Dallas Cowboys cheerleader reveals why she’s suing the team

During the 2014-2015 NFL season, ­Erica Wilkins had a banner rookie year as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader . Then 22, the Friendswood, Texas, native was one of just 16 women to make the team’s “show group,” an elite squad made up of the best technical dancers on the team. She appeared solo on the cover of the group’s swimsuit calendar, was deemed a star on a reality show about the team, and performed onstage with Blake Shelton and Usher.

Her total annual earnings? About $4,700 after taxes.

“Yes, it is prestigious,” Wilkins, now 26, told The Post of cheering for the Cowboys. “But at the end of the day, prestige doesn’t pay my rent. I can’t walk down to my leasing office and hand them my uniform for the month.”

Now, Wilkins, whose career ended in August 2017, is suing the Cowboys organization for lost wages. In the suit, she claims that cheerleaders were paid less than the team’s mascot — a costumed cowboy called Rowdy, and played by a man who reportedly makes $65,000 a year plus commission. Cheerleaders, meanwhile, are paid $8 per hour for practices — just above minimum wage — and flat rates for games and appearances, such as calendar signings.

Wilkins also claims she worked hours — many of them in AT&T Stadium, team owner Jerry Jones’ $1.2 billion football temple — for which she wasn’t compensated, and that she wasn’t paid overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 per week.

She’s not the only ex-cheerleader on a crusade for change. Earlier this month, five former Houston Texans cheerleaders sued that team for failing to compensate them fully and for creating a hostile work environment. Former cheerleaders on the Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints have also filed similar complaints.

But this is the first time the behemoth that is the Dallas Cowboys, beloved as “America’s Team,” has entered the conversation. The organization’s cheerleaders make up what is easily the most legendary and high-profile squad in the NFL, and certainly the only one to have had two TV movies made about them (in 1979 and 1980) and to have had their uniform — that iconic blue-and-white vest and shorts look — added into the Smithsonian’s collection.

Wilkins, who doesn’t call herself a feminist, said she is “pursuing justice” for other women who will be part of that legacy one day.

Erica Wilkins featured in the Dallas Cowboys annual calendarMisty Keasler

“I could’ve settled with the Cowboys for just my back wages and unpaid wages that they owed me — they offered that,” she said. “But I am not willing to settle . . . My goal is to help other cheerleaders, and women as a whole.”

The daughter of an electrical-engineer father and a dance-instructor mother, Wilkins wanted to be a DCC since “seventh or eighth grade. My mom ran a dance studio, and she had a couple of students that went on to become Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.”

At a dance competition when she was 16, Wilkins was approached by a DCC scout.

“She was surprised to learn I was only 16 and not 18,” she recalled. “She followed me and asked me to audition at 18, but I wanted to go to college first.”

Wilkins went on to attend Louisiana State University, where she was an LSU Tiger Girl, graduating in 2014 with a degree in mass communications.

The scout “kept in touch throughout the years,” she said. “She would reach out, saying, ‘Hey, don’t forget about us, we want you.’ ”

So, after graduation, Wilkins headed to Dallas to try out — and wowed the judges, as seen on the CMT-channel show “Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders: Making the Team.” While video of her performance played, Kelli Finglass, the squad’s longtime director, said, “There are rookie candidates that are stronger than the veterans . . . I thought Erica was a ‘wow’ solo.”

Of the 500 women who auditioned, Wilkins was one of just 43 chosen for the two-month training camp. (In the end, some 36 ladies — ­including performers from the previous year — make the squad.)

“There are women who quit their day jobs just for training camp because it is so strenuous and so draining,” she said.

She not only made the cut, she was named to the elite 16-person “show group.”

“Show group is coveted because that’s the group that gets to go on the USO tours, and also any performances that are outside of the game-day setting,” Wilkins explained. Despite the prestige, cheerleaders were not always paid for the time spent prepping for those appearances.

Wilkins made her rent by working part-time as a technician at a cryotherapy spa — which, combined with her new DCC schedule, left her little time to see friends or date.

“ is expected to take priority over your job and your personal life,” said Wilkins, who is currently single.

“Practice officially starts at 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. But you better be there by 6 or 6:30 at the latest, in the locker room practicing before practice. Sometimes we might have a Monday off if the game fell on the Sunday,” she said.

Erica Wilkins on the cover of the Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine, 2016 swimsuit issueMisty Keasler

Rehearsals would last between three and six hours. And there is no showing up in a ponytail and sweatpants; cheerleaders are required to come “camera-ready,” with styled hair and full makeup.

For practices, Wilkins said she was paid $8 an hour. For appearances, she was allegedly paid a flat fee of $100 her first year, $200 her second and $300 her third (pay increases are capped at $500). She says show-group appearances were capped at $250, no matter a member’s tenure.

The Cowboys organization had no comment for this story.

On game days, Wilkins earned a flat rate of about $200. “We had to show up hair- and makeup-ready . . . five to six hours before game time,” she said. There were performances outside the stadium before the game, as well as some at halftime and, of course, throughout the game. Afterward, they would often meet with squad coaches. “You’re looking at a 12-hour day,” she said.

While filming the CMT show, the cheerleaders were paid by the Cowboys organization for practice hours as usual, “but the clock stops as soon as we stop dancing,” said Wilkins. She added that the ladies had to wait around and film one-on-one interviews while judges deliberated — unpaid. “I’ve been there as late as 3 a.m.,” she said. (The network had no comment.)

Per CMT, the show — which has aired for 12 seasons — averaged 3.3 million weekly viewers last season.

Cheerleading is not just a September-to-February job. During the NFL off-season, when there were fewer practices and appearances, “I got a paycheck one time, not kidding, that was $12 and some odd cents. And I said, ‘Great, this will maybe buy me some Chipotle.’ ”

Complaining isn’t an option.

“If you’re the one person asking questions, you might not get put on appearances,” Wilkins said. “You might get pushed back in the formations” — meaning, losing a plum position at the front of a performance.

“People just live in a constant state of fear. But everyone’s too afraid to say anything because, unlike the players, we don’t sign a contract that guarantees us anything.”

Also unlike the players, they are expected to look a certain way. And that iconic Dallas cheerleader image — lustrous manes and tanned, toned abs — doesn’t come cheap.

“We don’t have a stipend for anything,” Wilkins said. “ gives you a rookie makeover, and once you make the team you’re required to maintain that look. So if they give me highlights and extensions, which they did, I’m then expected to pay for the upkeep of that.”

Wilkins noted that the squad does have a local hair-salon sponsor, but the women are required to tip for whatever the service would’ve cost: “For me, it was probably close to $150 a month.” She also paid $10 to $15 out of pocket for spray tans once or twice a month, year-round.

The ladies also have to wash their own uniforms, unlike the players.

Wilkins said she and her teammates were “under a microscope. You are required to maintain your audition weight . . . unless they tell you otherwise. If they say you have to lose five pounds, you need to do that.”

Erica Wilkins photographed with her fellow 2016-2017 Dallas Cowboys CheerleadersMisty Keasler

But during her tenure, cheerleaders didn’t have access to a gym or fitness memberships, and were not allowed to use the NFL team’s facilities.

Cheerleaders who appeared in the squad’s swimsuit and sideline calendars weren’t even given a free copy, Wilkins said.

“We had to buy them for ourselves and our friends and family,” she said. “ selling our image, our likeness — images of our bodies that we work very hard to keep in shape — and they’re the only ones making the profit.”

