NIL Undressed

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Ryan Schachtner

23 January 2024

29m 56s

Putting the Happy in "Happy Valley" with Nikki Romano of Penn State Lionettes



[00:16] Speaker Ryan: Welcome to Nil Undressed. Today we are taking a trip to Pennsylvania, the home of the whiteout, the knitney Lions, to. To talk to an athlete. That is a big part, maybe the biggest part of why they refer to Penn State as Happy Valley. Nikki Romano is a sophomore on the Penn State University dance team, which has a history of excellence with three national championships. Nikki, welcome to nil undressed.

[00:43] Speaker Nikki: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited.

[00:45] Speaker Ryan: All right, I got to hit you with some rapid fire questions to get us going, right? Favorite Penn State tradition.

[00:52] Speaker Nikki: That's got to be the we are chant. I mean, you kind of hear it everywhere. I've been in different countries, different states, and if you're wearing, you know, someone will come up to you and be like, we are, and you'll just go Penn State. And it's just a really cool experience. Even some of my friends that are wearing Penn State that don't even go there, they'll get hit with that. And it's just such a unique thing for the school. So I really love that.

[01:19] Speaker C: That's cool.

[01:19] Speaker Ryan: And it's global, too, so that's really cool.

[01:21] Speaker Nikki: It is.

[01:22] Speaker Ryan: All right, if I'm taking a trip to campus, what is the go to restaurant that I have to go in and eat at and what do I order?

[01:32] Speaker Nikki: Okay, so this is going to sound crazy, but I've never actually had a sit down dinner at any restaurant at Penn State yet. But my favorite restaurant to go to is called condu. It's like poke bowls, hibachi, that type of stuff. But it's quick and easy. But you could also sit there with people and there's tables and whatever, but I always make my own pokeball, and they have so many options, so I really love that.

[02:05] Speaker C: Very cool.

[02:06] Speaker Ryan: All right, best part about being on the Penn state dance team, there's just.

[02:11] Speaker Nikki: So many things I could say, but the first thing that probably comes to mind is having 23 automatic sisters. We're so close, and we're such a tight and just close group, and the love and support we have for one another is unmatched. There's nothing like it. And it just keeps growing. And also the alumni, even that has come through the team that I didn't even get the opportunity to dance with. You could still feel the love from them, and everyone's just so close. Once you're on this team, you're family forever. And I honestly think that's what I love the most about it because it's so special. I also just love being in Beaver Stadium. Being on the field, because not a lot of people get the opportunity to do that. And it's just such an unreal feeling, like just looking around the whole stadium and just getting that perspective. It's just truly so.

[03:10] Speaker Ryan: I mean, because how many people does that stadium seat?

[03:14] Speaker Nikki: A lot. Yeah.

[03:16] Speaker Ryan: It's got to rival, like, the Michigan, Ohio state. So it's probably 90 to 100,000.

[03:21] Speaker Nikki: Yeah, there's been, like, 110,000 at our games this past season, so it's truly crazy.

[03:29] Speaker Ryan: Yeah. That's got to be a cool experience.

[03:31] Speaker Nikki: Yeah, for sure.

[03:33] Speaker Ryan: All right, so when you started in dance, right, did you ever think that you would be competing at the collegiate level? Was that, like, a goal?

[03:45] Speaker Nikki: So I actually started off as a soccer player, so my path definitely shifted in middle school. So my sister was a competitive dancer, and my mom would take me to her competitions, and I was like, oh, that looks cool. I want to do it because I always loved the show dance moms, and I always kind of wanted to do it. A lot of my friends did it, so my mom put me in some classes, and then I ended up trying out for a studio to dance competitively, which I grew up doing, and I grew to love it. On the bat, I wasn't the best. I had my work cut out for me, definitely, because soccer and dance are not similar.

[04:34] Speaker Ryan: No.

[04:37] Speaker Nikki: But it did take a lot of time, work. But once I started getting into sophomore year of high school, that's when I was like, okay, I want to dance in college. I can't see myself just stopping one day and starting basically a new life because, I don't know, life without dance. You know what I mean? Yeah. So I started researching sophomore year of high school, started watching nationals clips, trying to get a feel of which teams I liked, but I always was drawn to Penn State. I remember sitting and watching their nationals live when I was a sophomore, junior, senior in high school, and I fell in love with this team. I didn't know if it would become my reality, but I'm happy it did, obviously. But, yeah. So it was always a thought, but definitely, if you asked me if I was younger, I would have said I was going to be a soccer player. I was going to do that for the rest of my life.

