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The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders…
the name itself brings to each of us images of an American icon – beautiful ladies decked out in blue and white uniforms cheering America’s Team on to victory; precision dance routines that require a combination of stamina, flexibility and timing that would leave most of us gasping – yet they smile and dance on; or for some, it’s the time that we met one of them and she signed an autograph and we spent a few minutes talking…the images differ, but each holds a special place. And today’s phenomenon of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders is equally special. Everywhere across the country or around the world that any of these young ladies appear thousands of fans congregate looking for the opportunity for a photograph, an autograph, or a few moments to say hello. America’s Sweethearts have truly become the darlings of the National Football League. But it didn’t start out that way.
The Dallas Cowboys have always had cheerleaders. Tex Schramm, the Cowboys general manager at the time, with his extensive background in television, recognized that professional football had become more than sports – it was sports entertainment. He knew that the public liked pretty girls. In 1960, he tried hiring professional models for the sidelines. It was a disaster. The models were beautiful, but they were not athletes. More than 3 hours of exertion in the hundred degree heat of the sidelines had left them in worse shape after the game than the football players. But, the idea just would not go away. Models had not worked, but what about dancers? As was the standard in professional football throughout the 1960’s, 1961 ushered in the era of the “CowBelles & Beaux.” These high school students from the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex were managed by Dee Brock. They cheered on the football teams success all the way to the 1971 Super Bowl Championship. But, during the Cowboys preparations for the defense of their World Championship title in the 1972 season, a new idea was born.
Tex talked the idea over with Dee and the decision was made to expand the established football tradition of sideline cheerleaders into a glamorous, choreographed squad of accomplished dancers that would serve as a counterpoint to the game itself. Dee recruited one of the top dancers in America, Texie Waterman, who also owned a dance studio in Dallas, to judge at the auditions and help create a squad of dancers to grace the sidelines of Texas Stadium. Sixty ladies attended that first audition. Seven were chosen. They spent their summer at Training Camp with Texie where cheers and chants were replaced with grand jetes and pirouettes.When the 1972-73 NFL season kicked off that fall, it was a major turning point in Cheerleader history. The Dallas Cowboys introduced their “new” Cheerleaders at Texas Stadium wearing new star spangled uniforms and debuting an innovative and exciting new form of gameday action. For the first time ever, anywhere, jazz dancing was blended with beauty and brought to a football field…and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were born.
When Dee left to resume her graduate studies, Texie became the heart and soul of the new form of on-field entertainment. Her total commitment to professional creativity and disciplined dance execution found a new focus in sideline routines and field performances. As the Cheerleaders success grew, so to did the dozens of responsibilities for auditions, rehearsals, personal appearances, meetings, and all of the details required to put the group in top form on the football field. Initially, Tex asked his secretary, Suzanne Mitchell, to handle managing the squad in her “spare time”, and in 1976 she become the first Director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
While Texie perfected the performance, Suzanne piloted the organization to world-wide renown. With her guidance, dedication, and love for each of the Cheerleaders, as well as the traditions of the Squad, she succeeded in developing the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.
With Texie’s retirement in the early 80’s, Suzanne’s search for the next DCC choreographer did not have to go too far afield. Texie had succeeded in establishing a new dance form – customized for a 100 yard “stage” with a football stadium audience – and one of her most popular and outstanding DCC protégé’s was already assisting with the Cheerleaders choreography. Shannon Baker Werthmann had been receiving dance honors since the age of 5 and had spent 4 years as one of “America’s Sweethearts”. “I was looking for a choreographer who knew the field, who understood what the girls were going through”. Shannon certainly filled the bill, and for the next decade built upon the performance foundation Texie had laid.
While the crowds at Texas Stadium responded enthusiastically to this new facet of professional football, it wasn’t until January of 1976 that the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders took their next big step. During a break in the action at Super Bowl X in Miami, an astute television cameraman let his lens wander over to the sidelines, catching a row of lovely young women wearing their striking blue and white uniforms. One of the Cheerleaders caught his gaze and winked. It probably never occurred to her that she was on national television, but 75 million viewers – a full one third of the nation – were watching. And they didn’t take their eyes off what they saw.