Learning that Rowdy, the Cowboys’ mascot, makes thousands more than the cheerleaders added fuel to Wilkins’ fire.

“I was on an appearance one time, and talking to the Rowdy. He basically said, ‘I book my own appearances a lot of times, so . . . I can make up to six figures.’” After doing a bit of research, Wilkins discovered that the man who plays Rowdy makes an annual salary of $65,000. “I was definitely stunned, shocked,” she said.

Last year, Wilkins suffered a neck and shoulder injury. Soon after, her time with the Cowboys ended. While she loved her time on the team, she sees her injury as a blessing that has allowed her to become a crusader. “I believe that that was God giving me this freedom that I needed to speak out,” she said.

“We’re hardworking women, we’re well- educated,” she said of herself and her former squadmates. “There are women who are teachers, there are women who are medical assistants working in surgeries all day long … These are smart women.”

She recalled how one, when retiring from the squad, told the organization: “It’s embarrassing that I have a college degree and I work two jobs, this being one of them, and I still have to ask my parents for help.”

Wilkins added that the message she wants to send is that cheerleaders “bring so much value to this organization and we deserve to be valued as individuals, and paid.

“The issue isn’t whether they can pay us — of course they can . . . it’s that they should,” she said. “I’m proud to have been a DCC. I’m not trying to make them look bad. I’m presenting them with an opportunity to be the good guys here . . . for them to be trendsetters and to set the precedent for other NFL teams across the board.”

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are considered the benchmark in the business. They are often used as the scale to measure the standards of cheerleading in NFL.

It wouldn’t be surprising if you dream of at least looking like them. After all, the DCCs always look perfectly in shape, gorgeous and more importantly, they look happy right down to the core.

While you are drooling over their beautiful physique and their unparalleled fitness, these gals are rigorously working out every day. It is never easy to achieve the fitness level that these girls of DCC have attained.

One thing is certain that there is no shortcut to this. And for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders the hard work and consistency with regards to exercise and diet goes on every day. Yeah, you heard that right, it is not just about the workout, but a carefully selected diet is equally important, if not more, for that fit and gorgeous body.

It would be wonderful to have a glance at how these gals maintain themselves to those amazing fit bodies all year round.

Luckily for you we have got some insight through current and former Cheerleaders of Dallas Cowboys and personal trainers. Finally, we will get to learn how these beautiful women stay gorgeous all year long.

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Workout and strengthening

For those wondering that keep repeating same dance routines is the main reason that keeps these women in shape then you have another thing coming.

Most cheerleaders keep varying their dance cardio routine to keep things interesting. But more importantly the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders focus more on strenghthening their bodies and getting physically stronger. Throwing people up in the air, landing on their knees and pounding their shoulders and hips will eventually cause physical injuries.

In order to sustain such strenuous routines for a whole year would require strength and stronger bodies.

Of course, working out to get stronger is a recipe to those beautiful bodies. According to Jay Johnson, the focus of the workout of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders is strength and endurance.

Jay Johnson has crafted a workout routine for these girls that resemble the Army Physical fitness test. While Johnson is more than happy with the gals getting accustomed to this fitness course, he makes sure that these girls do not slack away. As he says “if their physique in slacking in any way they are given a red letter. And then they have to shed some body fat otherwise they will be docked from the team.”

Their average workout routine usually includes warmup to get the blood flowing to their muscles and then proper exercises start.

  • Snow Angels – For reference, you can check this video here
  • Pushups
  • Planks
  • Plyo Push-Ups – You can check the video here
  • Hand Touch Plank -Video here
  • V-Pushup
  • Spiderman Plank
  • Bodyweight Squats
  • Band Step Outs
  • Prisoner Squat + Jump
  • Knee Raise + Lunge
  • Glute Bridges
  • Jump + Spin (180 degrees)

Working every day to strengthen body muscles is another great way to keep the body lean. As fat cells are less metabolically active than muscle cells, this helps in keeping the body thin. That is why cheerleaders also work on building their muscles through weight lifting and resistive training. This makes them strong enough to keep going the whole year dancing and stunting and main their stunning selves.

This is an average workout routine for a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. This may vary as many cheerleaders change their cardio routines to keep things fun. You would hear some taking Zumba classes or just going for yoga and pilates classes to burn calories and stay in shape.

The diet plan of Dallas Cowboy cheerleader

This usually depends on the cheerleaders themselves and what suit their bodies more. It also varies depending on the condition of their bodies, if they want to burn some fat or just maintain the current condition.

Basically, you may not find anything that would sound like an exclusive cheerleader diet. As former Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Jinelle Esther, who believes exercising regularly is essential also says “in addition to being physically active, it is crucial to treat food as a body fuel rather than craving for foods those are crammed with preservatives that is toxic to the body.”

The diet routine may include a diet of lean meat, vegetables and fruit juices. But again the diet would vary from one cheerleader to another. Everyone has their own diet plan.

The cheerleaders also keep eating clean frequently throughout the day, like every 2-3 hours. This keeps them energetic all day long and also helps them avoid lurking around unhealthy foods.

While the diet routine may vary, one thing has remained constant for most cheerleaders. Most start their day with a proper breakfast, some of them, like Emma Mary’s favorite meal of the day is breakfast.

What they say

Let’s hear from some of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders as to how they maintain their physique and their diet routine is every day.

Jackie Bob a veteran cheerleader of the Dallas Cowboys shared something very interesting. She says “rather than sitting and lying on the couch at home, I prefer to be on the ground doing ab work and lunges. I do a lot of crunches variation. Also, there are other small things such as walking up the stairs rather than taking the elevator and sleep play a big role.

Another young cheerleader of Dallas Cowboys Kinzie Ryanne believes in the power of plank. “I can do a plank for 5 minutes. I love them as they help me create more of a flat-abs look rather than a six pack.” Can you believe it? 5 minute plank! Can you hold on that long?

When it comes to diet Mia Greenhouse, a veteran, talks about how to stay healthy. She says “I keep myself away from junk food really at the grocery store, but may stray a bit on the weekend. It is all about portion control.”

Another gorgeous cheerleader Angela Nicotera believes “A good diet and exercise is essential to cheerleading. As the year is always so busy it is difficult to eat regular meals. But I have adapted my habits so that I can consume enough carbohydrates and proteins to keep going. Exercise and nutrition is important for stamina during cheerleading in a game.

Conclusion Well, that was a little sneak peak inside the life of a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. I think that you could at least pick some tips from here if you would like your body to resemble to that of a DCC. I hope you found this informative and interesting.

You can also check Dallas Cowboys official gym website here for more information and workout details.

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are arguably the most iconic cheerleading team in the country. Even people who aren’t Cowboys fans tune in each Thanksgiving to watch them perform at halftime. This year, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are working up a country spectacular featuring Luke Bryan (tune in to CBS at 4:30 p.m. EST on Thanksgiving to watch). But just what does it take to be one of “America’s Sweethearts”? talked to four veteran members of the team about how they stay in such great shape, what it’s really like to be a professional cheerleader, and what sacrifices they’ve made in order to be one of America’s best dancers.


Number of Years as a DCC: 3 Occupation: Executive assistant Hometown: West Dundee, Illinois

Photo Courtesy of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

1. You eat really, really clean.

“I try to make smart decisions without limiting myself. I stick with clean eating, chicken and turkey, having a protein and then a vegetable. If I’m craving a cookie or cupcake, I’ll have a bite or two and then toss it. I try to always keep in my mind that I’m eating to live instead of living to eat.