[05:43] Speaker Ryan: Well, in middle school is really kind of late to start in the dance world, right? I mean, most of those girls start when they're seven, eight years old, all.

[05:55] Speaker Nikki: The way up, right? Yeah. It was hard, but for some reason, I genuinely think it was because I was watching dance moms when I was younger, which sounds crazy, but I would always watch the show every Tuesday night with my mom, and then I would try to do the things that I saw on the tv in the living room. And honestly, I was not doing it properly, but I was getting it and I was naturally flexible and stuff like that. So it was hard to keep up with the girls that have been dancing since they were two years old and competitively since they were like seven.

[06:40] Speaker Ryan: Because there's a lot of athleticism that goes into it. People don't give it credit for sure.

[06:47] Speaker Nikki: Right. It's a lot. It's not as easy as it may look.

[06:52] Speaker Ryan: So the typical, I guess the day in the life, right, because you have practice, you have games, you have competitions, you have social life, you have school, I'm sure you do appearances and all that as well. So you're almost busier than the football team, the basketball team, the field hockey, lacrosse and all that kind of stuff. How do you balance all of that?

[07:24] Speaker Nikki: So, yes, like you said, we have a lot of things going on. It's different from high school where I would just go to dance and we'd be preparing for the competition. That's in five, six months in the spring. But now you might have a football game on the weekend, and then when it gets closer to the winter, you might have a basketball game on Friday and then a football game on Saturday and then a nationals practice on Sunday. So it's just pretty much spreading it out through the week. My coach does a really good job making sure that we know exactly what's going on when we come into practice, what we're learning, maybe that day, because we do a different routine for each game or event.

[08:11] Speaker Ryan: How many do you have to know at one time?

[08:15] Speaker Nikki: Usually maybe like two or three. Yeah, depending on the season. That in between where basketball and football kind of overlap, that's where it gets a little tough on the brain because you're like, oh, which dance is it tonight? You know what I mean? But, yeah, no, we spread out practice really well. We'll learn like basketball one day and then maybe football the next day, and we practice for 3 hours, so it's a lot you can do in 3 hours. Especially now that we're older and we're trained heavily, we pick up very fast, and you're expected to pick up very fast. So we get through everything and we make sure everything's close to perfect and just happy with the way we're representing our team and ourselves at the end of the day.

[09:07] Speaker C: Absolutely.

[09:07] Speaker Ryan: Well, keeping that type of schedule again, along with having a social life and mean, because let's not forget we're also there to get an education. And now you throw nil in. That's probably why you haven't actually had a sit down dinner at a restaurant on campus. It's not for lack of want, it's just for lack of time to be able to do so.

[09:30] Speaker Nikki: Yeah. And it's pretty manageable to balance school. A lot of my friends on the team have crazy hard majors, but we have a lot of resources that we're able to use with tutors and academic centers and all of that stuff which we do utilize, which is very good and helps us with our schoolwork and all of that stuff.

[09:58] Speaker C: Absolutely.

[09:59] Speaker Ryan: All right. So you were on campus. Nil is live. What was the talk among the athletes in general, and not just football, but the basketball, some of the female sports and all that. And then what were the thoughts of your teammates on the dance team? What did they initially think about it?

[10:21] Speaker Nikki: Yeah. So, personally, for me, when I came in freshman year, I didn't know too much about Nio, and I didn't really think that it would be something that I could take on. I mostly thought it was just for football and basketball, like, strictly. So when opportunities started coming along and the talk of maybe wanting to do nil, I was interested. I just didn't really know what it was. So after I did research and I was hearing people and also seeing people on campus, what they're doing, that really helped me to get an understanding of what Nil is. Right. I think a lot of people that I'm around, athlete wise, are very interested in Nil because it's such an amazing thing. At the end of the day, it's just something that you should want to do for yourself. If you don't want to do it, don't force it upon yourself. But it is an amazing opportunity that's out there, for sure.

