11/22/1999 at 01:00 AM EST
Had she lived in prerevolutionary Iran, where her family once led a dynasty that ruled for more than a century, Sarah Shahi might have been queen. In Texas, where the 19-year-old college student was born and raised, she found her own road to glory. "I've got some rhythm and soul in me," she says. And as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, Shahi strides the field of Texas Stadium with the uninhibited panache of a very modern American woman. And with pom-poms too.
"I've broken lots of barriers I wouldn't have been able to in Persian culture," says Shahi, who graces the cover of the Cowboys cheerleaders' calendar and will appear with her colleagues in a Robert Altman movie filming next month. An aspiring singer and actress, she hopes to break even more barriers. "I'm going to be the female Elvis," she says.
Born in Grapevine, Texas, in 1980—two years after her parents escaped the upheaval that toppled Iran's last shah in 1979—Shahi grew up speaking English and Farsi. And though she carries the blood of Iran's royal past (her great-great grandfather, Fath Ali Shah, ruled the country until the 1830s), the Southern Methodist University sophomore honors student, who earns $50 a game, says she's totally Texan.
And one who's getting more and more into the football spirit. "I love it when the guys embrace each other," she says. "It's so sweet."