“I had to work for my body. I’m not naturally skinny. I always have to work at it and be really conscious of my decisions. I have more energy this way, and I don’t have to rely on caffeine as much. Looking is feeling great too. So if I look good or fit in my clothes a little bit different, that makes me feel a little more confident and makes waking up a lot easier.”

2. You work out daily on your own time.

“I work out about three to four days a week, anywhere from an hour to two and a half hours a day. Maybe the day before a game, I’ll do a Pilates class just to get that final tone in, but nothing heavy. If I had my choice, I’d probably work out twice a day. But with a full-time job and DCC at night, I only do once a day.”

3. You get cool perks.

“We tan for free because our sponsor is Palm Beach and Planet Tan. We have our hair done complimentary at Halcyon , and we just recently joined with the Lash Lounge, so we get complimentary lash extensions.”

4. After you make the team, you get a makeover.

“Once you have a decided look, you typically want to stay with that for the year because that’s how people identify you. I have extremely curly hair. In my rookie year, I wore it crunchy-curly, and then I asked them if I could change it my second year from a more scrunched curl to a loose wave because I wanted something different. When I’m not doing a DCC appearance, I’ll try to wear it as natural as I can so I don’t burn it out when I’m curling or straightening it for DCC events.”

Courtesy of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders


Number of Years as a DCC: 4 Occupation: Staffing coordinator Hometown: Long Island, New York

Photo Courtesy of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

5. You have to be in as good of shape as any other professional athlete.

“I wore a heart monitor to one of our games to see how many calories we burn, and my heart monitor said something like 3,700 calories per game.”

6. During football season, you practice about 20 hours a week in addition to game days.

“We have practice during the week from 7 p.m. to around 11 p.m. Our practices can be very intense at times. We do a warm-up every night — kick line, conditioning, some crunches — and then we are dancing for hours. And during training camp, we’re practicing 30 plus hours a week. Sometimes people think that we just go out on the field and dance, but there are hours and hours of preparation and hard work and dedication to make our job look easy. People don’t realize how much of a commitment it is.”

7. You get really good at teasing your hair.

“I learned how to tease my hair from DCC so it looks like that typical Southern Belle hair. I’ll spray first — I use Big Sexy Hair spray because it’s strong — then tease it. I put it forward until I do a bunch of layers and then flip it back and brush it to tone it down a little bit.”

8. Dating can be tricky.

“I always am cautious when dating, but after DCC, it’s definitely something to keep your guard up about. You don’t want someone to just be after that. You want to make sure they want to get to know you for who you are and not just the fact that you wear a uniform with stars and boots, and are on the field with the Cowboys. It’s made me extra cautious for sure.”

Photo Courtesy of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders


Number of Years as a DCC: 4 Occupation: Freelance journalist and fitness instructor Hometown: Monroe, Louisiana

Photo Courtesy of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

9. On occasion (like Thanksgiving) you get to veg out.

“My family will eat lunch before the game, but they’ll save a little bit for me and we’ll have Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, ham, dressing, gumbo because we’re from Louisiana, sweet potato pie. I just pig out.”

10. You do your own makeup for games.

“One thing that I swear by, especially on game days when you’re sweating but still want your face to be picture perfect, is the Urban Decay setting spray. Everyone’s like, ‘How does your face still look so good by the end of the game?’ I spray it after I put my foundation on and then again after my makeup is done. It helps keep everything in place, rain or shine.”

11. You use the platform for a greater good.

“I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer, so right now, my big focus is starting a nonprofit in her honor. I’ve got the ball on that right now. My big goal in my life right now is making that something more than just an idea I had in my head, using my platform for a greater purpose.”

12. You probably have other full-time jobs or are going to school.

“It gets hard trying to balance everything. Not only am I a DCC, but I have two other jobs. There are so many other titles that we have and it’s a matter of balancing all the lifestyles and feeling overwhelmed. That’s where it gets hard. There are so many times where there’s so much on our plate and it’s like I need to find out how to manage my time a little bit better because I can’t be 50 places at once.”

Photo Courtesy of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders


Number of Years as a DCC: 3 Occupation: Zumba instructor, receptionist, and student Hometown: Melbourne, Australia

Photo Courtesy of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

13. You drink a lot of water.

“I’m all about water, so I’ll drink about 1.6 gallons — between 5 to 6 liters — every day. If I’m not hydrated, I can feel a lot less able to do my workouts. Water is so important and makes such a difference to your overall performance.”

14. Cheering at games is only a small portion of what you do all year.

“I’m part of the show group this year, which is the top 17 out of our squad of 34, so we might travel all over the country for shows or volunteer appearances. We spend a lot of time teaching kids dance clinics. We do a USO military tour where we go and spend time with the military on the bases. Especially with the DCC, the sideline is only 10 percent of the job. It really is a 12-month experience.”

15. You’re not just a pretty face.

“It’s not just dancing and smiling on the sidelines. We have a lot of interviews and tests. Your personality is really important, and it comes into play when they send you out to interact with media and spend time on a military base or in a hospital or interact with children. There’s so much more that goes into this than people would know on the outside just by the word ‘cheerleader.’ This team goes so much further into the real meaning behind what a cheerleader should be.”

Photo Courtesy of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

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Brooke Shunatona Brooke Shunatona is a contributing writer for

“Obviously, there’s an image that we have to maintain, but the way we were told and the way we were treated about our bodies was not healthy,” she said. “Instead of saying, ‘You know, girls, let’s watch what we’re eating,’ we’re called ‘jelly bellies.’ And instead of saying, ‘Let’s watch what we’re posting on social media,’ we’re called porn stars or crack whores. It’s not O.K. to be speaking to us like that, regardless of what I signed up for.”

Davis said the cheerleaders were frequently reminded that they were replaceable: “We were told, ‘There’s another girl who will do it for free,’” she said.

But they practically did that themselves.

According to both Davis and a copy of the 2017-2018 Texans cheerleader contract, cheerleaders were making $7.25 per hour, the state’s minimum wage, or approximately $1,500 per season. The employment agreement stipulates that the cheerleaders are hired as part-time employees (by day, some were college students, lawyers, or worked in P.R.). But Davis, as well as her former teammates who are suing the Texans, argued that Gary warned them upfront that they would be “part-time employees with full-time hours.” Their time commitment included games, practices, and a required 50 team-sponsored promotional appearances during the season. The cheerleaders said they were not paid overtime for hours of work outside of cheering, including selling calendars and meeting fans after games, plus daily social-media requirements, which included tweeting from the official cheerleader handle and following hundreds of people on Twitter in order to boost the account’s following.

“We were basically on-call every day,” Davis said. If a cheerleading coach messaged at midnight about tweets or followers, she said, “we were expected to reply right away.”

Davis echoed her former teammates’ claims that the Texans failed to adequately protect the cheerleaders when, as part of their duties, they were sent into the stands with prizes or to otherwise interact with fans and in V.I.P. suites to represent the team and “be the friendly faces of the Texans organization.” According to Davis, there was not regular security for cheerleaders as they encountered belligerent fans; sometimes she and her teammates were accompanied by a security officer and other times they were not, leaving them susceptible to fans who groped, clawed, or made suggestive comments. Furthermore, Gary told the cheerleaders not to wear their wedding or engagement rings, according to Davis, because it was “not a good look.” Davis said she believes this was an effort to make sure fans could sexualize the cheerleaders without the buzzkill of knowing if they were married or engaged.