[11:20] Speaker Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. So when did you decide to go all in and participate in it?

[11:26] Speaker Nikki: So I really started wanting to this year. Last year, I was trying to just figure out freshman year, being on Penn State campus, it's huge, and there's a lot to figure out. And also with the team, I wanted to just have my year to figure everything out. I did things like here and there last year, definitely towards the end of the year, but now that I'm comfortable and I'm kind of just trying to figure out what's the next step, what else I want to do. So now I feel like I'm really trying to get involved and get into it. I have a meeting tomorrow with a company that I'm looking to do stuff with to help me through Nil because I don't know if I necessarily want to take that on by myself, but I know there's other people that know a lot more and know what's going to be good for me. I obviously know what's good for myself, but they can kind of help guide me in what I should kind of do in that pathway. So I think that'll be really good for me as well, kind of having some sort of direction to go in. But, yeah, I'm definitely trying to take on more this year.

[12:39] Speaker C: Absolutely.

[12:40] Speaker Ryan: So what are some of the deals that you've been able to kind of secure so far? Tell us about those and how they came about.

[12:49] Speaker Nikki: So my favorite one that I have done was probably with roots. It's like healthy food, and it was something I ate all the time last year and still do. It's quick, it's healthy, and it's easy. But I did a deal with them where I was kind of like an ambassador, so I had to just post that, hey, come get your roots bowl. It's amazing. And it was just a great deal. The people that I was working with were so nice, and the best part about them was they understood that I was an athlete and I have a different schedule than most people, and maybe I don't want to post on my feed all the time of me holding a salad or something because that's not really how I post. So they were understanding of making something that was for Nikki Romano, not for an athlete, but for me and what works for me. So I thought that was really cool. They sat down with me on a zoom, and they were like, okay, tell us a little about you, how you like to do things, and then we can go from there. So I thought that was really nice, and I loved doing that.

[14:09] Speaker C: Absolutely.

[14:09] Speaker Ryan: So how did that one come about? Did you find them? Did they find you?

[14:14] Speaker Nikki: Yeah. So I followed them, and then they followed me back on. I don't remember if it was TikTok or Instagram, but one of the two. And I was like, oh, roots followed me. That's weird. I guess I was like, why is roots following me? So then I was, okay, like, whatever. And then my best friend on the team was, know, I saw this girl doing nil for them and doing a deal with, like, you should reach out to them. And I was, oh, maybe, like, aren't companies supposed to reach out to, like, I feel like, they would want to reach out to me if they want to work with me. She was like, just do it. So I ended up just reaching out to them, and I was, hey, like, I don't know if you have some sort of program, but I would love to work with, with you. And they were like, absolutely. We would love that. So I'm glad I put myself out there because I would have never known to do that.

[15:10] Speaker C: Absolutely.

[15:12] Speaker Nikki: So then I scheduled a zoom with them, and we had a meeting, and it just went from there. But that was definitely really cool.

[15:20] Speaker Ryan: Well, I think that's the biggest misconception. I mean, you nailed it, is that you have to be proactive, right? You have to let them know that there's an interest. And some of these companies, the smaller businesses, and they don't know really how to use nil at this point to help market their products or their brand. And so it takes a lot of times, the athlete helping present the opportunity and show them why it makes sense. What we've seen is there's a lot of companies will, once they understand it, will go ahead and dip their toes in and try it out.

[16:01] Speaker Nikki: Right. And for me and nil and any sort of deal I do, because I used to do, like, influencing when I was in high school because of TikTok, I had a TikTok account that did fairly well, and I would do stuff with clothing and accessory brands and that stuff in high school. So I kind of knew sort of the brand deal concept and stuff, but I definitely wanted to make sure in college and with Nil, I was doing things that made sense for me and not just did things know, get money out of it or to get free stuff and that I didn't. And, like, I'm kind of just at that mindset where, like, with Nil because I'm so careful about it because I had that experience in high school, but not just picking up things and opportunities that come my way, but I don't necessarily agree with or that I don't need, and that just doesn't work with who I am as a person because I feel like people tend to forget that you're a person at the end of the day, too. So I'm just trying to be very careful with what I agree to do and what I want to do at the end of the day.

[17:18] Speaker C: Yeah, absolutely.

