At the end of March, Amstar had the pleasure to team up with the Tourism Board of the Riviera Maya and Iberostar Quetzal and Tucan Hotel in Playa del Carmen to host the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders on their annual swimsuit calendar photo shoot. During the hectic schedule, we found time to sit down for an interview with Kelli Finglass, Director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
How long have you been a part of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders organization?
I started out as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. I cheered for five years in the 1980’s, and then I went on to be Assistant Director for one year. Afterwards, I worked in marketing for a year before becoming Director, which I’ve now been doing for the past 24 years, so 31 years in total.
What’s it like being a cheerleader?
Well, it’s a whirlwind. It’s a very busy lifestyle; a fabulous collection of friends and dancers and athletes. For performers it’s really a dream come true to be able to perform and dance, and then you mix that with the NFL and it’s an amazing experience. The best part is probably the close friendships that develop through the camaraderie of the travels and the locker room.
We were actually going to ask you what the best aspect of being a cheerleader is; so it’s the camaraderie that develops between the girls?
Well, yes, in the long-term, the camaraderie that develops between the girls is probably the best part. The experiences that they have together, for example, through trips like this to the Riviera Maya; imagine going to an area like this for eight days with 21 of your best friends. It’s just an incredible, fun, exciting, glamorous and exotic adventure.
The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are known and loved around the world. What’s the biggest stereotype about the cheerleaders?
I think a lot of times the people don’t realize that the cheerleaders have careers and have impressive educations. All of our cheerleaders have their bachelor’s degrees and 10 have their master’s degree, while some are still enrolled at various universities. Last year we had a cheerleader with her doctorate. So the old stereotype is that cheerleaders aren’t as educated, but that really couldn’t be anywhere further from the truth. From doctors and lawyers to sales personnel and school teachers, our cheerleaders have some very impressive careers.
What would be the #1 thing you would like people to know about the DCC?
Probably how impressive the girls are as individuals and collectively as a group, how close they really are. Sometimes people think that a group of women might not get along well, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth. They are very close friends and become almost like family. They have impressive educations, impressive careers. And after they’re cheerleaders they not only go on to have families and have wonderful careers, but they have been and will always be ambassadors for the Dallas Cowboys.
How many photo shoots have you done until now?
This is our 37th calendar, and this is our 24th on location.
And you’ve been a part of all of them?
What are the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges for this project are probably weather and logistics, moving such a large group around somewhat unfamiliar places for us. We brag that the project absolutely couldn’t be possible without the expertise and the connections of Amstar. That’s the most important part of the project, our ground transportation. In general, we leave the hotel at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.
It’s dark and we sure as heck don’t know where we’re going. Thank goodness the experts at Amstar do and they get us to the places we need to be in time to beat sunrise, photograph these majestic but fleeting moments, and capture these magnificent pictures. If we didn’t have proper ground transportation and logistical support, this project would be impossible.
What impacts you most about these photo shoots?
I would actually say that what impacts me most in terms of these projects is the global sense of hospitality, especially here in Mexico. I have really fallen in love with Mexico, and specifically with the people. Their joyful nature is very inspiring, and it’s something that makes this whole project so special, because frankly the project involves very long hours. You know, our alarm clocks are set at 3:30 a.m. and we don’t get back to our rooms until after 10:30 p.m. or so, so it can be exhausting. But the people that help us with the projects, the local people of Mexico, they’re amazing. And specifically Riviera Maya has been such a successful destination for us for five projects now and it feels like home here. A second home at least.
A lot of people say, “Well, why don’t you go to Hawaii”, you know, or “Why don’t you go to ……..,” fill in the blank, but I love Mexico. I love the people here. I love the hospitality here, it’s exceptional, and the proximity to Texas for our group; it’s just a two-hour plane ride. So, you know it’s just the perfect scenario for us. It’s actually amazing that this type of environment is only two hours from our airport in Dallas.
What’s been your favorite place to shoot here?
We’ve shot Cozumel, Cancun, all of the Riviera Maya, Isla Mujeres and they’re all spectacular for different reasons. I loved the small-town charm of Isla Mujeres. I love the sunsets and the color that we get, and the proximity to Cozumel. Last year we were in Cancun and the color of the water there, the Caribbean Sea, is just magnificent. This year, the Riviera Maya has given us such a diversity in landscapes, in architecture, and just breathtaking scenery and the Mayan scenes that we’ve seen are just all spectacular for our photography project.
How many hours go into this entire project?
When we work with someone like Amstar a lot of my hours are cut down. Last year we worked with Amstar for the first time, and although it was a new project for your company, we were very impressed by the service and professionalism. With this being our second year working together, everything has gone even that much more smoother, which is truly amazing. In fact, everything’s so well-organized, well-planned and well-executed before we even get here that it literally saves me hours and hours of sending emails and explaining what we need, and that’s a big relief for me. That way, I can focus on the creative/artistic side of the project.
On the creative side, the photographers and cheerleaders do swimsuit fittings back in Dallas. They literally fit hundreds of different swimsuits to find the best say 10 or 12 suits per girl. The photographers do test photography and come to Riviera Maya with all the photographs like a deck of cards for each cheerleader. Once here, we scout the location, pick the best sites and then off we go before sunrise. The shooting project is seven days of shooting, then we will edit. We stay here in the Riviera Maya to stay focused and in the element so that we can edit this calendar over the course of three days. I have three editors. And at that point we try to send the raw files to our publisher and start working on the files to get this calendar printed and produced by football season.
So when are we going to get our first chance to see the calendar?
For sure by November, in the fall. But we like to have it done by August so that it’s in our stadium and in bookstores by August.
You have the attention of our Amstar readers, what would be your parting words?
I’ve been very successful with my group of 50 people moving around all over Mexico with the help and expertise of Amstar. So when I come back to Mexico as a mother, I entrust my children and my family with them. When I’m here as the Director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, I entrust our entire project to them, so that’s as much of a compliment that I can give them: that I entrust the two most important things in my life, my family and the cheerleaders, to Amstar.