Davis left the Texans when her year-long contract expired in April. She didn’t even bother to pick up her “rookie ring”—because her first season as an N.F.L. cheerleader had also become her last. She is often asked why she stuck out the year at all—or told that, as some on Twitter have trolled in response to the recent spate of lawsuits: no one held a gun to the cheerleaders’ heads.

“I was thinking, ‘I’ve worked so hard to be here. I can’t let anything distract me. I will find a way to survive. I will let these things slide.’ It’s almost a brainwashed mindset,” she said. “I was like a robot.” Not to mention: “I’ve never quit anything before, regardless of how hard it’s gotten. Quitting was almost like letting Coach win.”

As the alleged abuses piled up, however, Davis began plotting her exit. She’s gone on to found a social-media marketing company called the Social Shop, and is now urging cheerleaders to consider unionizing to prevent her experience from happening to others.

“Something needs to be changed. Any other job, this would not fly,” she said. “If we compare how much the N.F.L. spends on hot dog buns or whatever it may be, why don’t we spend time taking care of the women who are literally the walking representation of that group, or that Texan organization, or N.F.L. cheerleading?”

And while she said she has maybe-probably hung up her pom-poms for good—”’I’d rather not spend any more time with unless it’s to make a change”—she remains invested in the next generation of cheerleaders; the little girls who might have sat in the stands and looked at her in wonder.

“They’re not going to take the sparkle from anyone else,” Davis said. “I remember one of my other teammates, an alumna, she looked at me and she said, ‘I’ve never seen anybody come out of this program with their sparkle. Don’t let them take your sparkle.’”

Why I’ll Never Regret My (Awful) Audition to Be a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader

As a high school cheerleader, one of my favorite perks was the body. Growing up, I’d always been slightly pudgy, but the extra pounds magically melted off once I started cheering. By senior year, I was a size two, and my prom dress needed to be tailored closer to zero. Some of my neighbors thought I was anorexic, but I loved to eat everything from hero subs to Cap’n Crunch. My extreme weight loss was simply the product of a suddenly sky-high metabolism and cheering at practices and games.

My newly concave stomach followed me to college, where I proudly wore crop tops and skimpy bikinis. Even the discovery of alcohol and late-night Papa John’s at my self-professed “party school” didn’t do much to derail my svelte shape.

That is, until after graduation, when the realities of a desk job and lack of exercise caught up with me. I’d gotten out of school and onto a rollercoaster that would take me on a 15-year ride of gaining and losing the same 20 pounds again and again. (At one point, I was 45 pounds heavier than I’d been in college.)

I tried every means possible to reclaim my former form, from the Curves diet to Weight Watchers to Nutrisystem to juice cleanses. I even took part in several infomercial focus groups and adopted a rigorous workout regimen and the lean diet required to participate. My attempts almost always succeeded temporarily, but like a stubborn rubber band, my weight always snapped back to its new, higher “anchor” number.

Though I’d lost my fit cheerleader physique, I hadn’t lost the desire to cheer. After college, I spent a few years dancing for a semi-pro team in Chicago, but I secretly yearned to take the floor with the Luvabulls, the Chicago Bulls dance team. This desire followed me when I moved to Los Angeles, where I longingly eyed annual audition calls for the Clipper Girls and Laker Girls.

Next year, when I have a better body, I promised myself. Not surprisingly, I found myself making that same promise every year—and never hitting that magic number on the scale.

So naturally, when the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team reality show debuted on CMT, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of watching these women endure the rigorous training camp and—if they were lucky—receive their reward of those coveted white boots at its conclusion. I became intimately familiar with the organization’s impossibly stringent standards, from a dangerously lean figure to Rockette-worthy high kicks.

My husband often teased me about my about my guilty pleasure. (“Watching the DCC again?”) It was clear: The DCC had been indelibly added to the wish list that the Laker Girls, Clipper Girls, and Luvabulls already occupied. Except the DCC somehow seemed different—their big, flirty style of dancing was closer to my own, and they didn’t mandate technical dance experience like many other pro squads. Maybe I could actually do this… if I could get the body.

When I turned 35, a sense of urgency struck—it was now or never. Ten long years had passed since I’d begun my annual “next year” resolution. I was well aware that I was far above the age (and weight) of most NFL cheerleaders, but the story of 40-year-old Bengal cheerleader Laura Vikmanis gave me a glimmer of hope. It was time to hit the gym and go for it—or let go of the dream for good. So I booked travel to Dallas for the May auditions, figuring that would make me accountable for follow-through.

I was on a mission.

I began exercising six times weekly, throwing myself into Pilates, Zumba, Spin, yoga, kickboxing, and weightlifting with a vengeance. I took burlesque and hip-hop classes. I enrolled in a weight-loss challenge at my gym, which tracked my measurements and body fat percentage. (Let’s just say it was considerably higher than the DCC average of 12-15 percent.)

It was harder to get my diet in check. With every indulgence, I felt increasingly guilty and worried. I knew all about the catty comments made by the audition judges and the way the reality show worked. “I just don’t want to be in the fat montage,” I said to my husband, picturing the sports bra and booty shorts I’d have to wear on national television.

When the scale hadn’t moved much by April, it was time to employ extreme measures: I resurrected the lean protein diet I’d learned from the infomercials; I stepped up my exercising, working out daily—sometimes twice or several times; I turned down business lunches and dinners, knowing the caloric avalanche that accompanied. I had already given up alcohol, but I started adding aloe vera juice and protein/flax smoothies into my daily regimen.

The scale finally dipped, and not a minute too soon—tryout week had arrived. My anxiety escalated as I scrambled to achieve the look. I ordered compression tights for the illusion of thinner legs. I booked a colonic for a flatter stomach. I purchased water pills to ensure minimal bloat. I spray-tanned for a more contoured look.

Somehow, I arrived in Dallas two pounds from my goal weight, with an acceptably flat-ish stomach. I felt like I actually might be able to wear a midriff in front of the masses.

When I arrived at Cowboys Stadium for the audition, 400-plus girls were already in line. It was an attractive pack, with former Pro Bowl cheerleaders, college dance team captains, and even high schoolers on the verge of graduation. I was one of just a tiny handful over 30—including a 56-year-old who aspired to be the oldest DCC in history, and a 62-year-old grandma who’d undergone thyroid surgery and realized “life was too short” not to chase your dreams. Like me, she’d kept her decision to audition a secret from almost everyone she knew.

The day went like this: Hit the “fluff and puff” area for beautification, hear a pep talk from fearless leader Kelli Finglass, and then hit the tryout floor in groups of five for the carefully cultivated panel of judges (including a tanning salon owner and the DCC fitness guru).

When my group’s turn came, we stood in front of the judges under the relentless glare of the hot CMT reality show lights. This was the moment. I tried to stop my leg from shaking as I introduced myself on the microphone, then stepped back as the music began.

I purposefully launched into my freestyle combination and swiftly made rookie mistake No. 1: My hair got caught in my lip gloss and completely covered my face. My cheer career had trained me never to stop for snafus, so I kept going even though I probably resembled Cousin It.

Though I’d lost my fit cheerleader physique, I hadn’t lost the desire to cheer.

I then committed rookie mistake No. 2: completely blanking on my choreography. I went into full-blown panic mode and ended up doing an unflattering squat and some other, equally uninspired moves.

As the music wound down, we stood in front of the judges for final scrutiny. My hair continued to stick to my lips. I scurried offstage, bewildered and mortified. My many months of preparation had culminated in… that?! I managed to sit through the rest of the groups and make peace with it. At least I’d gotten out there—at that point, all I could do was laugh.

