DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION
Why America Can’t Quit the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders
The reality show “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team” kicks off its 14th (!) season on Aug. 2. And CMT’s longest-running series is only gaining in popularity.
While beauty pageants continue to plummet in ratings, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team continues to rise. The CMT reality series showcasing the audition process of becoming one of America’s Sweethearts will kick off its 14th season on Aug. 2.
The show begins with hundreds of women at the cheerleader’s open casting call. That number is quickly cut down to about 45 women who are invited into training camp. During training camp, which lasts all summer, the women practice for hours each night, learning new routines, all while director Kelli Finglass and choreographer Judy Trammell evaluate the women’s talent, appearance, and weight. Cuts are made until 36 women remain, rounding out the final squad.
Just as beauty pageants have come under fire for being old-fashioned in nature, it’s an anomaly that Making the Team is CMT’s longest-running show and last year had its highest-rated season. Even Making the Team can feel outdated at times when the grown women respond to the judges’ criticisms with “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am,” and attend etiquette class to learn how to properly use a butter knife.
It was actually a Miss America producer and writer who convinced Finglass to do a reality show about the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Finglass says he had the right amount of integrity and she “knew he was coming from a place that protects brand and people.”
But Finglass, who also serves as an executive producer on the show, says she believes the success of it is rooted in the audience’s desire to be at-home critics.
“I do think that television audiences really have grown to like the shows where they get to be judges, and get to be critics, and with our show, we kind of peel back the curtain a little bit and people can see our cheerleaders behind the poms,” she says. “And people seem to like to judge and critique and be validated with their own opinions and predict outcomes.”
The appeal of the show is its brutal honesty. Because the stakes are so high at making one of the best dance teams in the world, Finglass and Trammell have to lay everything out on the table with the women. During Season 13, Finglass called one training camp candidate into her office to talk about the candidate’s weight gain.
“You’re 11 pounds up since auditions,” Finglass told one training camp candidate. “It shows. It was mentioned at auditions. We’ve avoided the conversation; probably shouldn’t have. I’m not here to hand out pacifiers. At this point, we have to start making these decisions. We can’t have 11 pounds creep up on you.”
Or when rumors swirled one season that a cheerleader was hanging out with a Cowboys player, Finglass threatened to cut her (the cheerleader resigned the next day). The candidates’ looks are also taken into consideration before they make the team. Each season, the women head to a Dallas salon to get a “DCC makeover,” where stylists dye their hair, show them how to do their makeup, and tell them how to dress. Sometimes their looks can’t be changed, however. One guest judge said a candidate “looked like a grandma”; another candidate’s legs were too short-looking in the cheerleader’s iconic boots for Finglass’ liking.
The women also go through media training. During last season when a news anchor asked a training camp candidate about the #MeToo movement during a mock interview, the candidate didn’t know what the news anchor was referring to. Finglass was left speechless and livid. The candidate later told Finglass: “There are topics, though, that I’m not going to be as educated on.”
Finglass says she wishes audiences knew more behind these conversations.
“I think the conversations can be intense and the conversations can be uncomfortable and more times though, I wish people knew even more about the characters or the ladies behind these experiences,” Finglass says. “That’s what’s so fascinating to me, is where they’ve come from.”
She says this training camp has women from 28 states, two women whose mothers were once DCCs, and 67 women who had tried out once before. All of the women are either in school or have a full-time job.
Even with those kinds of accolades, professional cheerleading is under constant scrutiny. Finglass says those people should watch the show to see how much the women are “forward-pedaling” the feminist movement.
“This year alone we have women with college degrees,” Finglass says. “We had over 116 different colleges represented. We have ladies with master’s degrees. We’ve had everything from civil engineering to journalism to medical careers and at the same time, women that love to perform. They are simply exploring and passionately pursuing their day job, which is what they studied in college and are successful in their own careers, while at the same time getting to perform and dance.”
The show has followed the same format every season and Finglass says learning audiences like a routine is a lesson she’s held on to throughout the years. Just like The Bachelor, where there are group dates and solo dates and rose ceremonies each season, Making the Team has makeover day, media training day, the practices where women learn the jump-splits, and of course, there’s a signature catchphrase. When Finglass breaks the news that the candidate won’t make the team, she says, “Tonight is going to be your last night,” which is the show’s version of “You’re fired,” or “You are the weakest link,” or “You have been voted off the island.”
Even though the women are competing against one another, the show never highlights any drama or animosity among the women. Finglass says that’s because it’s a real reflection of the team.
“Well, there’s not drama among the women in general,” she says. “It’s a team and we try to create and cultivate an environment like any sports team or performance team. Frankly, it’s not something we cultivate or tolerate if we know that’s happening.”