The 1977 season brought a second World Championship to “America’s Team” and helped to launch “America’s Sweethearts” well beyond the football field. The ’77 squad appeared on two network television specials in the spring of 1978 – the NBC Rock-n-Roll Sports Classic and The Osmond Brothers Special on ABC. In August, the ’78 squad was featured in a Faberge shampoo commercial. September had the Cheerleaders kicking off the season for Monday Night Football by hosting their own one-hour Special on ABC entitled “The 36 Most Beautiful Girls in Texas”. Hollywood came to Dallas in November to film “The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders”, a two hour movie that aired on January 14, 1979. In taking a 60% share of the national television audience, it became the second highest rated made-for-television movie in history. The sequel, “The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders II” aired on January 13, 1980. More recently, the Cheerleaders had a featured role in Robert Altman’s latest motion picture, starring Richard Gere, “Dr. T and the Women” which was released in the Fall of 2000.
The television appearances have continued throughout the years. The Cheerleaders have sailed on “The Love Boat” twice, battled the Dallas Cowboys on “Family Feud”, visited with “Harry & the Hendersons”, made a “Salute to Lady Liberty” and celebrated the “Billy Bob’s New Year Special” for CBS. They have joined NBC for three “Academy of Country & Western Music Awards” shows and a “Nashville Palace Show”, and been the guests of Phil Donahue, Geraldo and “The Wheel of Fortune”. They’ve even spent their Saturday night dancing on “Saturday Night Live”, made appearances with Jay Leno, David Letterman and Oprah, and performed alongside celebrities such as Clint Black, Shania Twain, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, Jessica Simpson, Billy Gilman, Neal McCoy, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Selena Gomez, and many, many more.
The International Appeal…
1978 also brought the beginnings of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders international activities. A performance at the Mirage Bowl football game in December of that year took the squad on a very successful 10-day tour of Japan. Millions of Japanese took advantage of the opportunity to see them perform in theaters and parades across the country as well as on a number of national television programs. They also completed several commercials for Mitsubushi Motors Corporation during the trip. Other international promotional tours have included trips to China, South Korea and back to Japan twice for American Airlines, a trip to Australia for Philips Consumer Products, and appearances in Peru sponsored by the Saga Company. In fact, their international appeal has proven to be a tremendous marketing tool for companies around the world needing to make an American “splash” with their campaign, including the National Football League. When the NFL wanted promotional appearances for American football in Mexico and Japan, the group they asked was the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
The Show Group…
Wherever crowds gather, the Cheerleaders unique brand of entertainment and appeal has been sought after and much appreciated. As their reputation has grown, so too have the opportunities for these extraordinary young women to share their range of talents. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Show Group was developed specifically for that purpose. Each year the most versatile and accomplished of the Cheerleaders are selected for this elite entertainment troupe. Their elaborately costumed and fully choreographed musical variety show, “America & Her Music”, has proven to be a crowd pleaser at national conventions, corporate events and government gatherings.
While the high-profile experiences of being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader are unique, for many of the members of the squad the most rewarding of their activities are in somewhat less glamorous surroundings. In 1979, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) requested their presence on a USO Christmas tour of installations in Korea. The ladies performances were so enthusiastically received by the thousands of American troops serving their country so very far from home that a tradition was born.
Through 2013, the Cheerleaders, the DOD and the USO have since teamed up an unprecedented 77 times to boost the morale of the men, women, and families of our U.S. military at hundreds of bases and outposts around the world. If our country’s forces are stationed there, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders stand ready to offer their own brand of thanks to these dedicated young Americans. The one-hour variety shows bring standing ovations and tears to the eyes of the audiences and the entertainers alike. The ladies have their meals in the mess halls and share in close conversations about the Cowboys, happenings in the States and loved ones at home.