After the audition, a CMT producer requested an interview in one of the stadium suites. My mind raced—I knew how the show worked. I was going to be the older “hot mess” candidate who’d completely flubbed her audition. I decided to take them up on it, figuring I could redeem myself and give them some footage beyond a flailing mess of an audition.

When the semi-finalist board was revealed, I wasn’t surprised to see my number missing from it. My spirits were still somewhat high as I said goodbye to new friends and took one last look at cavernous Cowboys Stadium. I drove back to my hotel in a daze and immediately passed out from mounting exhaustion and disappointment.

I awoke a few hours later, completely disoriented and half unsure whether the whole thing had been a dream—then the panic washed over me, as I pictured looking ridiculous on reality television. Despite all of my hard work, I’d managed to neglect the one simple thing I needed to survive the audition in style: They hadn’t seen the real me, the person who loved to dance and excelled at it. Sure, I fit into skinny jeans, but did it matter?

Then it hit me: I’d been so obsessed with my body for so long that I’d lost sight of my real purpose—honoring my lifelong love of dance and enjoying one last hurrah. My fixation with my weight had overcome me. In the end, I’d gotten the look that I wanted, but my audition couldn’t have gone worse.

Sure, I fit into skinny jeans, but did it matter?

That was the healthy dose of perspective I needed (along with a juicy Texas burger). With the DCC audition experience checked off my bucket list—for better or worse—I decided to grant myself a pat on the back and move on. And thankfully, the reality show gods took pity on me when the show premiered, as I was nowhere to be seen on screen.

The experience helped me realize that while I may not be waif-thin—and no longer pro dance team material—I’m a lucky woman, with a supportive husband, a fulfilling job, and a life she loves—curves and all. And that alone is more than enough.

For me, that’s the spirit.

Jen Jones Donatelli is a freelance writer and editor who recently relocated from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Ohio. She is also the author of the Team Cheer fiction series and a contributor to numerous dance- and cheer-related publications. Say hi on Twitter at @creativegroove.

Really want to be an American cheerleader? Here’s your crappy rulebook

1) Always remember your pom-poms

This Dallas Cowboys cheerleader remembered hers

This quintessential cheerleading accessory is a must if you don’t want to face hefty fines, according to the Raiderettes who say they have been fined for accidentally bringing the wrong pom-poms to rehearsals. So, rule number one, make sure you have your pom-poms with you at all times.

2) Stay thin or sit in the locker room

If you gain five pounds, or appear “too soft”, you won’t get paid and you’ll be spending the game inside the locker room. The Raiderettes have to give up their £75 ($125) game fee if they put on weight, but it isn’t just them.

If you’re a Raven, you’re “expected to maintain ideal body weight and physical look for the duration of your contract. Weigh-ins will be held at the discretion of the Ravens.” If you don’t want to have a weigh-in, you could be suspended from the team permanently, or on gamedays. If you miss three game days for this reason, you could be out of the team so put down those carbs.

3) Don’t get assaulted

The Raider’s handbook suggests cheerleaders stay away from parties, such as one hosted by a player who was later suspended for drug use and arrested for date rape. It says: “For you on the squad who have attended those parties, just think how narrowly you missed having your photo in all the local papers and/or being assaulted.” So make sure you don’t get assaulted girls – if not for your sake at least for the team’s reputation!

4) Avoid spots at all costs

“Proper skin care must be maintained by all cheerleaders,” says the Ravens rulebook. So if you have a skin problem, you will have to consult not with your doctor, but your director. Try not to let this pressure give you stress spots, or your cheerleading career could be over.

5) Fake tan until your skin looks “warm”

The Philadelphia Eagles are appropriately tanned

In case you hadn’t already picked this up, maintaining physical appearance is basically the golden rule for cheerleaders, and fake tan is a big part of this.

The Ravens rulebook says: “All fair-skinned cheerleaders must have a warm skin colour for every gameday. This is provided through tanning and/or spray tanning.”

But if you don’t have the $$$ to indulge on beach breaks, cheerleaders will get discounts at a tanning salon. Phew.

6) Keep your nails in perfect condition

This is so important that the Raiderettes handbook advises all cheerleaders: “Keep nail polish pads in your car for emergencies.” But before you get excited about diamond-tipped leopard print nails, remember that “nail designs, flashy nail polish and/or ungroomed nails are not acceptable,” according to the Ravens. A French manicure it is.

7) Get your roots done every fortnight

This hair wouldn’t fly

It is mandatory for cheerleaders to have their colour-treated hair maintained, so that it is done “at least two weeks prior to every home game,” say the good old Ravens. If you’re too busy to let a little thing like your roots bother you, you may not be allowed to perform at the game. Hair must be a priority.

8) Get used to living below the minimum wage

The Raiderettes are apparently earning less than £4 an hour, which is less than the legal minimum wage in California. They are also not paid for rehearsals, a minimum of 10 other publicity appearances and the photoshoot for the annual swimsuit calendar. If you want to be a cheerleader, you’re not doing it for the money. In fact, a top tip would be to make sure you have another source of income. Good luck to you.


(Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports)

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are the only squad in the NFL with their own successful reality TV show. In case you haven’t seen it, Season 9 of “Making the Team” premiers Friday on CMT at 9 p.m. ET and it’s incredibly entertaining. For The Win went behind the scenes with DCC earlier this summer to learn more about what it takes to become a cheerleader and it’s a grueling process.

Here are five things you need to know before watching the show:

1. Everyone tries out

There are between 36-39 spots on the team, but on the first day of tryouts in May, more than 500 women from all over the world — New York, Miami, Australia, Japan — came to AT&T Stadium in hopes of becoming a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.

There were recent college graduates, triathletes, Laker Girls, and dental hygienists. One girl said she races off-road monster trucks for fun. Another had recently returned from serving eight years in the military. The ages ranged from 18-40.

(Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports)

2. Jerry Jones’ daughter is the president

Some NFL cheerleading squads aren’t as important to their organizations, but in Dallas it is. Jones’ daughter Charlotte Anderson has been in charge ever since her family bought the team in 1989.

(Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports)

3. Being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader isn’t considered a full-time job … but it should be

Most cheerleaders have full-time jobs in addition to their cheerleading responsibilities. They don’t do this for a paycheck.

“I was leaving work every day and going straight to practice and not getting home until 11 or 12 at night,” said Sunni West, who was a cheerleader from 2008-11 . “There was no downtime. No quiet time for me.

“Being a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader is a full-time job. Whether it’s rehearsals, calendar shoots, guest appearances, or whatever it is, it is a full-time job. When I was not working or I was not at practice, then I was 90% doing something that was Cowboys related.”

(Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports)

4. The cheerleaders have to tryout every year

Even the veterans. And sometimes the veterans get cut.

(Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports)

5. To make the team, you have to take a test

During the tryout process, team director Kelli McGonagill Finglass and choreographer Judy Trammell, who were both cheerleaders in the 1980s and have been in charge since the ’90s, conduct background checks, investigate social media backgrounds, teach interviewing skills and give etiquette training.

They also give a written test with 80 questions covering the history of the Dallas Cowboys, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, current events and nutrition.

(Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports)

To read more about the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, .

