Heather O’Connor made her way to AT&T Stadium in Dallas on a cold and rainy day in May for her preliminary audition with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. She had graduated from the UA the night before and flew out for her once-in-a-lifetime shot to be a DCC.
“This has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor and 15 other rookies were announced as official Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders three months later, joining the 37-member squad that is widely known as one of the best cheerleading teams in the NFL.
“When our director, Kelly, announced that we would be stepping onto the field as the 2016-2017 Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, it was the biggest sense of relief and excitement that I could have imagined,” O’Connor said. “It felt like finishing a 5K and starting a marathon.”
O’Connor is one of seven former UA Pomline members to be performing in the NFL and NBA this season. Each of them credits the UA Pomline as the organization that gave them the tools to succeed at the highest level.
“The girls that have gone through the UA Pomline have got the skills and the exposure that pro teams are looking for,” UA Pomline Coach Adrienne Robertson said. “Dancing in the Final Four, dancing in the Elite Eight—most girls don’t have that experience. Everybody that has come from the UA has that experience. That’s what the pro teams are looking for. I push them to go for their dreams if that’s what they want to do.”
Robertson has been a huge advocate of auditioning for professional teams since taking over the program in 2010. Robertson, a UA Pomline cheerleader from 2006-2010, knows what it takes to be the best of the best.
“Girls from all around the world are coming to these auditions and it’s really [about] being the whole package,” Robertson said. “Some of these girls have never danced at the college level. That’s what sets our girls apart is they have that experience and they are prepared mentally to go through these auditions [in the pros].”
RELATED GALLERY: Pomline participates in pregame rally prior to Elite Eight.
Many of those who audition see their hopes and dreams crumble. Robertson said that 110 students tried for seven spots with the UA Pomline during the past audition period.
“Honestly, the UA is the best way I could have prepared to make this team just because there are 60,000 people at UA football games, and my last game as part of the UA Pomline was actually the 2013 Sweet Sixteen,” said Phoenix Suns dancer Megan. “Performing at Staples Center and getting to travel to the Pac-12 Tournament is already on a big stage, so to transfer that over to Fox Sports and an NBA game in general was pretty seamless. I credit the UA for that.”
Megan, a UA Pomline alumna from the Class of 2013, is an Arizona native and has danced for the Suns for two seasons.
“Every time a big NBA player comes here, it’s really exciting,” Megan said. “Kobe [Bryant’s] last game in Phoenix was a really fun night to be a part of. Steve Nash’s Ring of Honor Ceremony—I’ve always been a Suns fan and to be able to see these people in person is pretty awesome.”
O’Connor’s experience has been unique as she gets to perform with some of her closest friends—including former UA pommie and DCC Megan—while pursuing her dream.
“To have someone here to share the ‘once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat’ motto with me is so cool,” O’Connor said. “[Accepting] a full-time job offer with a company is not always the route you have to take. It’s kind of a message that you can make your path whatever you want it to be.”
Robertson prides herself on teaching her team time management, as every football game turns into an 18-hour day full of dancing, marching, tailgating with fans and performing.
“The biggest lesson that I learned is time management, 100 percent,” San Diego Chargers cheerleader and former UA pommie Melissa said. “In order to keep up with my passion for dance at the UA, I learned I needed to get a job, go to school and pay my bills. Collegiate dance really taught me time management.”
Melissa, a Tucson native who graduated from Salpointe Catholic High School, is one of three Wildcats on the Chargers Girls squad.
“I started dancing when I was 3 [years old],” Melissa said. “I didn’t want to stop my passion for dance and really wanted to go the professional route. My experience has been nothing but a positive one. I love the Chargers organization.”
Almost every professional cheerleader balances more than one part-time job on the side.
“Making sure that you are at the top of your game so that your teammates can count on you—having that as a background has really helped me manage my time now with two jobs aside from this [to make] sure that I’m always the best I can be when I come here so that my teammates can count on me,” Melissa said.
While some professional auditions are more rigorous than others, the DCC showcases every moment in a television show called “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team,” which airs on CMT.
“It’s so funny to watch on TV because for us, it feels like watching a home video,” O’Connor said. “It’s cool to share with family and friends what it’s been like for the last three months for us.”
Every year, 18-24 individuals earn the opportunity to call themselves members of the Arizona Pomline. With close to 20 pommies in program history going onto the next level, each current member looks up to those professionals as role models.
“Most of my gals live and breathe the Arizona Wildcats,” Robertson said. “They love the school spirit; they love being here. They look back to college and think it’s so great because they got to be a part of pomline and pep rallies.”
Follow Matt Wall on Twitter.