Reunited and it "Cheers" so Good!
Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and where you are you from.
I was born in San Angelo, Texas and grew up in a little town south of Fort Worth, TX – Burleson, TX. You may have heard of it, Kelly Clarkson put us on the map when she won American Idol. I am the oldest of three children, I have two younger brothers. I grew up middle class, my Father worked for the Newspaper and then for Miller’s Brewery – he was a Teamster. My Mother was a hairdresser and then a stay at home Mom. I was raised Southern Baptist in a very loving family. My Mom and Dad are still alive and doing well. I am so blessed to still have both of them. Our little town had zero crime, I was allowed to ride my bike everywhere and we never locked our doors. I was a tomboy and loved fishing, playing softball, cycling and swimming. I was a good student and part of the National Honor Society. I also loved drama and was part of almost all school plays. We did not have a lot of money so vacations as a child were in the car – we would go to the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert or the mountains in Colorado, anywhere you could drive to in two days from Texas. My first flight on a plane was not until I was 18 years old. I had a happy childhood and did not realize until I was older we weren’t rich because my family and my community made me feel rich.
Were cheerleading and dancing a part of your life when you were younger and how did you get involved?
I started dancing at age 6. I studied under Marilyn Gaston and Fernando Schaffenburg of TCU. A trivia tidbit, TCU was the first University in the U.S. to offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Ballet. I took Ballet, Tap and Jazz until I was 13. I also took dance from Bruce and Francis Lea. You might recognize Bruce Lea, he was Debbie Reynolds’ dance partner for a decade. I am grateful to my Mother who drove me into Fort Worth three days a week for seven years so I would have the very best instructors. I was a cheerleader at age 9 for Peewee Football. I was also a Homecoming Queen at age 9. My brother played for the Burleson Panthers and when they held cheerleader auditions I thought it would be something fun to do. Little did I know cheerleading would become a huge part of my life and take me all over the world? Cheerleading taught me some of the most valuable lessons in life – hard work, discipline, humility, competition, trust, sisterhood and the importance of team. One of the toughest lessons I learned was my sophomore year in High School. I was a 7th, 8th and 9th grade cheerleader and head cheerleader two of the three years, but at the end of my freshman year I auditioned for Varsity. Our school allowed sophomores to be JV or Varsity Cheerleaders. I missed Varsity by two votes that year and did not make JV either. My friends told me they were so sure I would make Varsity that they didn’t bother to vote for me for J.V. Our Vice Principal actually said he felt responsible for the way the auditions were set up and after that year they separated the voting so it wouldn’t happen again. I made Varsity the very next year, but the year I had to sit out and cheer from the stands was good for me. I had never lost a single contest or audition up until that time. I learned what it felt like to want to be on the field and not be. I joined the Pep Squad and did everything I could to show my school pride. Losing my sophomore year turned out to be the best thing that happened because I never took anything for granted after that.
You are a former cheerleader for the illustrious Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and having the legendary DCC Cheerleader Director Suzanne Mitchell as a coach. What an accomplishment!! Please tell us about your experience cheering for the Dallas Cowboys.
My DCC experience started out very strange. I auditioned on a dare from my ex-husband. We had just moved to Dallas and I told him I always wanted to be a DCC. He said, “You could never make it” and that was all it took. I sent in my registration form the next day. 2500 women showed up to the first audition, there was no internet or twitter or DCC TV show back in 1981 so all types of women showed up. At semi-finals, 2500 was narrowed down to 250 and that was when I took a look around the room and realized I was in trouble. These women were extraordinary. Even though I had 7 years of classical dance training I gave up dance to be a high school cheerleader and for acting so I was behind in my dance skills/ performance. I never danced on a Drill Team in High School or College. I had never been part of a kick line until DCC auditions, but somehow I made it to Finals – 50 women and the returning DCC. That year there were 78 of us vying for 45 spots. I made the squad, but how I made it is what is interesting. Shelly Katz, awarding winning Time-Life Photographer was a photographer for the Cowboys and one of the judges that year. Since 1959 Shelly had photographed every single U.S. President for Time-Life Magazine. I ran into Shelly the night of final auditions at a nightclub in Dallas and he told me every single judge is allowed to choose one girl that no one else can dispute and he chose me. He said he thought I looked like a young Angie Dickenson, and he wanted to put me on a poster. Shelly went on to say Suzanne and Texie were not thrilled with his choice because I was one of the weakest dancers. I did not know whether to believe him. It made the announcement at Texas Stadium the next day nerve-racking. When they called my name I looked surprised because I truly was, hearing your name being announced as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader doesn’t seem real. I repeated this story to Suzanne at the end of my first year and she confirmed it, she said if it weren’t for Shelly I would not be on the squad.