Iconic 1977 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders poster will hang in the Smithsonian

The Dallas Cowboys have in their possession but a single copy of the first poster to feature the team’s cheerleaders, which sold an estimated million copies upon its release in 1977. Charlotte Jones Anderson, the team exec tasked with managing the brand name, says it hangs, framed, in the Cowboys’ practice facility in Frisco. I told her Friday that if she needs another, a few posters are available on eBay for around $60 to $115. I also offered to sell her, at a very reasonable price, the one I bought last weekend at the Half-Price Books mothership for three whole dollars (#blessed).

She passed, politely. At the moment, Anderson is not looking to add to the scant collection. In fact, on Monday she’s actually giving away one of the posters that decorated my bedroom wall during the Carter administration, hanging alongside KISS’ “Spirit of ’76” tour keepsake and Farrah Fawcett in that red bathing suit now in the Smithsonian.

Anderson is donating the cheerleaders’ poster to the same institution — specifically, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, whose mission is to “help people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future.”

Heady stuff for a poster you could buy at Spencer Gifts in the ’70s.

“It’s monumental,” the Cowboys’ executive vice president said Friday. “I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

Anderson will bring with her more than just the poster: The Smithsonian is also taking one of designer Paula Van Wagoner’s original crop-top-and-hot-pants unis; the 2011 update; and the Barbie dolls Mattel released in 2007. All they’re missing is a videocassette of the 1979 made-for-TV movie Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, starring Bert Convy, Jane Seymour and, for some reason, New York Yankee Bucky Dent.

But the poster, the brainchild of original Cowboys president and GM Tex Schramm that was once available at every 7-Eleven, is the collection’s centerpiece — in part because it defined the image of America’s Team when the nickname hadn’t yet become America’s epithet. And, mostly, because “it sold more pieces than any other thing we’ve ever sold as a storied organization,” Anderson said.

It was, at the time, considered a racy — to some, even obscene — marketing tool. The New York Times wondered whether the poster — featuring, from left, Syndy Garza, Suzette Russell, Suzie Holub, Cynde Lewis and Debbie Wagener — was “sexist or just sparkling?” A former cheerleader, Merry Sales, told The Times she was not a fan: “My mother saw that picture and said, ‘Dear, I’m sure glad you’re not a cheerleader now.'”

The poster expedited the cheerleaders’ ascension from sideline to spotlight and heralded what Joe Nick Patoski, writing in Texas Monthly, would later call the “Age of Jiggle.” And it came to define the Cowboys of the ’70s as much as any Hail Mary, Doomsday Defense or Super Bowl win.

Over a two-day shoot, five cheerleaders made the cut. From left, Syndy Garza, Suzette Russell, Suzie Holub, Cynde Lewis, and Debbie Wagener.(Concept and photography by Bob Shaw / Courtesy Bob Shaw)

“For us, that was such an iconic part of our history during that era: They were America’s Team and America’s Sweethearts,” Anderson said. “It was the building of our legacy and what we are today, and in that, Tex was known for pushing the envelope in terms of what football would be and could mean on this level.”

The poster was released just a month after a cheerleader graced the October 1977 cover of Esquire beneath the headline, “The Dallas Cowgirls (The Best Thing About the Dallas Cowboys).” The man who shot that cover and the inside spread was responsible, too, for coming up with the concept for the poster: Bob Shaw, at the time a Dallas freelance photographer who’d persuaded Esquire to do a feature on the women who worked full-time hours and were paid a mere $15 a game — before taxes — to bounce for the TV cameras.

Shaw had become tight with Schramm — so close, Shaw said this week, “I got so comfortable in his office I felt like I could put my feet on his desk.” Before sending the Esquire shoot to New York, Shaw stopped by the boss’s office.

“I was showing Tex the photos, and he said, ‘Those aren’t our girls, are they?” Shaw said Friday from his Arkansas home. “He really liked the pictures I was doing at that point. And he said, ‘Do you think you could do a poster like that Farrah Fawcett poster?”

Anderson and Kelli McGonagill Finglass, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ director, will join the museum’s director and curator for a donation ceremony Monday afternoon. Shaw, who found out about the nod only last week, will not. But he is deeply proud of the “great accolade,” his once-disposable piece of pop culture now enshrined at the Smithsonian.

“Wow, we’re in the Smithsonian,” Anderson said Friday.

Charlotte Jones Anderson in the Stadium Club at AT&T Stadium in Arlington(Nathan Hunsinger / Staff Photographer)

She reminded me that in 1989, she left Washington, D.C., where she was an administrative assistant to an Arkansas congressman, to work for her dad after Jerry Jones considered changing Schramm’s cheerleader outfits — from hot pants to biker shorts. Cheerleaders walked out; their director quit. Anderson was dispatched to quell the revolt.

“We know the influence of our game on American culture, but the cheerleaders themselves being so iconic to our culture is an entirely different pinnacle of accomplishment,” she said. “And why? Piece it together: success on the field and on television, reaching a new audience, the sparkle, even that little bit of the controversy. All those elements led to them becoming a piece of pop culture. And it’s pretty amazing.”

