The stories in this article are covered in episode two of our America’s Girls podcast. You can dive deeper into the show’s stories in our Pocket Collection.
I was on my way to Shannon Baker Werthmann’s North Dallas home and was running late. Like extremely late. I was trying to finish a story by the deadline and my apology texts became embarrassing. A thirty minute delay turned into two hours. That’s not how you met a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader – especially a golden girl from the late seventies. Being late was a cardinal sin for cheerleaders; they can be benched even for being a minute late. And so my heart pounded as I stood on Shannon’s doorstep in three-inch-heeled ankle boots, trying to balance two handfuls of sound equipment as I hit the buzzer.
“I’m so sorry,” I said as she opened the door, sending the mists into a rainbow.
“I made us some tea,” he said, pointing to the couch with two mugs on the side tables. We sat down and he asked me to tell him about the story I was writing. Shannon had been a broadcast journalism major at Southern Methodist University, and during our previous conversations I noticed how much she enjoyed hearing about my work. As the two of us chatted, I kept noticing those fuzzy slippers.
“Do you mind if I take them off?” I asked pointing to my high heeled boots. I tried to impress him. Shannon had been on posters, advertisements and merchandise until the late seventies, one of the most visible members of the team.
“Please,” she said, and I kicked off my heels and made myself at home.
I actually met Shannon many years ago, in 1990, when he choreographed my high school musical. I was sixteen. I don’t remember how I found out that our choreographer was a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, but that kind of information has a way of spreading. The boys in my class were suddenly curious about my after-school drama practice. So, do you know what your choreographer is like?
Shannon was quite the curmudgeon back then. He taught me how to swing my legs over the boy’s strong bent knees, a trick I didn’t know I could do. I had no dance training, but I had secret dreams of becoming a star. I had this fantasy that he would pull me out of the group and tell me I was special. Maybe you should try the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, she would say. Shannon was only two inches taller than me, at five foot four, and even though she was petite, I was a teenage girl with Lean Cuisines in her freezer and dreams of change. Next to me were Kathy Smith’s aerobics videos and SlimFast shakes. You know the drill. Another ten pounds and I’ll be happy.
One day my senior year, Shannon came to my drama class to teach the unit about stage combat. We learned drills and how to fake someone with a knife and I found it great fun to fall to the ground or get wedged around with a fake wound in my side. On my way out the door, Shannon pulled me aside. This is it, I thought as his hand guided me out of the flow of traffic. That’s when he tells me to try out for cheerleading.
“I really think you can have a future in stage fighting,” he said. A stage fight?!
Shannon laughed when I told her the story. “Did you really want to be a cheerleader?” he asked.
“Probably not,” I said. “I just wanted you to think I could.” I was a smart girl who wanted to be told she was beautiful. We all want compliments that we don’t get.
Shannon was just seventeen when she auditioned for cheerleading in 1976. Candidates were supposed to be eighteen years old, but Shannon lied on her application. Early cheerleaders are known more for their beauty than their dancing talent, but Shannon had both. As a little girl in Dallas, one of her hips was higher than the other, and her father, an orthopedic surgeon, suggested that dance lessons might help. They did. They also revealed an unnatural gift. At six o’clock her ballet teacher put her pointe shoes on, she lifted her tiptoes and crossed the room, something not usually attempted until a dancer is about ten years old. At the age of nine, she won a dance audition with the Bolshoi Ballet. The following years brought summer opportunities in Germany and New York, where the teachers were not so nice. They said ugly things about her weight. He remembers eating two slices of Muenster cheese and a Diet Pepsi for dinner at a New York deli several nights. But by the time she was a teenager, her body had revealed two truths: she was short and she had large breasts. The life of a ballet dancer would not be for her.
“I couldn’t imagine my life without dance,” Shannon told me as she recounted this part of her story. He was now sitting on his bed where we had decided we would get the best sound. Her fuzzy slippers swayed back and forth. “It’s like asking someone: How would you feel if you didn’t have music in your life?”
