ALTON — New Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Kayla Hayes’ journey to one of the most coveted cheer positions in the country began in Riverbend.
Hayes, 22, was able to land on her first try in the final stage of the Cowboys cheerleading tryouts.
Hayes began her dance career at age 5 with DK Dance Production founder Darci Kay Ward of Jerseyville at her studio in Florissant, Missouri, where Hayes is from. Hayes also taught dance at DK Dance Production Studio in Alton for a year; there is now a third DK Dance Productions studio in Jerseyville.
Hayes studied everything from ballet, jazz and tap to musical theatre, poms and competitive dance. From DK Dance Productions, she went to Butler University in Indianapolis where she was on the collegiate dance team and team captain for her last two collegiate seasons.
“We’ve had a great working relationship,” said Ward, who traveled to Dallas on Monday for the Cowboys’ “Meet the Team” event. “I was her class teacher. I choreographed many of her solos. We spent a lot of time together. We thought of each other as another mother and daughter.”
The solo Hayes presented at her Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders auditions was choreographed by Ward, and Hayes insisted on coming to Monday’s event.
Being a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader was in Hayes’ sights from a young age, with Ward being an inspiration and fueling Hayes’ dream to audition for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
“I’ve always loved the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, especially the team kicks and the routines on the field,” Ward said. That love inspired her to add a competitive poms class to DK Dance Productions.
Ward opened her first studio in Florissant in 2006, the same year “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team” premiered on CMT. Ward said she encouraged her students to watch the show.
“I told the girls they have to watch this, this is how we want to model ourselves,” Ward recalled. “The next week they would come back to class and say, ‘Did you see this, did you see that.’ We always had that dialogue about that show.
“When I taught the class, we always did a big elaborate kick line,” she said. “It’s difficult to make a strike line. It takes stamina and strength, flexibility and endurance.
“Basically, you have to pull your own weight,” she said. “You have to have a huge amount of focus to do something like that. Every year, as we got better, the line of scrimmage got harder.”
She said she had been talking to Hayes about the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders for at least 10 years.
“I want to help these kids in any way I can to be successful, if that’s their dream,” Ward said. “Whether they want to dance or be a doctor, if the tools we teach them at DK Dance have helped them achieve success, we’re here for it.”
Ward and Hayes also discussed what will happen beyond Hayes’ collegiate experience.
“She comes back after college and asks me what I thought about her audition for the Cowboys,” Ward recalled. “We always talked about her career and her career path. As graduation approached, I said, ‘You can always go to Dallas.’
That’s what Hayes did. She lived in a hotel for nine weeks after doing a training camp during the audition process and two rounds until the finals. She used a new solo routine choreographed by Ward.
Around 8 p.m. on June 13, Ward received a call from Hayes regarding her selection.
“She faces me and says, ‘We made it to training camp!'” Ward said. “We were all screaming and shouting. My husband was screaming. My son was screaming.
“She practiced every waking moment,” Ward said of Hayes. “Finally week nine, she Facetimes me and I’m sitting on the couch, take a deep breath as I answer. Of course, I knew it was good news.
“She said, ‘Yeah, we made it! You better book a flight for August 22nd. You’ve got to be down here,'” Ward said. “I felt like everyone in her support system made that team with her.”
Altona’s DK Dance Productions now has its own all-star cheerleading squad, consisting of 31 cheerleaders, along with new coaches Kate Hoefert and Chakia Wallace. Ward said people will start seeing the team at local events; the group holds classes on Tuesday evenings at Alton Studios at 3100 Homer M. Adams Parkway.
“We’re going to do local events to get the kids into it,” Ward said. “Most of the cheer team had never done anything like a competitive performance before.”
For more details visit www.dkdancepro.com and Facebook page or Instagram DK Dance Studio. For the Alton location, call 618-433-9774; for Jerseyville location call 618-556-7005.
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