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Through the Years

90 photos 1/90 2/90 3/90 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders – 1965 4/90 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders – 1967 5/90 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders – 1970s 6/90 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniform sketch 1972 7/90 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders – 1972 8/90 Tami Barber circa 1970s 9/90 Tami Barber circa 1970s 10/90 Teri Richardson circa 1970s 11/90 Dallas Cowboys Suzanne Mitchell, left, gives instructions to Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders while on a tour in Japan in 1978. Mitchell, the former director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders in the 1970s and 80s, died Sept. 27, 2016. 12/90 VonCiel Baker circa 1970s 13/90 Debbie Aycock circa 1980s 14/90 Judy Trammell circa 1980s 15/90 Judy Trammell circa 1980s 16/90 Kelli Finglass circa 1980s 17/90 Suzette Russell circa 1980s 18/90 circa 1990s 19/90 Regina Tucker circa 1990s 20/90 Regina Tucker circa 1990s 21/90 02 October 2011: Cheerleaders of the Dallas Cowboys during the Cowboys 34-30 loss to the Detroit Lions at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Photo by James D. Smith 22/90 11 December 2011: Cheerleaders of the Dallas Cowboys during the Cowboys 37-34 loss to the New York Giants at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Photo by James D. Smith 23/90 29 August 2012: Cheerleaders of the Dallas Cowboys during the Cowboys 30-13 preseason win over the Miami Dolphins at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Photo by James D. Smith 24/90 24 August 2013: Cheerleaders of the Dallas Cowboys during the Cowboys 24-18 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys 25/90 26/90 27/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders warm up the crowd at Texas Stadium Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008, before the team takes on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 28/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders warm up the crowd at Texas Stadium Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008, before the team takes on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 29/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders warm up the crowd at Texas Stadium Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008, before the team takes on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 30/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders warm up the crowd at Texas Stadium Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008, before the team takes on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 31/90 IRVING, TX – OCTOBER 26: Abigail Klein of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Texas Stadium on October 26, 2008 in Irving, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) 32/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders warm up the crowd at Texas Stadium Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008, before the team takes on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 33/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders warm up the crowd at Texas Stadium Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008, before the team takes on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 34/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders warm up the crowd at Texas Stadium Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008, before the team takes on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 35/90 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders entertain the crowd at half-time. Photo taken Dec. 20, 2008. 36/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders entertain the fans at Texas Stadium prior to the start of the last game at the iconic stadium. Photo taken Dec. 20, 2008. 37/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders entertain fans prior to the start of the final game at Texas Stadium. Photo taken Dec. 20, 2008. 38/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders entertain fans prior to the start of the final game at Texas Stadium. Photo taken Dec. 20, 2008. 39/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders entertain the fans at Texas Stadium prior to the start of the last game at the iconic stadium. Photo taken Dec. 20, 2008. 40/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders entertain the fans at Texas Stadium prior to the start of the last game at the iconic stadium. Photo taken Dec. 20, 2008. 41/90 DALLAS – SEPTEMBER 28: Erica Jenkins of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs during a game against the Washington Redskins at Texas Stadium on September 28, 2008 in Irving, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) 42/90 DALLAS – SEPTEMBER 15: Makenzi Swicegood of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Texas Stadium on September 15, 2008 in Irving, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) 43/90 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform for fans before the Cowboys take the field against the Tennessee Titans during a preseason game at the new Cowboys Stadium. 44/90 The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders kick it into high gear during a practice session at the new Cowboys stadium. 45/90 The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders take the field at the new Cowboys Stadium. 46/90 ARLINGTON, TX – AUGUST 29: A Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader performs at Cowboys Stadium on August 29, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) 47/90 A Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader performs at Cowboys Stadium on August 29, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. 48/90 The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perform at Cowboys Stadium. 49/90 Tobie Percival of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs at Cowboys Stadium. 50/90 A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs during the game against the Denver Broncos on November 24, 2005 at Texas Stadium. 51/90 A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs during the game against the Denver Broncos on November 24, 2005 at Texas Stadium. 52/90 A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs before a game against the Carolina Panthers at Cowboys Stadium. 53/90 Members of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perform before the start of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) 54/90 A member of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders performs during an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Monday, Sept. 28, 2009, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam) 55/90 ARLINGTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 28: A Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader performs at Cowboys Stadium on September 28, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) 56/90 ARLINGTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 28: Abigail Klein of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs at Cowboys Stadium on September 28, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) 57/90 A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs during the game against the Denver Broncos on November 24, 2005 at Texas Stadium. 58/90 A member of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders during an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009, in Arlington, Texas. 59/90 Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders prepare to perform during an NFL football game in Arlington. 60/90 Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perform during an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins. 61/90 A member of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders performs during an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins. 62/90 Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perform during the first half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero) 63/90 Members of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perform during an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam) 64/90 Members of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perform during an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam) 65/90 Sunni Cranfill of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs at Cowboys Stadium. 66/90 A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs during an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers in Arlington, Texas. 67/90 A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs during an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers in Arlington, Texas. 68/90 Amy Reese of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 69/90 Abigail Klein of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 70/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at Cowboys Stadium. 71/90 Meagan McVay of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 72/90 Abigail Klein of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Cowboys Stadium. 73/90 Amy Reese of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs at Cowboys Stadium on November 22, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. 74/90 Trisha Trevino of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs at Cowboys Stadium on November 22, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. 75/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform during the preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium on August 12, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. 76/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform during the preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium on August 12, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. 77/90 A Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader performs at Cowboys Stadium on November 22, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. 78/90 The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform during the preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium on August 12, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. 79/90 A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs during an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009, in Arlington, Texas. 80/90 Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders 81/90 A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs during the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. The Bears won 27-20. (AP Photo/Tim Sharp) 82/90 ARLINGTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 19: A Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader performs during a game against the Chicago Bears at Cowboys Stadium on September 19, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) 83/90 ARLINGTON, TX – OCTOBER 31: A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs at Cowboys Stadium on October 31, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images) 84/90 ARLINGTON, TX – OCTOBER 10: A member of the the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs during the game with the Tennessee Titans at Cowboys Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. The Titans won 34-27. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) 85/90 Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perform during an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, November 13, 2011 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys won the game, 44-7. (AP Photo/James D Smith) 86/90 ARLINGTON, TX – NOVEMBER 24: Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders performs during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Cowboys Stadium on November 24, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys defeated the Dolphins 20 to 19. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) 87/90 Getty Images ARLINGTON, TX – AUGUST 16: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform during the preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium on August 16, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) 88/90 ARLINGTON, TX – AUGUST 16: A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs during an NFL preseason game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on August 16, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) 89/90 Getty Images ARLINGTON, TX – AUGUST 16: A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs during an NFL preseason game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on August 16, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) 90/90 Getty Images ARLINGTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 27: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Atlanta Falcons at AT&T Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders
General Information
Team Dallas Cowboys
Director Kelli McGonagill Finglass
Members 36
Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (1960–present)
Alternate logo

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (DCC) is the National Football League cheerleading squad representing the Dallas Cowboys.

History Edit

1960s Edit

The original cheerleading squad was a made up of a male-female group called the CowBelles & Beaux. The group made its sidelines debut in 1960 during the Cowboys’ inaugural season. Local high school students made up the squad, which was typical of other high school and college cheerleading squads throughout the 1960s, rarely getting much attention.

During a game between the Cowboys and the Atlanta Falcons at the Cotton Bowl during the 1967 season, the scantily clad, well-endowed Bubbles Cash, a stripper by profession, caused a tremendous stir in the crowd that turned to cheers when she walked down the staircase stands on the 50 yard line carrying cotton candy in each hand. She became an instant public sensation in Dallas, and Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm noted all of this. Understanding the importance of the entertainment industry to the Cowboys’ profitability, Schramm was inspired to form a cheerleading squad dressed in similar fashion to Cash.

In 1969, it was decided that the cheerleading squad needed a new image and the decision was made to drop the male cheerleaders and select an all female squad from local high school cheerleaders in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It was at this period that the CowBelles & Beaux became the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

1970s Edit

Preparing for the 1970 season, Schramm decided to change the Cheerleaders’ image to boost attendance. At first the main change was to create an all-female squad and change the uniforms and style of cheerleading routines to be more primarily dance and less like traditional acrobatic routines like that of high school or college cheerleading squads. The ten local high school cheerleaders that were selected for the 1970 season were also involved in the task of totally redesigning the uniforms and creating new dance style cheer routines under Dee Brock’s direction and with the help of a choreographer. In 1971, the qualification rules changed to allow not only local female cheerleaders to compete for a spot on the squad, but also high school drill team officers. Then in 1972, Texie Waterman, a New York choreographer, was recruited and charged with auditioning and training an entirely new female squad which would all be over 18 years of age, searching for attractive appearance, athletic ability, and raw talent as performers. And since the 1972 squad consisted of adults, this allowed the possibility of again redesigning the uniforms to introduce a more revealing, sexier look closer to what we see today. This modified squad first appeared on the sidelines during the Cowboys’ 1972 season.

Even greater national attention came in 1978 when the squad appeared on two network TV specials, NBC Rock-n-Roll Sports Classic and The Osmond Brothers Special on ABC. In 1978, the Cheerleaders had their own one-hour special, The 36 Most Beautiful Girls in Texas, which aired on ABC prior to the season opener of Monday Night Football (which coincidentally was a game that the Cowboys hosted).

On January 14, 1979, the made-for-TV movie The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (1979) aired. Starring Bert Convy and Jane Seymour, it had a 48% share of the national television audience.

1980s Edit

On January 13, 1980, a sequel to the original TV movie called The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders II (1980) aired. Throughout the years that followed, the Cheerleaders have made many other TV appearances; and their likeness has been featured on various merchandise, such as posters, T-shirts, bubblegum cards, and calendars.

