2022 Butler University alumni, Kayla Hayes’ dance team experience lands her a spot on the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleading team. Photo courtesy of the Butler dance team.
EVA HALLMAN | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Members of the Butler community are achieving extraordinary things, both on and off campus. From first-years to alumni to administrators and back, each Bulldog has a story to tell. Read on to discover the next of our Bulldogs of Butler through a Q&A style interview.
Kayla Hayes is pursuing her lifelong dream of dancing professionally in one of the top prestigious NFL cheerleading squads, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. As of 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 the Butler dance team and was the team captain in her junior and senior years. While her uniform colors remain the same, Hayes takes on new challenges and opportunities with the DCC.
The Butler Collegian: As a recent Butler graduate, share with us your journey to Butler. What brought you here, what made you stay, and how do you remember your time here?
Kayla Hayes: I did not visit Butler until April [of 2018], and I didn’t even really know about the dance team until probably a week before the auditions. I remember I had a dance competition on a Sunday night, and [Butler University] was one of the last schools [to visit]. My dad was like, “I think we’ll visit,” so we drove in the middle of the night for a Monday morning tour. I just fell in love with the school. My dad reached out to Cassia Dean, who was the [Butler dance team] head coach at the time, and just asked an inquiry about the dance team auditions. I remember I had an obligation at the time of auditions, so she allowed me to do a video virtual audition. I think I was one of the first ones [to virtually audition], or maybe that was the first year they [allowed virtually auditions]. It was really cool that she gave me that opportunity. Then, once I made the dance team, it just solidified me wanting to go to Butler. I would say the dance team was kind of the main factor influencing my decision, but [it was the] best decision I made.
TBC: Dance has been a prominent aspect in your life. Could you reminisce on your childhood dance journey for us?
KH: Let’s see, so I started dancing at age three. I remember I started competing doing ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, lyrical and hip-hop starting at age seven. I just fell in love with dance. I’m from Saint Louis, Missouri, so I danced at DK Dance Productions. I did [competitive dance] throughout high school and it just stuck with me. I did performances around the community — solos, duets, groups, pretty much anything and everything, and just continued to fall in love with [dance]. I realized when I was graduating [high school]; I didn’t want to stop [dancing] yet. Once I got to college, it kind of opened my eyes to more professional dancing [such as NFL and NBA styles], so that’s what made me realize [in my freshman year of college] that I want to still do this for a bit longer after college.
TBC: Tell us about your experience with the Butler dance team.
KH: I loved my time on the Butler dance team for four years; it was so much fun. It was crazy because I didn’t know anyone on the team since I missed the audition. Therefore in August [of 2018], during our dawg days, which is like training camp where we learn choreography for the year, that was my first time meeting everyone on the team. Everyone was welcoming, and it was super fun.
TBC: Did you have any other experience while on the dance team or any leadership positions?
KH: I was captain for two years, my junior and senior years. I also had some other leadership opportunities on the dance team such as working with the kids’ clinic committee for about three years. I’ve gone to Pro-Action Dance twice; it’s a huge dance combine in Las Vegas, where all the professional and college cheerleaders practice with professional choreographers. That is what made me want to be in the NFL because you’re dancing with the pros. That was a neat experience, as only 4 Butler dance team members are selected to go each year.
TBC: What is one of your favorite Butler memories, either academically or athletically?
KH: I think going back to freshman year, my absolute favorite time was the “Yell Like Hell” performance, because that was our first time performing in front of Butler, and we did this super cool hip-hop routine. It was cool because you have this amazing hip-hop dance, and I had never performed on a dance team before. So that lives rent-free in my head as being one of the best times ever. Also, I think honestly sophomore year of college basketball games [were a favorite]. I specifically remember when we won against Villanova; the crowd’s energy was so much fun. At that time that was the biggest crowd I ever performed to in my life.
TBC: How did the skills you learned, whether on the dance team or in the classroom, benefit you during your audition process with the [Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders]?
KH: A lot definitely. This process is not easy. I think it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Dance-wise, growing up dancing from age three was so beneficial. Being on the dance team and learning to dance with poms, sharpness and power is big in regards to the DCC style. I was able to nurture [the DCC style] in college. My teacher [at DK Dance Productions] taught us super elaborate kick lines, so I learned how to kick. I started kicks at age nine or 10, so that really prepared me for the DCC kicks.