It is a special time. So special in fact that in 1991 the Cheerleaders were honored to receive the USO’s prestigious “50th Anniversary Award” and in 1997 their years of distinguished service the men, women and families of America’s Armed Forces was recognized with the presentation of the USO’s first ever “Spirit of Hope Award”. The Veterans of Foreign Wars acknowledged the Cheerleaders continued commitment with their “Hall of Fame Award” in 20002 and in 2013 the American Legion bestowed the highest honor, “The Distinguished Service Medal, on the Cheerleaders “not for what they’ve done on the football field, but for what they’ve done off the field over 35 years of continuous support for the U.S. military.”
Most of the Cheerleaders non-game appearances are done for charity. They have lent their support to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Salvation Army, the East Texas Angel Network, the USO, the Association for Hearing Impaired Children, Veterans Administration Hospitals , the March of Dimes, American Heart Association, Arthritis Foundation, Cancer Society, United Way, Variety Club Telethons, and the Make A Wish Foundation – in addition to their annual visits to numerous nursing homes and children’s hospitals.
This unique group of young women has a deep responsibility: they assume a corporate identity, yet they cannot lose sight of themselves as individuals. It is a basic concept of the organization that each person in the stadium or in the audience has a mental picture of their ideal girl – and the squad offers someone for each of them to identify with. As in the past, almost every phase of the American woman is represented: teachers, secretaries, company executives, homemakers, nurses, students, medical technicians, fashion coordinators, accountants, sales and advertising representatives, file clerks, receptionists, cashiers, dental hygienists, flight attendants, etc. Some are single, some are married – several have children. Typically they range in age from 18 to 36, although there is no upper age limit. They are from small towns and big cities. Some have been performing for years with extensive dance backgrounds and some come to the Squad with no training at all, but have the gift of showmanship and the ability to learn.
What they all have in common is the dedication to responsibility and commitment to excellence that being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader requires.
Each spring up to 600 young women from across America converge on AT&T Stadium in pursuit of their dream to become a member of the DCC. Most are attending college or pursuing their chosen professional career. Some are homemakers and moms. All believe they ‘have what it takes’ and are determined to demonstrate that to the panel of judges.” And although they receive a bye into the Finals, even the members of the previous years squad must once again compete in the hope of reclaiming a position.
The Preliminaries, Semi’s, and Finals of the audition process result in the selection of approximately forty-five “training camp” candidates. From May until late July this elite corps rehearse almost every evening for four or more hours at a time under the critical eyes of their Director, Kelli McGonagill Finglass and Choreographer Judy Trammell.
All rehearsals of the 50-plus song and dance numbers in each season’s repertoire are mandatory. If a Cheerleader misses a rehearsal prior to a home game, she will not be allowed to perform at that game. Anyone with two unexcused absences prior to a home game is subject to being released from the squad. The axiom of “practice makes perfect” certainly applies. And while perfection is the common goal of each of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, excellence is the standard of the entire organization.
The set of rules which govern each lady’s appearance and performance is lengthy and explicit. Each girl is individually counselled on personal grooming, makeup, physical fitness and interpersonal communications. Cheerleaders receive training in etiquette, communications skills, media relations and fan mail. The DCC uniform may be worn only with the organizations specific authorization.
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 blouse, vest and shorts were originally designed by Paula Van Waggoner, of the Lester Melnick store in Dallas. Since first introduced with the formation of the squad in 1972, there have been only six modifications to the uniform. In May of 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. 1992 brought a cowboy-style boot to the uniform, and in 1993 crystals were added to outline the fifteen stars on the vest and shorts. 1994 brought a more western shape to the blouse lapels, and finally, in 1999 crystals were added to the fringe line of the vest. Each modification, after careful consideration by Director, Kelli McGonagill Finglass, was implemented to enhance the image that the uniform has represented from the very beginning – an image made all the more consistent through the efforts and dedication of Ms. Leveta Crager, who for twenty four years made and hand tailored every uniform worn by a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. That handcrafted uniform tradition continues under the watchful eyes and skilled hands of Ms. Lisa Dobson.