The Cheerleaders have also toured throughout the US (on and off field) and overseas. Included in this are regular appearances in United Service Organizations (USO) tours. This started in the Christmas of 1979, for US troops stationed in South Korea. Since then, it has remained a regular function for the squad.

1990s and beyond Edit

The Cheerleaders release an annual swimsuit calendar.

Held a ceremony inaugurating the second game of 1994 FIFA World Cup between Spain and South Korea.

Former DCCs Kelli McGonagill Finglass and Judy Trammell are the squad’s director and choreographer, respectively.

Since 2006, the Cheerleaders have had their own reality television series, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, which airs on Country Music Television (CMT). The series follows the auditioning process of the annual squad.

The Cheerleaders received the FIFA delegation to promote the 2022 FIFA World Cup.


This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (September 2012)

The uniform itself is a carefully guarded trademark and may not be duplicated in any way without the written permission of the DCC. The internationally recognized ensemble of blouse, vest, and shorts was originally designed by Paula Van Wagoner.


Since first introduced with the formation of the squad in 1972, the basic uniform has been modified only six times:

  • In May 1989, the original “go-go” boot had gone out of style, and a more western oriented design was selected.
  • In 1991, the large buckled belt was left behind in favor of shorts with a more flattering cut.
  • In 1992, a cowboy-style boot was introduced to the uniform
  • In 1993, crystals were added to outline the fifteen stars on the vest and shorts.
  • In 1994, a more western shape to the blouse lapels was incorporated.
  • In 1999, crystals were added to the fringe line of the vest.
  • In 2002, a western styled belt with a large buckle was added to the shorts.

Each modification has been approved by Director Kelli McGonagill Finglass and implemented by Leveta Crager, who for twenty-four years made and hand tailored every uniform worn by a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. Upon her retirement, at the start of the 1996 season, designer Greg Danison was selected to continue the tradition of individual craftsmanship.

Off-field television appearancesEdit

The squad has appeared on variety of TV shows and specials, as performers, guest acting roles, and game show contestants. Some of the shows they have appeared on include:

  • The Love Boat, Episodes #62 and #63 – One cheerleader has an unwanted admirer stalking her on the ship. Another is hit on by her mom’s fiance. As a group, the Cheerleaders perform their signature routines.
  • Family Feud – Five of the Cheerleaders participated as a team on a celebrity special for charity against five of the Cowboys players on the week of June 30 – July 4, 1980.
  • Harry and the Hendersons – Guest appearance.
  • Billy Bob’s New Year Special for CBS.
  • Nashville Palace Show (1981) – The Cheerleaders appeared as guests alongside the Oak Ridge Boys.
  • Hard Knocks (2002)
  • Saturday Night Live.
  • The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
  • Late Show with David Letterman.
  • Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? – Participated on a celebrity special for charity in 2008.
  • The Cheerleaders have also appeared on a number of country music awards shows and specials since the late 1970s.

In addition to these guest appearances, the organization has produced the reality television series Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team each season since 2006. The series, which airs on CMT, chronicles the audition process and performer selection for each season’s squad.

Notable DCC alumniEdit

Many former DCCs have gone on to achieve fame in show business or succeeded in other notable endeavors. They include:

  • Tina Hernandez (1977–78), actress, CHiPs TV Series (1982–1983)
  • Tami Barber (1977–80), actress
  • Janet Fulkerson (1980–82), actress
  • Judy Trammell (1980–84), Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ current choreographer, mother of current DCC Cassie Trammell
  • Kelli Finglass (1984–89), current director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders
  • Sheri Scholz (1985), Miss Texas Teen USA 1983
  • Stacie Drew (1992–96), was married to country singer Tracy Lawrence
  • Kimberly Ball (1993–94), reporter of KTVT
  • Jill Marie Jones (1993–95), actress, plays Toni On Girlfriends
  • Michelle Parma (1993–94), actress, MTV’s Road Rules: Europe. She died in a car accident in Texas on October 19, 2002
  • Bonnie-Jill Laflin (1996), actress/model
  • Sarah Shahi, (1999–2000), actress, plays Carmen on The L Word, second season. Most recently on NBC’s “Life”. Now stars in USA Network’s Fairly Legal
  • Denise Garvey (2000), director and coach of the NY Jets Flight Crew Cheerleading Squad, former New Jersey Nets Dancer, former New York Knicks dancer
  • Kristin Holt (2000–01), television personality, entertainment news correspondent
  • Jenni Croft (2002–05), contestant on The Bachelor Season 11
  • Emily Kuchar (2003–04), wife of Zack Greinke
  • Micaela Johnson (2003–05), Miss Nebraska USA 2008
  • Starr Spangler (2005–08), winner of The Amazing Race 13
  • Melissa Rycroft (2006–08), ABC’s Dancing with the Stars contestant and Winner then runner-up on The Bachelor Season 13
  • Kandi Harris (2006–09), wife of Hunter Mahan
  • Brooke Sorenson (2006–11), wife of Laynce Nix
  • Erica Kiehl Jenkins (2007–09), singer, member of The Pussycat Dolls
  • Abigail Klein (2007–10), actress
  • Lezlie Deane, actress, founder of techno group Fem2fem
  • Shaune Stauffer, model and jewelry designer


The DCC on board USS Harry S. Truman. The DCC visit U.S. sailors on board USS Nimitz. Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders come to a forward operating base in Iraq to entertain troops. The DCC chearleading in Iraq. Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders kickline.Amber Lea.Holly Arielle.Abigail Klien.
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  • Shropshire, Mike. (1997). The Ice Bowl. New York, NY: Donald I. Fine Books. ISBN 1-55611-532-6

External linksEdit

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

  • Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at the Internet Movie Database
  • Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders II at the Internet Movie Database
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Current League Affiliations League: National Football League • Conference: National Football Conference • Division: East Division
v · d · eNational Football League Cheerleaders
American Football Conference
AFC East

Buffalo Jills (Buffalo Bills)
Dolphins Cheerleaders (Miami Dolphins)
Patriots Cheerleaders (New England Patriots)
Jets Flight Crew (New York Jets)

AFC North

Ravens Cheerleaders (Baltimore Ravens)
Ben-Gals (Cincinnati Bengals)
None (Cleveland Browns)
Pittsburgh Steelerettes (Pittsburgh Steelers)

AFC South

Texans Cheerleaders (Houston Texans)
Colts Cheerleaders (Indianapolis Colts)
Roar (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Titans Cheerleaders (Tennessee Titans)

AFC West

Broncos Cheerleaders (Denver Broncos)
Chiefs Cheerleaders (Kansas City Chiefs)
Oakland Raiderettes (Oakland Raiders)
Charger Girls (San Diego Chargers)

National Football Conference
NFC East

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (Dallas Cowboys)
None (New York Giants)
Eagles Cheerleaders (Philadelphia Eagles)
Redskins Cheerleaders (Washington Redskins)

NFC North

None (Chicago Bears)
None (Detroit Lions)
Green Bay Packers cheerleaders (Green Bay Packers)
Vikings Cheerleaders (Minnesota Vikings)

NFC South

Falcons Cheerleaders (Atlanta Falcons)
Topcats (Carolina Panthers)
Saintsations (New Orleans Saints)
Buccaneers Cheerleaders (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

NFC West

Cardinals Cheerleaders (Arizona Cardinals)
Los Angeles Rams Cheerleaders (Los Angeles Rams)
San Francisco Gold Rush (San Francisco 49ers)
Sea Gals (Seattle Seahawks)

This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with American Football Database, the text of Wikipedia is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.

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