held everyone on my squad to a high standard and really pushed us to be the best we could be on and off the field,” Cardimen said.
Amy Gilbert, Ollie’s Code Red coach during her tenure, said she heard about Ollie’s reputation as a dancer in high school before she came to Ball State. Gilbert said Ollie was an inspiration for her teammates, as she worked through hip and knee injuries without complaining.
“She was a knock-out role model for the underclassmen as well,” Gilbert said. “Ambria never gave up.”
A dream come true
After graduating in 2015, Ollie knew she wanted to continue dancing. One of Ollie’s best friends, Audrey Brusman, encouraged Ollie to try out for the Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders. At the time, Brusman was a dancer for Code Red Dance Team and a cheerleader for the Colts.
“She told me, ‘Just come to a prep class — you’ll love it. You’ll be so good at this,’” Ollie said. “I knew that was a part of God’s plan for me — to be a Colts cheerleader — or at least to try out and try to be a Colts cheerleader.”
After passing the audition, Ollie joined the Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders for the 2016 season. During the summer and before the start of every season, Ollie and her teammates would have a weekend-long training camp where they would learn as many as 16 routines. During other practices, the cheerleaders would review their routines and refine their formations.
On game days, Ollie and her teammates would perform a routine consisting of “full-blown theatrics” in center field before heading to the sideline to perform a mixture of high-energy, crowd-pleasing choreography throughout the game.
One of the things Ollie loved about being a part of the Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders was that her teammates encouraged her to be her best self: driven and hardworking. Her experience with the team also boosted her confidence in public appearances and showed her she can “change the world” with her attitude and persona. For the 2019 season, Ollie was a part of the rebranding movement for the cheerleaders’ outfits.
“[The new outfits were] more of an emphasis on [how] we are real women,” Ollie said. “We have real careers. We are athletes. We are strong. We are spiritual. We are all of these things.”
One of Cardimen’s favorite memories with Ollie was when she helped her audition for the 2018 Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders. After dancing together at Ball State, Cardimen said Ollie took the time to help her prepare before the team’s auditions started so she could learn its style.
“I was really unsure about if I had what it took to audition, and she was my biggest cheerleader the whole time,” Cardimen said. “From prep classes to the final showcase, she really made my experience so much more positive for me.”
After the 2019 season, Ollie was chosen to represent the Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders at the 2020 Pro Bowl, the National Football League’s all-star game. The Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders vote each year which member should be selected to participate in the Pro Bowl and represent the team on the national stage.
“Being selected as a cheerleader [for the Pro Bowl] is the highest honor,” Ollie said. “I still get chills that I was able to represent them, go to the Pro Bowl and meet all these amazing women from around the country.”
The balancing act
During her time as a Colts cheerleader, Ollie also completed her master’s degree at Indiana Wesleyan University in clinical mental health counseling and graduated in December 2018. As a graduate student, Ollie worked at Common Behavioral Health in Indianapolis to help kids with mental health issues. She also interned at the mental health clinic at Indiana Wesleyan University and St. Vincent Hospital’s Stress Center in Indianapolis and was the assistant dance team coach at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School for four years.
However, amid all her responsibilities outside of school, Ollie attended Colts cheer practice every Tuesday and Thursday from 6-10 p.m.
Now, Ollie works as a mental health counselor in New Jersey, where she meets with about five clients each day. She also coaches a junior cheer team, helping them to “foster their love” for cheer, dance and football.
Years later, when reflecting on her time as a student at Turning Pointe Academy, Rivers said Ollie was a beautiful dancer, incredible at leading by example and always had a willingness to learn.
“At Turning Pointe, I witnessed tremendous growth in Ambria during the eight years she was here,” Rivers said. “She blossomed not only in dance but leadership as well. It has been a blessing for me to have had the opportunity to be a part of her journey and watch her grow into the beautiful, confident young woman she is today.”
No matter the workload, Ollie said she still carries her passion for dance and hopes to continue with her dance career.
“I would love to be a part of a team one day, ” Ollie said. “I love that I have the ability to coach now, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
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