Bulldogs of Butler: Kayla Hayes

Bulldogs of Butler: Kayla Hayes

A graduate of Butler University in 2022, Kayla Hayes’ dance experience with a dance team gives her a place on the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleading team. Photo courtesy of Butler’s dance team.

EVA HALLMAN | EMPLOYEE’S REPORTER | ehallman@butler.edu

Members of the Butler community achieve remarkable things, both on and off campus. From early years to graduates to administrators and back again, every Bulldog has a story to tell. Read on to discover another of our Bulldogs of Butler through a question and answer style interview.

Kayla Hayes is fulfilling her lifetime dream of professionally dancing with one of the NFL’s most prestigious cheerleading teams, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Just last May, Hayes graduated from Butler University with a Bachelor of Arts in Critical Communication and Media Studies. Hayes was a four-year member of Butler’s dance team and captained the team during her youth and senior years. While her solid colors remain the same, Hayes takes on new challenges and opportunities at DCC.

The Butler Collegian: As a recent graduate of Butler, share your journey to Butler with us. What brought you here, what made you stay, and how do you remember your time here?

Kayla Hayes: I didn’t visit Butler until April [2018], and I didn’t even really know about the dance band until probably a week before the auditions. I remember having a dance competition on Sunday night and [Butler University] was one of the last schools [to visit]. My dad said, “I think we’ll visit,” so we went in the middle of the night for a Monday morning tour. I just fell in love with school. My dad contacted Cassia Dean, who was the head coach of [Butler’s dance team] at the time, and simply asked about the dance team auditions. I remember having a duty during the auditions so she allowed me to do a virtual video audition. I think I was one of the first [in virtual auditions], or maybe it was the first year in which [virtual auditions were allowed]. It was really cool that she gave me this opportunity. Later, when I formed the dance group, it just confirmed me that I wanted to go to Butler. I would say the dance team was the main factor in my decision, but [it was] the best decision I ever made.

TBC: Dancing has been an important aspect in your life. Could you please remember your childhood dance journey for us?

KH: Let’s see, so I started dancing when I was three. I remember starting ballet, tap dancing, jazz, contemporary, lyrical and hip-hop when I was seven. I just fell in love with dance. I am originally from Saint Louis, Missouri, so I danced at DK Dance Productions. I did [competition dance] all through high school and it just stuck in my mind. I’ve performed all over the community – solos, duos, groups, pretty much anything and everything, and I just still fell in love with [dancing]. I realized when I was graduating from [high school]; I didn’t want to stop [dancing] just yet. When I got to college, my eyes were opened to more professional dance [eg. styles of NFL and NBA], so I realized [in my freshman year] that I still want to do it a little longer after college.

TBC: Tell us about your experiences with Butler’s dance team.

KH: I loved my time with Butler’s dance team for four years; it was really nice. It was crazy because I didn’t know anyone in the band since I left the audition. Therefore, in August [2018], during our old days, which are like a training camp where we learn choreography for a year, I met the whole team for the first time. Everyone was welcoming and it was great.

TBC: Have you had any other experience in a dance team or in any management positions?

KH: I was a captain for two years, younger and older. I also had other leadership opportunities in the dance team, such as working with the children’s clinic committee for about three years. I went to Pro-Action Dance twice; it’s a huge dance in Las Vegas where all professional and student cheerleaders practice with professional choreographers. This is what made me want to be in the NFL because you dance with the pros. It was a nice experience as only 4 members of Butler’s dance team are selected each year.

TBC: What’s one of your favorite Butler memories, be it academic or sports?

KH: I think going back to the first year, my absolute favorite time was “Yell Like Hell” because it was our first performance before Butler and we did this super cool hip-hop arrangement. It was cool because you have this amazing hip-hop dance and I have never performed in a dance team before. So living with no rent on my mind as being one of the best times ever. I also think sophomore basketball games [were the favorites]. I especially remember when we won against Villanova; the energy of the crowd was so fun. At that time, it was the biggest audience I have performed for in my life.

TBC: How did the skills you learned, whether in the dance team or in the classroom, benefit you when you audition for the [Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders]?

KH: Definitely a lot. This process is not easy. I think this is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Growing up dancing from the age of three was so beneficial. Being in a dance team and learning to dance with pompoms, sharpness and strength is a lot in relation to the DCC style. I was able to cultivate [DCC style] in college. My teacher [at DK Dance Productions] taught us very complicated kick lines, so I learned how to kick. I started kicking when I was 9 or 10, so it really got me set up for DCC kicks.