So Shannon enrolled at SMU, but she tried out for this thing called the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. He had heard they needed dancers. She remembers being told to show up in a crop top and hot pants.
“Look at this little nugget,” he said, pulling up a black-and-white picture from his first audition. She looks so young. He stands straight and smiles in a way that looks more like school pictures than pinup. “She’s as unsexy as you can get. I don’t even know if she’s cute.”
“Oh, she’s cute,” I said, picking up the photo to take a picture.
Shannon had a funny relationship with the word “sexy.” Maybe we all do. The team exploded during her years as a cheerleader (1976-1980), creating controversy about sex and pop culture, and I think she got tired of answering questions about that particular topic. No, I don’t feel taken advantage of. No, I don’t consider myself a sex object. He and I had long conversations about what it means to be sexy, about the erotic force that moves through a woman’s body versus the pose you take. She showed me pictures of herself where the sexy look was a bit forced. But I showed her a photo of her dancing that I kept pinned above my desk at home, and I thought she looked casually sexy. Because he lived in his body. He was so easy.
“If part of me as a woman was sexy, I was flattered by it,” she told me. “If that’s all they saw, I had a problem with that. Because they’re a picture, sometimes that’s all they saw.
By her third year on the team, Shannon’s reputation was everywhere. As she was able to pull off a spectacular jeté, she was photographed doing her dance moves. Because he had a classic all-American look, he was featured on posters. As an honors student at SMU, he was a media spokesperson. He received more fan mail than anyone else on the team. (We read some of this in the second part.)
And for that he was paid $15 a game, $14.12 after tax. It was such a nominal fee that he didn’t even cash his first check. He kept it as a souvenir.
“There were so many broken cheerleaders,” she told me. Shannon lived at home with her parents, but the other women had to make ends meet. “It was all good at first, but when you can’t pay the rent for months and you’re falling asleep at your desk at work because you’ve been working all night in rehearsals and seeing all this wonderful publicity around you and you think financially I’m in the mix. But where is it?”
They were told there was no money. That’s what then-director Suzanne Mitchell told them repeatedly: There’s no money. And okay, this was before the lucrative sponsorships that are now commonplace for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and many cheerleading squads run in the red, but consider that the 1977 poster earned the Dallas Cowboys $3 million. According to court documents, the five women featured in the poster earned $150 each. By my calculations, that leaves $2,999,250 unused.
Shannon told me she’s been thinking about college athletes lately. The NCAA had just changed a rule that allowed them to capitalize on their similarities. This caught his attention.
“So I look back now as a 62-year-old woman and see how many times my image was used.”
I sat next to him on the bed, photos, newspaper clippings and fan letters scattered between us. “Shannon, you were used to selling everything from cars. . .”
“Cups, hats, Frisbees, cards, calendars.”
He got paid for some of these, usually $500 per appearance. Many of them he did not.
I couldn’t tell if it bothered him. He probably looked back on an innocent time with less innocent eyes. Who doesn’t? But I was disturbed on his behalf. The Cowboys were tough on copyright infringement. They sued several times to protect the sanctity of their uniforms. (Stay tuned for part three.) I came across a Dallas Times Herald article from 1980 about Suzanne Mitchell walking through a local art bazaar and noticing a decoupaged desk with a picture of cheerleaders. He asked if they had a license. For a $40 table! A newspaper story about this meeting was illustrated with a picture of Shannon. Of course it was. His image was used over and over in the media and they didn’t have to pay him for it either. He loved what he did. Of course they could get away with it. But that doesn’t make it right.
Shannon’s time on the team was also something of a dream. He cheered at two Super Bowls. He was on the 1978 and 1979 posters. He appeared on The Love Boat, where he met Ginger Rogers, who asked to do a little soft shoe with him. (Ginger Rogers!) But when I asked her what her favorite memory was, she surprised me. He looked off into the distance for a long time and said, “I performed with Roger Staubach.” At the time, he was the cheerleaders’ choreographer, hired in the early eighties to replace Texie Waterman, the team’s original choreographer. “We had to wait, sat in his car and talked about the Beirut bombing.”
