Atlanta Falcons Cheerleader Dante Sanders / Photo by Art Morrison

Falcon Pride: Sitting Down with Atlanta Falcons Cheerleader Dante Sanders

The NFL sent shockwaves through the football fandom when it opened the doors to male cheerleaders in 2018. That move towards inclusivity has since ignited the dreams of many talented professional male cheerleaders, including Atlanta Falcons cheerleader Dante Sanders.

“As a male, you are held to the same standards,” Sanders told Georgia Voice. “We are not afterthoughts as males on the team, we are equals. The team is like a family. We are embarking on a journey all of us could’ve only dreamed of. They truly do become your best friends. We are all one unit, with no different roles between males and females.”

Growing up in a small town in Mississippi, Sanders was always extremely involved in extracurricular activities like soccer, track, and swim team. He found his passion for cheering in eighth grade and continued pursuing the sport throughout high school.

“In 9th grade, it was me and one other male [on the team], and then I became the only one,” Sanders said. “I made a bold statement, and people knew it was something I was good at and passionate about. There probably were some negative words, but if there was negativity, I didn’t hear it. If you have a dream or goal that’s been put on your heart, you don’t hear or see negativity. For me, people were very supportive.”

Sanders continued to cheer throughout high school with the support of both his parents. He knew he wanted to continue his cheering journey as long as possible, and he held cheering close to his heart as he looked at potential colleges.

Before long, he was cheering at East Mississippi College, where he stayed for two years before transferring to Ole Miss. While there, the cheer team went to national competitions in 2014 and finished fourth.

Despite all his collegiate success and having grown up watching NFL cheerleading, Sanders always believed that his cheer career would end after college. When the NFL introduced its first male cheerleaders in 2018, a new world of opportunity opened up for Sanders.

The following year, he tried out and was officially cast as a part of the New Orleans Saints Cheer team, where he cheered for two seasons.

“I was in New Orleans for about three years,” Sanders said. “It’s great for the culture and history and fun, but it wasn’t necessarily home. I didn’t want to settle there. Meanwhile, my mom moved from Mississippi to Atlanta. She encouraged me to try out for the Falcons. I took a leap of faith; I tried out and made it. Now, I’ve been on the team for three years, and it’s the best decision I made.”

While cheering for the Falcons is a dream come true for Sanders, it still requires ample work. Those unfamiliar with the world of cheerleading might be inclined to believe that the sport always includes yelling out and performing actual cheers, but that is not always the case.

High school and college cheering included a lot of chants and call-and-response, but Sanders said that NFL cheering differs in that it is largely based on dance routines, and the cheerleaders don’t do any yelling. As with any professional sport, these vigorous cheer routines require skill, training, and practice.

“We have to train like athletes, eat like athletes, and take care of our bodies,” Sanders said. “It’s truly a sport; the sport of dance. We practice two days a week from 6:30pm to 9pm. We all have jobs and lives, as soon as we walk in, we stretch and work on routines, polishing up a routine or learning a new one. It also involves practicing outside of practice. We practice by ourselves at home for the following day’s practice.”

Outside of cheering, Sanders has a full-time job in Atlanta. He also has a passion for pageants, having won the title of Mr. Universal USA in 2021. He’s been involved in pageants since childhood and credits this background to his success in dancing and goal setting.

These days he even helps others by offering consulting services for pageant contestants. Moving forward, Sanders plans to try out for a fourth season with the Falcons and to expand his pageant consulting business.

“I feel like I’ve prepared for this my whole life without knowing it,” Sanders said. “It’s incredible to look back at the people who have supported me and stuck with me. My parents are very supportive. I joke with my dad that I made it to the NFL before him. I’ve always wanted to do this and never thought I would have the opportunity.”

To find out about the Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders’ upcoming season, follow them on Instagram @atlcheerleaders.