Over the last few months, I have interviewed 15 NFL Cheerleaders, but there was still a big question that hadn’t been answered. These women commit so much of their time and devote their lifestyles to being conducive to everything you want an NFL Cheerleader to be, and to be frank, they do it without making a lot of money. Most are required to work full-time jobs or be full-time students, they have other things going on and lead very hectic lives, but they do it all with a smile each and every day. Aside from the amazing wow-factor to say you’re one of a few hundred NFL Cheerleader, which less than a few hundred women can actually say, why?
In just a few short minutes chatting with Dana, an Atlanta Falcons Cheerleader for two years, she easily answered my question. “Most people think that it’s a full-time job for us. It definitely takes a lot of hard work and a significant time commitment, but it’s not what pays our bills. We love our teammates and coaches; we love supporting the Atlanta Falcons organization; and we love dancing. It’s really nothing more or less than that,” she says simply.
“Being an NFL Cheerleader is a blast. Sure it takes hard work and commitment to keeping our bodies in shape and our dance ability up, but in the end, we do it for fun. Time and stress management are skills that we are continuing to develop, and this opportunity is making us even better at it and at managing life in general. It helps us learn to prioritize based on what’s important in life and to really devote our time to activities and people that matter rather than to things that don’t,” Dana explains.
The Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders are one of those teams that require all the girls to either have a full-time job or be full-time students, what they refer to as “WOW Women.” As for Dana’s full-time job, she is a CPA/Auditor at a public accounting firm in Atlanta, which seems to run in the family, as both her dad and brother are also CPAs. Something tells me her dance skills and hair-flipping abilities far outweigh theirs though.
Having been a cheerleader in college at the University of Georgia (for both undergrad and grad school), football and the love for keeping fans invested in the game is practically second nature to Dana, but there is a difference between that and what she does now. “What many people don’t realize is that ‘cheerleading’ in college is very different than professional cheerleading, at least in most cases. Most girls who become professional cheerleaders were actually dancers in college as opposed to the cheerleaders you see flipping and getting thrown in the air on a football sideline or basketball court,” she says.
“Since I did not have much technical dance experience, I had a lot to learn before auditioning. I found an awesome local dance studio called Gotta Dance Atlanta, and started taking classes three or four nights each week. I wanted to make sure I had achieved a certain level of confidence in my dance ability before I showed up at auditions (which can be pretty intimidating to a newbie). Because I put in the work before auditions both in the studio and in the gym, I was fortunate enough to make the team on my first go ’round,” Dana says. Although acing things on her first try isn’t really a new thing for her. Dana passed all four parts of her CPA exam on the first try as well, which is pretty much unheard of.
Born in Griffin, GA and raised in Marietta, Dana attributes much, if not all, of her successes and motivations in life to her “rockstar parents” and is one of those girls who counts her blessings everyday.
As for her guilty pleasures, Dana loves candy and energy drinks, admittedly not something that necessarily goes hand in hand with her amazing physique. “I eat at least one piece of candy almost every single day at work. I have tried to limit energy drinks in the past few months, but the candy hasn’t gone anywhere,” she says of her almost childlike addiction. But given their hectic year-round schedules, these girls must have some sort of liquid energy to get them through their days, especially on Sundays when they have to keep up with those wild Falcons fans.
“We have INCREDIBLE ride or die fans. When the game is on the line, you know the 12th man will show up every time! Our games are held in the Georgia Dome, located in downtown Atlanta. The Dome holds over 71,000 of our awesome fans! They show up no matter what kind of season the team is having. We have phenomenal digital media and marketing teams that do an awesome job prompting fans throughout the game. The Dome is electric during pivotal moments. It’s something you can’t understand unless you experience it for yourself,” she says of the game day experience known only to Falcons fans.
Dana’s favorite football player in the past was David Pollack, former linebacker from her alma mater. “He played with so much passion and heart. You could see his love for the game every time he stepped on the field,” she says. As for her favorite player on the current Falcons roster, she admits it’s a bit of a cliché, but it comes with good reason. “With a number of our starters being hurt this year, Matt Ryan has probably been one of the most consistent players. I’m always amazed at how calm and composed he is at any given time in a game,” she says of the starting quarterback.
One of the best parts about taking time to interview amazing women, like Dana, is that you truly learn how a group of 20-40 women can interact on a regular basis, even through the tough times. It’s not all Real Housewives of the NFL like you might imagine (or hope).
As a former sorority girl myself, spending that much time around so much glitter-infested estrogen almost scares me, with images of dramatic cat-fights taking place on the regular, but that certainly isn’t true with this group. “My favorite thing about the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders and coaches is that we all truly care about each other. We celebrate each others successes and support each other during tough times. We take time before every practice to sit down as a team and give ‘good news, bad news, sad news, and glad news’ so we know what’s going on in each others lives and can provide support. We also recognize that each one of us was put on our team for reason, and while those reasons vary from person to person, we understand we are all equally important and worthy of this amazing opportunity; it’s evident that each of us believe this to be true by the way we treat each other,” Dana says of her teammates.
A well-rounded gal, Dana also finds herself listening to country music on Spotify, loves the beach, including palm trees, sunshine, sand and the sound of waves crashing on the shore (which she considers a glimpse of what she imagines Heaven will be like), has a dog named Grace that she absolutely adores and finds peace going on jogs throughout her neighborhood. You know, all of that in her spare time.
Be sure to follow my favorite Falcons Cheerleader, Dana, on Twitter: @AFC_Dana
Jayme Lamm is a freelance sports and travel writer based in Houston and is currently in a full-court press writing her hugely opinionated sports column, The Blonde Side. Follow her travels for sporting events and check her out on Twitter.