Two things strike me about this anecdote. One is that it has nothing to do with the glitz and glamor of the cheerleader brand. The second is that it would never have been possible if she had only been a cheerleader because they are not allowed to fraternize with players. The best moment of his tenure happened only because he became an employee. But it meant so much to him. This someone he admired so deeply wanted to hear his thoughts on the world.
Shannon remained the team’s choreographer until the eighties. She was the first cheerleader ever hired by the organization after retiring the uniform. But the ground began to change in 1989 when Jerry Jones brought about regime change. Current director Kelli Finglass began directing the cheerleaders in 1991.
“I came in one day and my stuff was put in the storage room,” Shannon told me. Kelli had moved into her office. Soon after, she learned that Kelli was hiring then-assistant choreographer Judy Trammell to replace her. He was fired, immediately. Cheerleaders had been in Shannon’s life for fifteen years, and then she was gone.
“Disrespectful, unprofessional and inappropriate for a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader director” is how he describes the episode now. “But in the grand scheme of things, he did me a favor,” Shannon said.
It was dark when the interview ended. Shannon’s husband, Craig, was out of town, so it was just the two of us in her beautiful two-story home. His children are grown, with children of their own. He has a son and two daughters, both of whom became dancers. One toured in several Broadway productions outside of New York. Another became a Rockette. Dance was part of their lives.
“I have never shown you the special things of the Osmonds,” said he.
I gasped. “Do you have any special Osmonds?” I looked it up all over YouTube. The two of us stood in front of his laptop in the kitchen, me in my socks and him in those fuzzy rainbow slippers, laughing as we watched an ancient send-off of specials from the Pleistocene era, meaning: 1978. (“With special appearances by Jimmy Walker! And the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders!”)
It’s a silly performance. The cheerleaders lip sync to “We Are the Champions” in a football stadium with a green screen behind them. Their hips sway from side to side, their shoulders thrust forward in time, their eyes narrowed in an expression that’s maybe sexy, maybe silly. A group of beautiful young women who are mostly grandmothers now.
“What were you thinking?” I asked him.
“Oh,” he said, smiling at his younger self. “I had the time of my life. We made it.”
Fun, glamour, fame. No wonder I grew up wanting to be like those cheerleaders. And Shannon was the kind of cheerleader that made me feel like that was a good thing.
Hear more about Shannon; her best friend on the team, Tami Barber; former team director Suzanne Mitchell; and the ups and downs of fame in “America’s Girls” episode two. Find it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you can get your podcasts.
Who is the most beautiful Dallas Cowboy cheerleader?
The 50 Hottest Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders of All Time On the same subject : Falcons training camp primer: The quarterback competition and many new recruits.
- Tina Gabaldon. Years in the team: 2000-2001.
- Amy Reese. Years in the team: 2008-2009.
- Brittany Evans. Years in the team: 2008-2011.
- Gina Licare. Years in the team: 1998.
- Jordan Chanley. …
- Starr Spangler. …
- Tavia (Chatham) Morris. …
- Olivia Stevanovski.
What celebrity was a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader? Before she joined Bachelor Nation and won the mirrorball trophy on Dancing with the Stars, Melissa Rycroft was part of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, where she cheered for three seasons.
Who is the most popular cheerleader?
Arguably the most famous person to come out of the team, however, is the bald brunette Gabi Butler, who has become a celebrity since the end of the series. On the same subject : In the new world of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
Does Victoria make DCC?
She took advantage of every opportunity to dance with DCC, be it Junior DCC, DCC Dance Academy camps or preparatory classes. To see also : Jerry Jones comments on $2.4 million deal for Cowboys cheerleaders. His determination and hard work paid off last year when he fulfilled his dream of wearing the star and white boots as a DCC rookie for the 2019 season.
Was Holly fired from DCC? In 2017, star cheerleader Holly Powell quit the team after director Kelli Finglass, who took over in 1991, learned she and teammate Jenna Jackson were seen out with players. This confrontation was captured in the twelfth season of the reality show Making the Team.