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Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders donate iconic uniforms to the museum’s sports collection

In 1976, I was an 11-year-old girl who had always wanted to be a cheerleader, and the only part of Super Bowl X that caught my attention was the cheerleaders performing on the sidelines. Little did I know that, some 40 years later, I would be collecting two uniforms from that same iconic cheerleading team. Which team was it? That’s right—America’s Sweethearts—the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. While the Dallas Cowboys evoke strong emotions among football fans, no matter how you feel about the team, everyone loves their cheerleaders.

Two Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniforms, complete with blue and white tops and shorts, decorated with stars
This photo shows an original Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniform from the early 1970s on the right and a newer uniform from the 2011 season on the left. There are no immediate plans to display the new objects, but an exhibition is in development that will explore American culture and draw on the museum’s theater, music, sports, and entertainment collections.

Specifically tailored to fit each individual cheerleader, the uniform’s signature blouse, vest, and shorts were handmade by Leveta Crager until the mid-1990s; they are now made by Lisa Dobson. With its carefully guarded trademark, the signature uniform of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders has only undergone six modifications since its introduction in 1972, including changing the style of the boots and adding crystals to the outline of the stars on the belt and shorts. Kelli McGonagill Finglass, the squad’s director and a former Dallas cheerleader, considers each modification necessary to “enhance the image of the uniform and maintain the integrity of the Dallas Cowboys."

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders image has been cultivated since the team’s first season in 1961. That year, they debuted The CowBelles & Beaux, a cheerleading squad that included men and women. In 1967, they dropped the boys from the squad, and cheerleaders were selected from local high schools. A few years later, Dee Brock (the manager of the cheerleaders) and Tex Schramm (general manager of the Cowboys) decided the cheerleaders needed a new and updated look. They brought in choreographer Texie Waterman, who provided new dance-style routines, and in 1972 the high school girls were replaced with more athletic young women who could perform the new routines in the Texas heat. These talented and innovative performers could not wear traditional cheerleading uniforms, so a new look was needed.

Enter Paula Van Waggoner and her modernized vision of short shorts, a halter top, and white go-go boots. The new look proved wildly popular with fans around the league, and the cheerleaders’ appearance on the sidelines in Super Bowl X only reinforced this newfound fame.

Hand-drawn sketch of two women wearing variations of what would become the standard Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniform
Copy of Van Waggoner’s original sketch of the iconic uniforms, also in the museum’s collection

In 1978 the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were chosen by the NFL as ambassadors to promote American football abroad. A year later the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Show was created. This choreographed musical variety show—titled, “America & Her Music”—travels to national conventions and corporate events, and makes USO appearances throughout the world.

Poster shows a group of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders posing in a line with lights and a large, streaking star in the background. Text at the bottom reads: “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders”
This original 1977 poster was the first to feature an NFL cheerleading team, demonstrating the influence on 1970s popular culture of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Today the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have donated an original uniform from the 1970s, with go-go boots and pom-poms, as well as a more current uniform, from the 2016 season, with custom-made cowboy boots and pom-poms. Together they highlight the relatively few changes made to the uniform over the years.

Collage image of three Barbie dolls in their boxes. The dolls wear Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniforms, complete with pom-poms.
To show the squad’s global diversity and appeal, the museum also collected three Barbie dolls—a Latina, an African American, and a Caucasian doll—wearing the iconic uniform.
A stuffed bear toy wearing a variation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders costume, along with blue bows on its ears
Abbey Bear is an important part of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders culture. Each week, it is given to the cheerleader who has gone above (AB) and beyond (BEY) expectations.

These uniforms will join our growing collection of cheerleading objects, which already includes uniforms and props from two highly influential dance teams: the 1930s Flaming Flashes and the Kilgore Rangerettes, both created by Gussie Nell Davis, a physical education teacher from Farmersville, Texas.

There are no immediate plans to display the new objects, but an exhibition is in development that will explore American culture and draw on the museum’s theater, music, sports, and entertainment collections.

Jane Rogers is an associate curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts. She has previously blogged about wheelchair basketball pioneer Ray Werner, as well as her experiences as a curator visiting Ground Zero in the months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.