Kleine Powell filmed the job interview that changed her life in a bathroom in Arizona. She locked the door and told her friends not to listen to the audition video she was filming for a spot as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.
Those same friends cried and celebrated with her when she got word of her acceptance to the 2021 DCC Training Camp.
The DCC can be seen on the sidelines and on the field at halftime at every game the Cowboys play at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. They can also be seen at United Service Organizations tours worldwide, youth dance and cheer camps and on their annual swimsuit and sideline calendar.
Powell said she was in the middle of a celebratory, post-grad, 16-day, cross-country road trip with two of her friends from the University of Kentucky, her alma mater, when she got her DCC acceptance email.
"We had to stop in Arizona. So I did one of my videos there," Powell said. "I had to film it in my friend's completely brand new apartment."
She got the email with a link to a video of the coaches telling her that she made it to Training Camp and that she would have to move to Texas within two and a half weeks, even though she was traveling in Seattle.
"I was like, 'If I make it through and I get into Training Camp, this is literally going to change my life,'" Powell said.
Powell was a member of the UK Dance Team, and she said she has been dancing for most of her life. She danced for a couple studios in her hometown of Richmond, Kentucky, though she said she took a year off to play soccer.
She said she wasn't the best at soccer, but it was a part of what she called her "tomboy phase."
"Coming out of fifth grade, you're always so nervous," Powell said. "I was really shy back then too. And so I was like, 'Mom, I think I want to try out for the dance team,' and I hadn't danced for a whole year, so she was like, 'Are you sure?'"
Powell said that she made the middle school team, and she continued to dance in high school.
She said that she knew her dance career wasn't over with her senior year of college, so she decided to try out for the DCC.
"I just kept making it through each round, and I was like, 'What is happening?'" Powell said. "That was so cool. But then I was like, 'Wait, I have to move to Texas now.'"
She said that the DCC Training Camp days were usually 18 hours or longer and that she and other new girls were competing against 28 veteran cheerleaders for the 36 coveted team spots.
"It's just one of those things that you're just so excited to be there and to be gifted another night," Powell said. "It's a gift because I feel like before DCC, I truly did take things in my life for granted. And so I'm really grateful for the experience because I finally learned how to be present."
Powell said that when she found out she made the team as an official DCC member, rehearsal had already gone an hour past the scheduled time, and all the girls were exhausted. A video featuring coaches and Training Camp alumni began playing on the big screen in the stadium, congratulating the women on being the 2021-2022 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
"I threw my poms up in the air and then smashed them down," Powell said. "All the veterans were sitting on our left side. They all ran over and were hugging all of us. A big clump of just happy, and it was really cool. I think that was definitely my favorite memory."
Being a Cowboys Cheerleader means donning the iconic blue, long-sleeved crop top, stark white shorts and white cowboy boots, which Powell described as "magical." The classic blue and white uniform has even been added to a collection at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.
Powell said that being a DCC means that the girls do not have much downtime, including enough time off to go home to Kentucky around Christmas.
The cheerleaders didn't rehearse on Christmas day, but there was a game on Dec. 26 and Christmas shows to perform. Powell's parents and siblings came to Dallas from Kentucky to be with her for the holidays. But Powell understands the tight schedule.
"I'm also dancing for the best team in America, so it kind of evens itself out," she said.
Game days for Powell often start at 3:30 a.m. with about an hour and a half to do her own hair and makeup before a bus ride to practice preceding a noon game. She said they practice for about two hours before fixing themselves up and making their way to do their pregame dance at Miller LiteHouse. They then eat, fix themselves up again and head to the game. They end around 6 p.m. when she gets home.
Included with the long hours and intensive practices are fun traditions that the cheerleaders have maintained, like the passing of Abbey Bear, a stuffed bear who reps a replica of the women's uniforms. The name Abbey Bear stands for above and beyond, and she is passed to a cheerleader who has shown extra kindness following each game.
"Whoever has Abbey Bear from the last game will get up, say what Abbey Bear did that week, thank the person who gave them Abbey Bear and then will kind of describe the person who they want to give Abbey to next," Powell said. "My really good friend Kelcey, who's a third-year, gave me Abbey Bear for I think it was the third home game."
Powell said that another tradition is standing in a circle holding pinkies and saying the Lord's Prayer before a game, then throwing their arms up in exclamation and turning to the outside of the circle to go out to perform.
As far as stage fright goes, Powell said that it isn't something that bothers her, even though she performs in her "fluid hip-hop" style in front of thousands of fans. She said she's so excited to be cheering there that she ignores all the nervousness that she's feeling.
"When I don't wear my glasses, everything just looks blurry," she said. "I think it helps because I can't see people's faces in detail."
Powell's life has changed in many ways since graduating from UK as a digital arts and media major, but she said she still wants to do design in some capacity after moving on from professional cheerleading.
"There's no timeline for anything, so I'm just going to try to do this now and then I'll figure out something later and then maybe I'll move on and do something else in another 10 years. Who knows," Powell said.
She would love to stay on the team for three or four years if she is able so that she has time to grow and be more relaxed after her first year. She said that her life is completely different since becoming a Cowboys Cheerleader, but in a good way.
"I'm the same person, but everything seems to be different. I mean, I cheer for the best squad in the world," Powell said. "Not even to say that I'm engaged now, and I've moved away 17 hours from home and it's just, everything has been such a whirlwind. But honestly, it's awesome. I wouldn't change it for the world."