Academically, there is also definitely a lot. The DCC team is full of very intelligent and intelligent women, including the most talented ones. One of the things my Butler education taught me was strong communication skills. I graduated [a] in media studies of critical communication, so the ability to speak well and present myself [was good for me]. You are an ambassador many times on a team, so being able to communicate effectively – be it with children or other fans, or having to write or make a public statement – is important.

TBC: Could you detail the [Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders] audition process for those who haven’t seen “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Building a Band?”

KH: Let’s go back to the beginning of May. The audition process started virtually by filling in personal and dance questions about my experiences. Then you uploaded a head shot, a full body shot, an introductory video, and a one minute dance as you see fit. A few days later, I found out about the second round. All the time I was thinking, “Well, I just graduated, I might as well just go for it.” I didn’t expect anything from the first movie. I made it to the second round so figured we were starting. I think the second round was the hardest. You had two days to learn, record and submit a two-minute DCC choreography dance routine. Apart from doing the kickline twice, all on non-stop video: it was crazy. In addition, [I had to fill in] two separate interview questions like get to know yourself in front of the camera.

Then progressing to the third round will take you to personal auditions in Dallas, Texas. I didn’t expect much from that, but they sent a small video of “Congratulations, you’re going to the finals.” It was very exciting, but then it got a little more difficult. Because you have to prepare a one and a half minute solo in your own style, then learn four different dance patterns, all in 2 weeks… plus getting to Dallas. Fortunately, my dad went with me, because the start from the finals to the training camp lasted two days. I knew that if I made it [to the training camp], I would not have had time to get my things.

It was a long day. It started at 9 am; first we played our solos and then we went out onto the pitch. It was a tough day because you had to do two dances one after the other and a kickline twice. It was similar to the previous audition, but you didn’t know what kind of dance you were getting. They just played a song and you had to know what it was. Then they announced the numbers they made training camp and then I hit the training camp. I thought at this point, I went through the hardest step.

The training camp lasted from June 15 to August 4. I found out that I joined the team on August 4th. [The camp] was really difficult. We exercised every day from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm. Moreover, you learn a new routine every day. I haven’t had life all summer; I was so focused. I thought, “Okay, I didn’t just come here for free, I have to create this band.” Yes, I think that’s the essence of the questioning process in a nutshell.

TBC: After hearing all of this, the audition process is definitely a feat. How has your Butler community helped you with this process?

KH: I kept calling my [former dance team] trainer Paige. I just wrote or called her the whole time. I called her when I got to the training camp and when I got a call that I was going to Dallas. I was texting [her] during [the interrogation process] and she gave me a lot of positive encouragement. Then some of my best friends from Butler called and asked how I was, just because I hadn’t seen any of my friends all summer. I also didn’t have time to go home and meet people. It was really nice that these relationships that I had built up over the years of Butler supported me in the next chapter.

TBC: What was the most rewarding and challenging part of being a recent Butler graduate and quickly becoming [a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader]?

KH: The biggest challenge was knowing that I am moving all over the country. I come from St. Louis, then I went to school in Indianapolis, so I built my life in these two places. All my friends and everyone I know are either in Indiana or St. Louis. [I was afraid of] moving to Texas, where I didn’t know anyone or had strong connections. The most satisfying [part] was to form a team and be part of the system because I made 36 new best friends. It’s also rewarding to do something I love and want it forever.

TBC: Do you have any future plans for [Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders]? Do you want to continue dancing professionally?

KH: I hope my body won’t break down, but I definitely think I’ll always be in the dance. Whether it’s choreography, coaching or teaching in a dance studio: I think I’ll always have that little part of me. You must have a full-time job or be a full-time student while in a team. I’m working [currently], but I think I’ll come back later and win my champions. I will take the time to focus on getting higher education; after years at DCC.

TBC: What advice do you give current and future bulldogs who want to pursue their life dreams?

KH: If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough. For me, I was so scared after college, what I will be doing. When you start a new chapter, I’d just say go get [your dreams]. You never know what will happen. I didn’t think I would be in this band in a million years, but I think back to a time when people were pushing me to submit this movie because you never know. It ended up working for me, so I say always go – never be afraid. This is the best advice I could give.

Photo 3 courtesy of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. Photo 1, 2 and 4 courtesy of Butler’s dance team.

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