Today’s Cheerleaders are guided by 2 former DCC – Kelli McGonagill Finglass and Judy Trammell. Both, as young girls aspired to don the uniform and perform for the fans while cheering on “their” Cowboys. Both felt the intimidation of being among hundreds of beautiful, talented young women at their first audition. Both endured the long hours of rehearsals preparing their minds and bodies for the exacting precision expected of every performance. Both embraced the rewards of the truly unique experiences inherent in being a DCC. And, both have, from that foundation, grown to become the guardians of the past and the shepherds of the future.
Kelli’s road to becoming Director in 1991 included five years as a Cheerleader, one year in the Cowboys’ Sales and Promotions Department, and one year serving as the Squad’s Assistant Director. She leads the Cheerleaders with passion and dedication to be the best in the world in their field of entertainment. In doing so, the standards of measure are simple: Everything must improve each year. As director of the internationally acclaimed organization, Kelli’s responsibilities are extensive. From costume design and licensing agreements to sponsorships and legal issues of employment, she must create programs that enhance the image of the DCC, while maintaining growth and development of the business. Under her stewardship, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have evolved from a highly valued operational expense of the football club to a self sustaining business enterprise with a world-wide reach. She is a Director who also serves as a disciplinarian, mediator, consultant and administrator in all facets of the operation.
Judy’s four years of cheering led to six years as the Squad’s Assistant Choreographer. In 1991 she assumed her current role as Choreographer. With her natural creativity having been honed under Texie Watermen’s tutelage, Judy has succeeded in blending the performance traditions of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders with the latest trends in music and dance. Her relationship with the members of the Squad as both a teacher and trainer is based on high expectations buffered by her understanding nature. Her talents are displayed every time the Cheerleaders perform…from the elaborately choreographed and costumed production numbers of the Show Group to sideline routines and halftime extravaganzas featuring hundreds of cast members. Together, Kelli and Judy are partners sharing a deep respect for each other and for the heritage and the phenomenon for which they are now responsible.
Whether at a football game, a charity performance, or a sponsored autograph session, when a DCC appears in her uniform many hours have been spent in preparation and the DCC staff maintains protective control over the situation. Under the guidance of Ms. McGonagill Finglass hundreds of requests for interviews, photographs and appearances are carefully screened. Many of them must be rejected for a variety of factors which make them unsuitable by DCC standards. All appearances are arranged by contract, and if the stipulations are not fully met, the Cheerleaders will not appear. If overnight travel is required at least one member of the administrative staff will always accompany the girls. They will travel in a group, return as a group and are not allowed to go out on their own at any time during the trip. Escorts, transportation, lodging, itineraries and all other details of the trip are agreed upon prior to departure and deviations are not permitted.
All of the many precautions are to protect the image of the DCC as a whole and each Cheerleader as an individual. Their fans want and expect a first-class organization and first class young women representing that organization. Someone that they can admire and respect. The Dallas Cowboys are that kind of organization, and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are a reflection of that image.
Now into their fourth decade they are as popular as ever…if not more so. Their ongoing CMT series, “The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team”, remains one of the network’s highest rated and longest running shows. There have been hundreds of media appearances in both national and local markets. They have participated in music videos, motion pictures, and been featured on numerous TV “talk shows”. There are now 5 different calendar products with DCC bringing cheer throughout the year and corporate show and appearance requests continue to come in from across the nation and around the world. Yet, through it all they remain committed to their long established standards of excellence and dedicated to the heritage of their tradition.
Kelli McGonagill Finglass has probably come to know the mystique of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders as well as anyone. “What we look for in our cheerleading squad is simply something for everyone – a cross section of the American woman. We want everyday ladies who can make an impact on their community: intelligent role models who are poised, attractive, confident, talented entertainers. They must be givers who understand that they themselves have been given a gift, and now have the opportunity to share that gift with others. But when the music and dancing stops, these young ladies must have the ability to relate on a one-to-one basis with fans whose ages range from infants to grandparents. In short, they must be educated, well-informed young women who represent the Dallas
Cowboys, their families and their community in a first-class manner. “The organization affords them a opportunity to broaden their own lives and enrich the lives of others as they travel throughout the United States and around the world. They are given a perspective on life that they may not have considered before. And that might lead them to reassess what’s truly important…and to share that with others.”