Academic-wise, there’s definitely a lot as well. The DCC team is full of very smart and intelligent women, also the most talented. One thing my Butler education taught me was strong communication skills. I graduated [a] critical communication media studies major, so being able to speak well and be able to present myself [well has benefited me]. Many times on the team, you are an ambassador, so being able to communicate effectively — whether it’s with kids or other fans, having to write or make a public statement — is important.
TBC: Could you further elaborate on the [Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders] audition process for those who have not seen “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team?”
KH: Let’s go back to early May. The audition process started virtually, filling out personal and dance questions about my experiences. Then, you submitted a headshot, a full body shot, an introduction video and a one-minute dance of your choosing. I found out about round two a few days later. The whole time I was like, “Well, I [just] graduated college, I might as well just go for it.” I didn’t expect anything after the first video. I got [through to] the second round, so I was like, here we go. I think round two was the hardest round. You had two days to learn, record and submit a two-minute dance routine of the DCC choreography. Alongside doing their kickline twice, all on non-stop video: it was insane. Also [I had to complete] two separate get-to-know-you interview questions on camera.
Then, going into round three gets you to in-person auditions in Dallas, Texas. I wasn’t expecting much after that, but they sent a little video clip of “Congratulations, you’re heading to finals.” It was super exciting, but then it got a little harder. As you have to prep a one-and-a-half minute solo of your own style, then learn four different dance routines, all in 2 weeks … plus get to Dallas. Thankfully, my dad drove with me because the start from finals to training camp was two days. I knew if I made it [to training camp], I didn’t have time to grab my stuff.
It was a long day. It started at 9 a.m.; we first performed our solos then we got on the field. That was a hard day because you had to do two dances back-to-back and the kickline twice. It was similar to the other audition, but you didn’t know what dance you were getting. They would just play a song, and you had to know what it was. After that, they announced the numbers that made training camp, and that’s when I got into training camp. I thought at that point I got through the hardest step.
Training camp was from June 15th to Aug. 4th. I found out I made the team on August 4th. [Training camp] was really hard. We had practice every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. On top of that, you’re learning a new routine every single day. I didn’t have a life all summer; I was so focused. I was like “Okay, I didn’t just come here for nothing, I have to make this team.” Yeah, I think that’s kind of the gist of the audition process in a nutshell.
TBC: After hearing all that, the audition process is definitely a feat. How did your Butler community help you through this process?
KH: I called my [former dance team] coach Paige constantly. I was always just texting or calling her throughout the whole time. I called her when I made it into training camp and when I got the call that I was going to Dallas. I texted [her] throughout [the audition process], and she gave me a lot of positive encouragement. Then a couple of my best friends from Butler would call and ask how I was doing just because I didn’t see any of my friends the whole summer. Nor did I have time to go home to hang out with people. It was really nice to still have those relationships I built through my years of Butler support me in my next chapter.
TBC: What has been the most rewarding and challenging part of being a recent Butler graduate and swiftly becoming a [Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader]?
KH: The most challenging was knowing I was moving across the country. I’m from St. Louis, then went to school in Indianapolis, so I built my life in those two places. All my friends and everyone I know are in either Indiana or St. Louis. [I was] scared of moving to Texas where I didn’t know anybody, nor have strong connections. The most rewarding [part] was making the team and being a part of that system, as I gained 36 new best friends. It’s also rewarding doing something I love and having wanted it forever.
TBC: Do you have any future plans post [Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders]? Would you like to keep dancing professionally?
KH: Hopefully my body doesn’t break down on me, but I definitely think I’ll always be involved in dance. Whether that will be choreographing, coaching or teaching at a dance studio: I think I’ll always have that little side part of me. While on the team, you have to have a full-time job or be a full-time student. I am [currently] working, but I think I would go back and get my masters after. I’ll take time to focus on getting a higher education; after my years of DCC.
TBC: What advice do you give current and future bulldogs looking to pursue their lifelong dreams?
KH: If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. For me, I was so terrified of after college, of what I was going to do. As you’re starting a new chapter, I would just say go for [your dreams]. You never know what’s going to happen. I did not think in a million years that I would ever be on this team, but I think back to when I had people pushing me to just submit this video because you never know. It ended up working out for me, so I say always go for it — never be scared. That’s the best advice I could ever give.
Photo 3 courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Photo 1, 2 and 4 courtesy of Butler dance team.