There is not enough ink in the world to write about Suzanne Mitchell. She created an industry and helped so many young women. Excellence – her name is synonymous with excellence. She was tough and many of the girls did not like her while they were DCC, but few felt that way after they left the group. The funny thing about me while I was a DCC I wanted to be Suzanne more than one of the best dancers. I hung on every word she said and stuck to her like glue. Ultimately I became the squad vocalist and unofficial spokesperson. Once at the Multinational Armed Forces Base in the Sinai Peninsula Suzanne was too ill to open the show, Suzanne asked me to stand in for her. My DCC Sisters were shocked when I put on her dress and opened the show with Suzanne’s speech almost word for word. I was not surprised, this was what was important to me – speaking, communicating and sharing. I think this is perhaps why Suzanne and I had a 35 year bond. We both love the written and spoken word.
She actually allowed me to write some of the copy for DCC publications when I was her assistant in 1985 and that made me feel 10 feet tall. We stayed close until her death and her death almost killed me. Suzanne asked me in 1995 to do her eulogy. At the time she was only 52 and quite healthy. I replied, yes, but only if you do mine. She laughed and said okay, I never thought that day would come. Looking back on my time as a DCC under the direction of Suzanne Mitchell, Texie Waterman, and Shannon Werthmann I did not realize I was in the company of greatness. I was truly, truly blessed – to have known and worked for Mr. Tex Schramm, to spend almost every day with Suzanne, Texie and Shannon for several years. To have been a part of six USO Tours to more than 16 countries and wear the DCC Uniform. To have the opportunity to meet so many Americans and touch so many lives, such a privilege. I appreciate just how fortunate I was and I am.
Suzanne Mitchell was a mentor for you and passed away last year from pancreatic cancer. Please tell us about Suzanne and how she inspired you and so many other NFL Cheerleaders across the league.
Suzanne led by example. She did the difficult thing every time when the easy thing would have sufficed. She had a heart the size of Texas and she loved to laugh. She loved football, all football and watched the Cowboys every game until the last month she was with us. She was extremely patriotic, one of her proudest accomplishments was being asked by the USO in 1979 to take the DCC on tour and then she personally did 18 USO Tours from 1979 to 1989 She didn’t talk a lot when she was director, she let her actions speak for her. She used every challenge, every bump in the road, every single opportunity as a teaching moment. She was simply glorious and the only person I have ever known that always did the right thing and never ever gave up. Thousands of young women have benefited from Suzanne’s good manners, her high expectations and high standards as all of us who were fortunate to cheer under her supervision passed those same high standards down to our children.
What advice would you give to a current or future cheerleader?
The best advice is to not take advice, but with that said, “If you are auditioning show up prepared. Read everything you can, watch YouTube films, practice, practice and then practice some more because the competition is fierce. Drink it all in, be present every day because it is over all too quickly. Create lifelong friendships with your fellow cheer sisters, celebrate your similarities and your differences. Work harder than everyone else in the room, it will be worth it, lift as many others up as possible and………. As Tim McGraw reminds us……………. always stay humble and kind”.
Tell us what you are doing now and “After the Poms”.
I am married to the love of my life Kent and we just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, I have two grown children Montana and Stevie Jo and two tiny grandsons. I lead Sales, National Accounts and Recruiting for a Green Chemical Manufacturer headquartered in Chicago. I was recently promoted to Executive Vice President. I believe that we all want to be led, but no one really wants to be managed, to inspire individuals you must motivate and lead them. My style of leadership is Level 5 Leadership which in a nutshell means – if you have a challenge go to the mirror, if you have success go to the window and shine the light on others. Everyone is going “green” these days, but the company I work for United Labs went green back in 1992. We were the first company in the U.S .to manufacture green products and have more than 150 plant-based products that we sell to the healthcare industry so I truly feel as though I am making a living while making a difference.
In the U.S. – Bozeman, Montana and going home to Dallas Fort Worth
Worldwide travel – Paris and Istanbul. Paris, because the City of Lights is like no other and Istanbul because it is culturally so different from the U.S. I loved the smell, the tastes, the clothing and the architecture. All so foreign and isn’t that the point of travel….. To see and try new things.
For fun - Poisonwood Bible and Bright Shiny Morning
For business – First, Break all the Rules
And of course my daily devotional – Jesus Calling
When Harry Met Sally and Love Actually
I also love this “B’ movie and I can’t explain why, but every time it is on I have to watch it – Dante’s Peak.
“The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.”
Thank you so much Dana for taking time out of your busy schedule and your interview!