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America’s Sweethearts Star Victoria Kalina on Cheerleading, Mental Health, and Her Future

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In the new Netflix docuseries America's Sweethearts: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, there may be no other dancer on the elite squad more passionate about the organization than Victoria Kalina. In the series, Kalina, a fourth-year cheerleading veteran whose mother was also a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader (DCC), stands out not just because of her high kicks or her can-do attitude, but because of her striking vulnerability. Over the course of the six episodes, Kalina is candid about the ways in which being a Cowboys cheerleader has impacted her mental Health and her relationship with her body, opening up about the challenges she faced to achieve her lifelong dream of cheering for the elite team.

Read more: America’s Sweethearts Is a Surprisingly Infuriating Portrait of the Ultimate Pink-Collar Job

Kalina also delivered one of the bigger surprises of the series when she announced in the finale that she wouldn't be returning for a fifth season with the cheerleading squad. We caught up with Kalina this week to talk about filming America's Sweethearts, how she prioritizes her mental Health, and how she knew it was time to walk away.

What was the experience like for you filming America’s Sweethearts?

It was absolutely amazing. The director Greg (Whiteley) and all of the crew were absolutely amazing. And I'm just so thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of it.

This wasn’t your first time being on camera as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader; you also appeared on Making the Team, the CMT reality show; was this different for you?

Most definitely. I feel like we got to show ourselves outside of the uniform rather than the process of just getting that uniform, where that’s the finale. You also get to see us outside of the uniform all throughout the season and dive in deeper with us as people.

Why was it important to you that people get to see more sides of you and your life in the series?

Just as the [show] poster itself says, “perfection isn't perfect.” The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders are so iconic. That uniform is so well known that it’s in the Smithsonian, DCC is so well known. I think it's important for us to take that away, so you find out these people are still real, we're still us.

Your mother Tina appeared in the series and on Making the Team and was also a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. How do you feel like that legacy has impacted the both of you?

I think either with it or without it, we would still be two peas in a pod and inseparable.

Do you feel like there were any challenges that you faced because of this legacy?

I think partially I might have had a disadvantage being a legacy and [with] the relationship that I had between Kelli (Finglass, the director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders) Judy (Trammell, the head choreogapher) my mom and I, but ultimately, I think the challenges came from just myself being a perfectionist.

In America’s Sweethearts, you had some real moments of vulnerability, especially when it came to talking about body image and mental Health. Why was it important for you to share these parts of your life in this series? Was it ever difficult to be so candid?

That was one thing I told myself when it got announced that we were making this docuseries and Netflix was going to follow us around all season. I just wanted to promise myself that I would just be fully me. Ultimately, after the beautiful responses I have received, I think that was the best thing that I could have done because I feel like I have inspired other people to be open to talk about it. If I got one person to feel that way, that makes me overjoyed.

One thing I took away from this is, is that being a Cowboys Cheerleader is an extremely public, high-pressure job, both physically but also emotionally and mentally. How do you protect your peace and mental well-being in that kind of environment?

Personally for me, I thrive better and my mental Health is stronger in places where I feel like I can just escape and be fully me. At times, in DCC and the world, I know for myself, I can be scared, which can be difficult, at times. So just finding safe spaces was important for my mental Health and making sure I felt fully supported and loved.

In the final episode, we see that you chose not to return for a fifth year with the Cowboys. Obviously, it's never easy to say goodbye, so how did you know that it was the right time for you to leave?

I truly didn't know walking into that first meeting. I had full intentions on coming back, doing a fifth year, wanting to go back, still wanting to give more to the organization and to DCC. That ending meeting made me feel that Kellie and Judy—I don’t know how to explain it. I felt as though, no matter what I did, I was never going to ride that career ladder. As a performer or any other job, you always want to strive to be better and I know that I didn't want to spend another year being the same. I would love to do nothing but perform because that is my ultimate dream. My ultimate passion is performing. But I also would have liked to have known whether or not I was going to be moving on, so when I didn't get that specific answer is when I was really like, 'okay, I want to put my energy and techniques somewhere else.'

What are you looking forward to most in your post-cheerleading career?

Right now, I’m getting ready, getting my whole life packed up. I'm moving to New York City in six days. I’m super excited. I hope to book a performing job on the East Coast, but I'm going to be open to anything and everything that is out there.

Is there anything that you will miss about being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader?

Definitely the performing. As a dancer, you are obsessed with performing and you will not feel that same ecstatic energy and the vivacious roar of the crowd at the stadium and of the fans like a Dallas Cowboys game. There’s nothing I think that’s equivalent to that, so I will definitely miss that being my stage. And I will definitely miss the reactions and the impact that you know wearing that star holds for people.

And is there anything that you won't miss?

No! 

There are so many practices though...

I love dancing, so that was a positive thing for me!

There was a lot in the series about the “DCC look,” especially during auditions, where it seemed like some girls got cut because they didn’t have the look. Obviously, there's a lot of pressure not just for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, but I think many NFL cheerleaders across the league to look a certain way. Do you see that evolving for the organization in the future?

I think so—I mean, there's always changes happening, but I think it ultimately comes down to what the organization specifically wants and what they are looking for. And that comes from the judges and the coaches and the people deciding.

What has your time as a cheerleader taught you? What are the lessons you're going to take away from from this chapter of your life?

It's okay to be you, not everyone is going to love it. Some people are going to love it. Some people are gonna hate it. Some people are gonna vibe with it. And that's okay. You just need to know that what you're doing and that that’s where you're at and where you should be. And if you love it that much and you love it fully, make sure that you are happy there and that it’s filling up your tank.

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