[17:19] Speaker Ryan: Making sure that your values and that company's values align and it's a product that you actually use and all of that, versus just taking a deal because they're throwing some money at you.

[17:31] Speaker Nikki: Right? For sure. And I think that's one of the most important parts that people tend to forget about, for sure, because there's a lot of deals influencing that I've done in the past, and I look back and I'm like, why did I do that? I don't know why I did that. Because for me, for example, I would never probably take on a deal that's about protein powder, because I don't take protein powder.

[17:59] Speaker C: Right.

[17:59] Speaker Nikki: But if that came towards me in high school, I probably would have because I don't know any better. You know what I mean?

[18:06] Speaker C: Absolutely.

[18:08] Speaker Ryan: So if you're back in high school knowing what you know now about nil and you're being recruited, what would you look for in a university as it relates to nil? And then outside of, like, what would your decision making criteria be for both?

[18:28] Speaker Nikki: Yeah. So I love that there's a lot of opportunity at Penn State with a lot of things, whether it's companies or whether it's student run sort of companies, too. I've done even stuff with student companies, which I think is really cool. So I think that's something I would definitely look for. Just opportunity and just being able to maybe go in this direction or in that direction, just having multiple ways to go and multiple. I don't know what the word I'm looking for is, but just to be, I guess, like just have those opportunities because I don't ever want to be confined to one thing. So I think that's a huge thing. And obviously, Penn State being such a big school, you know, there's going to be opportunity everywhere. So I think that's really cool about my school personally. And I wouldn't change the way I went about choosing Penn State at all because I think it's the best decision I've ever made, but definitely just having a wide range of opportunity. For sure.

[19:38] Speaker Ryan: And I think Penn State, too, the community around the university is so strong, everyone's bought in and they're like, codependent on each other. Right. Like, the university needs that community, but the community also needs the university. And so because of that relationship, there's opportunities.

[19:59] Speaker Nikki: Right. For sure.

[20:01] Speaker Ryan: What advice would you give high school and college athletes that are maybe freshmen and haven't done really anything at nil as they start to focus on brand building and positioning themselves for possible nil deals?

[20:16] Speaker Nikki: Yeah, I would say take your time into it. There's no need to rush yourself into anything. Like I said, for me, I had a lot of things coming my way last year that I just felt I wasn't ready for. So I think it's just about taking your time and really thinking about what you want to do and if you want to take on nil, if someone doesn't want to take on nil but they're getting opportunities, I think that's totally fine. I think you have to want to do it in order. It's only fair for the brand as well that you want to do it. But I would also just say, like, be yourself, because you don't want to be someone you're not because the brands wouldn't be reaching out to you if they didn't like what they were seeing out of you. So I think just keeping yourself through the whole thing and being unique and kind of just having fun with it because, yeah, it's sort of a job, but it's also like, you're still a kid, you have to have fun and just know that you're still an athlete at the end of the day and you're still a kid. And don't be too serious on yourself. But obviously these nil deals are amazing. They're here for a reason, and I think that it's something that people should get involved in. I really think it's beneficial, but I think you have to want to do it and you should build the deals that fit with you, that suit with your values, and that's really important not only for you, but also for the brand.

[21:55] Speaker Ryan: So you said something that I really like there, where you said, you have to know yourself and then be unique, and that's great advice. But then we also have this world of social media where you feel like you need to fit into a certain box. How do you do that? How do you do that in this age of social media where I feel like I have to replicate what that person's doing in order to have that success. How do you be unique and find yourself, especially at a younger age?

[22:31] Speaker Nikki: Yeah, I mean, there's definitely times where I get down on myself, obviously, but I think I found my self confidence for sure last year in college. I feel like in high school, I tried to be kind of like everyone else, and social media did play a big part on who I was in high school. And I think also the whole thing with TikTok and the influencing I was doing, it did kind of change me or not change me, but I was definitely different. I feel like I kind of lost myself through all of that because it didn't feel real in a sense. And it was such a shift in what I was doing day to day. And then now in college, everyone's doing brand deals. Nowadays, everyone's doing nil, and it's just about how you want to be perceived. I always think about how I want people to look at me like, I want to be a strong woman and I want to be someone that other people are going to look up to. So I always try to go back to my roots and my values and how I was raised, and at the end of the day, and social media is just a lot these days, but I think there's also so much good to it that people tend to forget about. There's definitely good and bad. There's good and bad to everything, but you have to self reflect. That's what I think personally.

