Socially Distanced … But Closer Than Ever
Auditions and training camp were much different for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders this year, but they adapted to the changes to form an even stronger bond.
By Kristi Scales
One of the leading storylines entering the 2020 NFL season has been the way COVID-19 has forced the league to adapt to a new normal in this pandemic age. But coaches and players were not the only team members who changed their preparation before the kickoff of the new campaign. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders met similar challenges but overcame them to emerge as an even stronger, more cohesive squad.
Whether it was virtual auditions in the spring, learning new dance routines online, or spending a portion of DCC Summer Training Camp inside a “bubble,” the cheerleading staff and squad members followed proper protocols while maintaining the strict standards of success that are the hallmark of the most elite dance team in professional sports.
“Having the platform that we do as an organization, and being a member of the Dallas Cowboys, a lot of eyes are on us,” notes Caroline, a three-year DCC veteran. “We were getting questions. Were we going to maybe call it quits for a season? Would we have auditions or have the same squad as last year?
“We used this situation to show that in hard times we will continue to look forward. We re-molded auditions and training camp. The pandemic offered our staff and our squad members the opportunity to show that we are tough and not willing to lay down when obstacles come our way. We can own the situation and learn new ways of working together until our society comes out on the other end of this crisis.”
“Our team showed how well-prepared we were to adapt and make necessary changes,” adds Cianna, also a three-year veteran. “This is unknown territory, but we all want to wear the uniform and represent the organization. Even before entering our bubble for a portion of DCC Training Camp, we were practicing together virtually. Everyone called each other or FaceTimed or used Webex to work on the dances. We were open to new ideas for collaborating with each other. We had to make it work within the constraints of the situation. It’s been a great way to show that our team can adapt to change. It also shows our commitment to the organization and proves how much we want to accomplish our dreams.”
A notable change on game days at AT&T Stadium will be the positioning of the cheerleaders. In previous years, after performing the iconic kick line as the finale of the pregame “Thunderstruck” routine, cheerleaders relocated to the touchdown decks behind each end zone for the kickoff. Once the game began, the DCC made their way to the sidelines, separated into four groups.
In 2020, due to NFL restrictions during the pandemic, cheerleaders are not allowed on the field. Therefore, the DCC will perform their game-day routines on the touchdown decks.
“We all collectively worked to be open-minded about the changes that are required,” says Caroline. “One of the notable changes happens to be something for which we are well-known: the DCC kick line and jump splits. Those happen when you are linked to the woman next to you. We weren’t able to link during training camp this summer because we had to maintain social distancing while performing. It’s more difficult to kick without linking up to your teammate, so we all have had to adapt and be on the same page to make that successful. Everything has taken a group effort. We take the current situation seriously. We will continue to follow guidelines and protocols to keep everyone safe while also doing our best to maintain DCC standards.
“As for game day and the size of the crowd, whether it’s 90,000 fans or 9,000 or 900 or nine, we are committed to giving them a great show. The high standards of the DCC remain the same.”
The pandemic limited the amount of time the DCC spent together during the offseason, but it didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of rookie hopefuls who hoped to join the returning veterans on the 2020 squad. Auditions typically draw between 400 to 500 applications for in-person tryouts at AT&T Stadium. But when COVID forced DCC auditions to be held online, more than 1,500 applicants submitted videos of dance routines.
“As veterans, we have a lot of respect for the rookie candidates who made it through the initial stages of auditions because they had to come into training camp knowing all of the 16 to 18 routines,” Caroline says. “The veterans had learned a lot of those during previous training camps. We had known some of those routines for one or two years. But to see these rookies come into camp and know that they’ve put the time and effort into learning routines by video without the help of the veterans who would normally be there to help in-person, it was special to know the rookies value this organization. They were willing to do whatever it took to become part of the DCC.”
Auditions and training camp were also different for returning veterans.
“Even before we began, in order to learn our choreography, the DCC staff sent us materials through Dropbox or Webex,” explains Cianna. “So instead of learning the dances in-person in the studio alongside our teammates, we had to learn virtually. For some, learning virtually was easier. For me personally, I like to be in-person with the choreographer and my teammates as we learn together. It was a big adjustment to learn up to 18 dances, which they sent to us virtually.”
Training camp would normally begin in early June and run through August with nightly rehearsals at The Star in Frisco. This summer, learning took place virtually. In August, the DCC entered a bubble at a local hotel to work collaboratively while maintaining safety protocols.
“The highlight of being in the bubble was getting to see everyone again after five months of being away from each other since the start of the pandemic,” Cianna says. “The rookies were in the bubble for two and a half weeks and the veterans joined for the final 10 days. It added a new flavor when the veterans arrived because the rookies have followed us on our own journeys. They are familiar with our stories. It was very cool to meet new girls from across the country and get to know them.
“We each had our own hotel room for social-distancing purposes, and we have full-time jobs so we had to bring our day-to-day work with us to the bubble. It was like working from home, except we were working from our hotel rooms. That was another test of work/life balance, but it shows the diversity of the team and shows how accomplished each of our teammates is in her respective career outside of DCC. But when it was time to rehearse, working together allowed us to feel like we were back in our DCC environment.”
Even within the bubble, protocols prevented the entire squad from working together.
“The squad was split into five groups to help maintain social distancing and follow guidelines to keep everyone safe from the virus,” says Caroline. “It was definitely a change to not have a full rehearsal where all of us are together as a squad. But in a way, it was unifying because every one of us was in the exact same boat. We were experiencing the same emotions and highs and lows. It was an opportunity for veterans and rookie candidates to support each other.”
In this new era of social distancing, it’s ironic that the pandemic has brought the DCC even closer together.
“In previous years, under normal circumstances, we’re together every night for camp, but then you leave and go home and you work your jobs during the day,” says Caroline. “In the bubble, we were living together and you had more time for one-on-one conversations. You became even closer to your DCC sisters and got to know the rookie candidates and value what they bring to the team.”
The use of technology during the pandemic has also allowed the DCC to draw closer to their legion of fans as well.
“Throughout 2020, we’ve learned more ways to use our media platforms,” notes Caroline. “Since February, we’ve used different videos for everything from kids’ camps to podcasts to interviews. We love performing for fans in-person on game days, but we also know our organization is so well-rounded that there are more opportunities for us to be involved in the community and give back. We’re not restricted to game day. We can utilize social media in new and creative ways as another outreach to fans and the community.”
“Fans in the stands are the cherry on top of everything,” Cianna concurs. “In a way, the fans are our cheerleaders. They’re hyping us up as we cheer and hype them up. It’s a relationship between fans and the DCC that makes the game-day experience unique. That’s another perk of being a cheerleader – the unique experience among members of Cowboys Nation on game day. But now, thanks to lessons we’ve learned, we’re better at expanding those experiences beyond the games.”