By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – Elli DiGiovanni is a doer.
Whether in academics, in her profession or in the sport of cheerleading, she is a confident high achiever.
Still, back when she was a cheerleader at South Kitsap High School, even this ambitious dynamo may not have imagined that in a few years she would don the most recognizable cheerleader outfit in the world and join the ranks of the renowned Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.
The 23-year-old Port Orchard native is a success story by any standard. She has excelled in several areas of her life, the least of which was her desire to become a top professional cheerleader.
“It’s always been my passion and my sport,” DiGiovanni said of leading cheers and dancing in front of sporting event audiences.
“It’s a way for me to express myself through movement. While dancing, I don’t think about anything else but the choreography and myself performing my best and leaving it all on the field. I just love it.”
Performing is not new to the young woman.
“I have loved dancing and performing since I was a little girl,” she recalled. “Me and my brother and sister would put on Christmas shows every year for our family. We would choreograph our dance routines.
“My friends and I would also make up dances to our favorite songs or the new albums that came out. We would videotape ourselves. I was non-stop, just always dancing and making up choreography to music.”
Which, to those who know her, is not at all surprising. That’s just her nature.
“I’m outgoing. I like to make people smile and laugh. I’ve always kind of been the entertainer.”
At the tender age of 4, she was introduced to dance when she was enrolled in Just for Kicks School of Dance in Port Orchard. When she turned 8, the youngster took up competitive dance at The Dance Gallery on Bay Street.
Once she started high school, deciding to become a cheerleader was a natural choice.
“I wanted to cheer at football games and be on the sidelines at the basketball games. I really liked the sporting aspect of being a cheerleader because I love watching sports. That was fun for me, and I liked the outfits,” she laughed.
Not surprisingly, the motivated DiGiovanni excelled in the classroom. She was an honors student and involved in student government in high school, elected class secretary, vice president and, ultimately, senior class president. At her class graduation, she gave the commencement speech on the importance of inclusion.
After graduating in 2015, she attended college at the University of Oregon, earning a degree in accounting in the business honors program. And amid a demanding academic load, she was a cheerleader for the Ducks during her four years in Eugene. In her senior year, she was selected to be the squad’s dance captain. In 2019, DiGiovanni took a hiatus from cheerleading and entered a one-year program at the University of Washington to earn a master’s degree in accounting.
Her busiest year turned out to be 2020. During those 12 months, she completed her master’s degree, then prepared for and passed four grueling certified public accountant exams to earn her CPA license.
With academics and career preparation behind her, it was time for her inner performer to reemerge while seeking another goal: to become a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.
Her decision to try out wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. She had long admired the group on television.
“I always knew if I was going to go for a professional NFL cheer team that it would be ‘DCC’ because I really enjoyed their style of dance,” she said.
Predictably, DiGiovanni’s road to making the team last year was an arduous one. And competitive. More than 1,200 applicants vied for just 11 spots on the roster. Due to COVID, tryouts last year were virtual. She recorded her auditions from her parent’s home in Port Orchard and sent them to Texas.
The first round of auditions involved doing 60 seconds of freestyle cheer in which she was able to perform to a song of her own choice. She made the cut, then faced the second round of competition that required her to perform a set routine of the team’s famous sky-high “Kick Line,” which involves repeatedly kicking those signature white boots above her head.
DiGiovanni did not have access to a studio to record her audition tapes or have a professional video crew to handle the production. Instead, she recruited family members to record her routines in the family driveway adjacent to the garage. When not being production assistants for their daughter, her mom, Tracy, is an attorney and partner at a Port Orchard law firm, and her dad, Dale, is a project manager at Boeing.
“My mom and dad were behind the camera,” she remembered. “My dad brought out a ladder and had his tools out to make sure it was even and centered. I had to have my mom press ‘play’ to record and my dad started the music. It was definitely a family endeavor.”
After surviving round three — a video interview — DiGiovanni was invited to Cowboys training camp in Dallas. For three weeks, candidates were sequestered in a bubble during the pandemic at a resort where candidates battled it out to make the final cut.
In the end, the 5-foot-5 candidate survived the final cut and made the famed 36-member team.
DiGiovanni’s exploits at training camp were captured on video for television audiences on the long-running CMT network reality television show “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team.”
“When I found out I made the team I had the biggest smile on my face. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited and happy that all my hard work paid off. I was officially able to call myself a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. It was really a dream come true,” she recounted.
DiGiovanni enjoyed her rookie year on the team last season, appearing at AT&T Stadium, located just outside of Dallas. Due to COVID restrictions, the cheerleaders were not able to be on the field and instead performed on the touchdown decks in the endzones while donning masks.
But being a member of the nation’s most famous cheer team does present challenges.
“It’s considered a part-time job but it is a huge time commitment. Most girls on the team have full or part-time jobs,” she explained.
In addition to her responsibilities associated with cheerleading, DiGiovanni herself is employed full-time as an audit associate at a public accounting firm, where she reviews and audits company financial statements.
It is not a stretch to say the fame accorded the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders rises above many of the football players who wear the team’s jerseys. Their celebrity status began to grow when, in 1972, team management decided to replace the high school cheerleaders who had been on the sidelines with athletic young women performing highly choreographed, dance-style routines.
The squad quickly became a worldwide sensation, thanks to its signature uniform: cowgirl boots, shorts and vests with fringe — all in white — and blue blouse. Lone State Texas stars on the shorts and vests, and shimmering pompons, complete the distinctive outfit.
“The uniform is iconic,” DiGiovanni said. “Two years ago, it was inducted into the Smithsonian Museum of American History, which is pretty cool.”
The rigors of keeping up
DiGiovanni maintains a regiment of exercise and healthy eating to keep up with the rigors of cheering.
“Exercise and fitness is another passion of mine. Working out is a time for me to be in my zone and do something that l like to do. I like the way it makes me feel and the way it makes me look,” she said.
She works out 60 to 90 minutes a day, six days a week.
“I try and maintain a very balanced diet, just getting in the proper amount of nutrients, proteins, carbs, vegetables, and fruit and fiber. I love food and love eating. If I enjoy it and my body accepts it, then I’m going to eat it,” she chuckled.
But making the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders squad for one season does not guarantee membership the following year. Each year, every spot is up for grabs, and DiGiovanni will soon face summer tryouts for the 2021 team.
Fortunately, this homegrown force of nature is not one to back down from a challenge. Given her successful track record in academics, work and dance, don’t bet against DiGiovanni earning the right again to step into those white cowboy boots next football season.