[24:08] Speaker Ryan: Absolutely. And knowing that whatever your uniqueness is and whoever you are, there's people that are going to align with that. You don't have to worry about everyone turning their back on you. Right. Because there are people out there that are into the same stuff you're into and will follow you. And at the end of the day, you're not trying to be everything to everybody. You're trying to find your followers and build that relationship, and that's kind of a unique opportunity. Unique relationship, right.

[24:43] Speaker Nikki: Yeah. Like you said, it's your following and yeah, that might be your friends, your family and whatever, but there's a lot of people that I don't know that obviously follow me. And sometimes I sit back and I'm like, okay, why do these people follow me? Is it because of my fashion? Is it because of dance? But it could be a lot of things. But at the end of the day, I'm like, okay, this is what I want to do. I do want to influence in fashion. That's something I'm interested in. And I do want to showcase dancing and inspire people, but also for my future, I want to be a choreographer. So building that now and getting that sort of recognition and following, that's obviously very important as well. But, yeah, just showing who you are and not trying to be anyone else is so important because I found myself doing that in high school and it doesn't work. And you're not going to be in a happy place at the end of the day.

[25:49] Speaker Ryan: And I think the other thing you hit on just now and you want to be a choreographer. So how can you use nil and social media to build that following but also give you and create opportunities for when you're done with school so that opportunities that you may not have had as soon without being able to get out there and leverage nil to create them.

[26:20] Speaker Nikki: Right. I think that's such a huge thing, too, because building these relationships with people, my mom always told me, you never know who you're going to meet along the way, that maybe you're going to find in the future and that's going to help you with something or you know what I mean? There's just so many instances where that can happen and I've always heard people knowing someone briefly, and then in the future they offer them a job. So it's things like that. It's like building relationships with people, especially companies and stuff like that, I think is very important because you don't know what that's going to turn into in the future, and representing yourself the best way possible is just so important.

[27:07] Speaker C: Absolutely.

[27:08] Speaker Ryan: All right. Who are some of the athletes that when you look at nil and what they're doing with social media and all that, who are some of the athletes.

[27:19] Speaker C: That you look up to?

[27:20] Speaker Nikki: Well, the first athlete that I kind of knew that was doing nil was Livy Dunn, LSU gymnastics. She's obviously huge, and I know she does a lot of influencing and stuff like that. So I kind of knew a lot about what she was doing, and that's kind of how I first kind of knew that Nil was a thing because she has such a huge following and stuff like that. So I definitely saw some of her stuff and I was like, she's doing amazing things that are about nil and obviously she's way up there, but it's possible at the end of the day for anyone because she didn't just have that, she had to climb up and get up there. So I think that's really cool to see people like that that are so big in nil now and just how they kind of started. Because if you go back, it didn't just happen one day.

[28:22] Speaker C: Right.

[28:23] Speaker Nikki: So I think it's also about being patient with nil, too, because once you get into it and then more comes coming your way, the opportunities are endless. It's crazy.

[28:38] Speaker C: Absolutely.

[28:38] Speaker Ryan: And, like, Livy's created a whole new life that. Who would have thought was possible for a college gymnast to create?

[28:49] Speaker Nikki: Exactly. That's why I mentioned her, because when I think about it, it's just crazy to me how that. And it's happened for multiple people. It's crazy how nil can kind of shift your life that way. It's crazy.

[29:07] Speaker C: Absolutely.

[29:08] Speaker Ryan: Hey, Nikki, thank you for spending time with us. How can people, if they're looking to follow you where can they find you? And what are your handles?

[29:18] Speaker Nikki: Yes. So my Instagram is Nikki N-I-K-K-I romano. My TikTok is Nikki roro, or deaf, not Nikki roro. And yeah, that's pretty much it. That's where you can find me.

[29:34] Speaker C: Awesome. Awesome.

[29:35] Speaker Ryan: Thanks again for joining us. Thank you everybody for joining us again on nil undressed. As always, every like, subscribe and share is greatly appreciated.


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