The Other Side of WWE Star Leah Van Dale – OUT FRONT

There may be many powerful women in the world, but there’s only one “Princess of Staten Island,” and that title belongs to WWE’s very own Carmella.

Tough, confident, and overtly sexy, Carmella has achieved so much throughout her career. Outside the ring, the wrestling superstar, known as Leah Van Dale, has worked relentlessly to get where she’s at since joining the world’s preeminent professional wrestling promotion in 2013 as a former Los Angeles Laker Girl and New England Patriots cheerleader.

Recently, Van Dale has been pursuing other ventures and is showing her fans that she’s more than the trash-talking character she portrays. With over three million followers on Instagram alone, she is using her platform to share more of her personal life and passions beyond wrestling, such as fashion, beauty, and lifestyle content.

Van Dale took some time to answer a few questions for OFM.

Leah, you are a former dancer, model, and NBA cheerleader. How did you fall into the world of professional wrestling?

Oh, that’s a good question. Never in a million years did I think I would end up in the WWE. My dad wrestled for the WWE in the early 90s, and not a lot of people know that. He wrestled quite a bit, and I watched him all the time while growing up, but I never thought, oh, I want to do that. It just looked like something that was so far-fetched. Dancing, on the other hand, sure. I’ve done that since I was 3, but I never thought of being a wrestler.

I had an agent that I was using from when I was in LA dancing. I was a Laker girl, and she got me the tryout with WWE. I thought, well, this is perfect. I had just moved back to Massachusetts from LA, and I didn’t know what my next step would be. I wanted to keep performing, but it felt like I had done everything with dance. So, I got the tryout, and I was like, I’m going to go for it. I worked really hard at it, and I ended up making it. The universe works in crazy ways.

It truly does. And what’s the story behind your ring name, Carmella?

I wanted something super Italian, and I wanted to kind of do a Boston mafia, mob wife character. That’s how Carmella started. I’m obviously a Carmela Soprano (laughs). She’s such a baddie. But yeah, that’s how I started out, and she just evolved over time. Sasha Banks (Mercedes Varnado) was actually billed from Boston, and the WWE couldn’t have us both from Boston.

It was suggested that I be from Staten Island, and I was like, it’s not really a good thing to be from Boston and pretend you’re from New York. It was difficult, but I was committed to it. I watched a lot of Mob Wives. Drita D’Avanzo is one of my major influences for this character, and I tried to pick up the accent, I wore a New York Yankees hat—I was really committed to embodying this New York character.

Woman athletes work hard to get where they are, but unfortunately, they deal with commentary most male athletes don’t. Comments made towards appearance and temperament. Has this happened to you?

For me, I tried to lean into that. Yes, there’s a stigma around it, but for my character, I want everyone to hate me. So, I leaned into the whole “most beautiful woman in the WWE” character and made it all about my looks. In real life, that is not at all what I’m about, but I felt like it was going to really get under people’s skin if I talk about how I’m so beautiful, and I’m more beautiful than everybody else. Everyone does hate me for it, so I guess the plan for my character worked!

You take those sexist, misogynistic comments and go with it.

Exactly. I’m the one in control and in power, so if I’m saying it, who cares what everyone else says?

What advice would you give to any young girl who hopes to someday find themselves in the ring?

My advice would be, first of all, you need some tough skin because this industry is hard. We’re constantly under a microscope, and we’re constantly getting scrutinized. I had an idea it would be like that, but especially the way social media has come into what it is, it wasn’t like this when I first started in 2013. Like, I just got a Twitter account. Instagram was not at all what it is, and there was no talk of TikTok back then.

So, things have grown and evolved, but you can’t give in to all the negative comments. It is difficult, but beyond that, I would say, figure out what it is that’s going to make you stand out. For me, I didn’t have any background or history in wrestling other than my dad. I knew I had to do something to set myself apart, and that’s why I really tried to create a character that was larger than life.

Woman wrestlers are seen as very powerful. What does power mean to you?

To me, power is about being confident and comfortable in your own skin, and I feel like it took me a long time to get there. I was kind of in this fake it till you make it mentality. If I’m coming off confident, I eventually will be, and I think that comes with time and age as well. I’m 35, but when I first started when I was 25, I had no idea who I was or what the hell I was doing. Over time, I think I realized it’s not about what everyone else thinks of me. It’s about what I think of myself. Now when I go out there, it’s only to prove anything to myself. It’s not about anybody else, and I think that is very powerful.

Do you have a favorite wrestling move?

Oh! The superkick. That’s my finish. I just love kicking girls in the face (laughs).

Leah Van Dale

Outside the WWE ring, I read that you are focusing on fashion. What kind of endeavors are you hoping to pursue?

I would love to have a collaboration with somebody and just start out small. My major dream would be to have my own clothing line, but you have to start somewhere, right? So, I feel like having some sort of collaboration with a brand would kick things off. I’m really into athleisure, so even though I’m at home in sweats, I want to look cute and feel comfy and not feel scrubby.

So, my goal is to dive more into the fashion industry, and I don’t think anyone from wrestling has ever done that. I think it would be really cool. I’ve always been into fashion, and I was voted best dressed in high school. I just love, love, love to serve a look, and I love to push the envelope with an outfit. Having my own clothing line is definitely my long-term goal.

Would your clothing line be athleisure as well?

I would definitely start with athleisure. I feel like it’s something that’s just on brand with me, and since I travel all the time, I want to be comfortable but still look cute. People always ask me; how do I make my airport outfits look cute? How do I travel and be comfortable at the same time? I think that would be a cool way to sort of dabble into the fashion world.

You are also a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer. Have you always been about living a healthy lifestyle?

Always. I’m not certified anymore, but I was before I signed with WWE, and I taught a lot of classes. Zumba classes, core classes, things like that. I grew up in a very fit household. My parents always had some sort of gym in our basement, and we always had healthy snacks. I was bringing carrot sticks to school instead of chips. So, it was kind of instilled in me at a very young age. I feel like if I’m feeling good on the inside, then I’m going to project that on the outside. However, It’s all about balance.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pizza and a glass of wine. I’m going to indulge when I want to, but it’s all about balance. I feel like if you lay the groundwork, and you’re living your life healthy most of the time, you don’t have to worry about depriving yourself or cheating. I think that’s such a bad term when it comes to a cheat meal. If you want a meal, eat it. Do what you want. Again, it took me a long time to get here, but I do feel so much better when I’m active, working out, and eating healthy.

What are some tips you can offer those who are hoping to tune themselves up this summer?

Drink your water! I think that’s so important. I have this infuser, so I can chop up some mint, watermelon, and limes and put them all in there. Drinking plain water all day, I’m not going to lie, it sucks. I think it’s so boring and hard to do, but now that I have this, I can spruce it up and make it taste delicious. You want to drink something that tastes good, and that will make you want to drink a lot of it.

Leah Van Dale

With such a demanding schedule, both personally and professionally, what keeps you motivated?

That’s a great question. For me, when I’m busy, I’m productive. My dad always says, if you need something done, ask a busy person to do it because if you don’t have a lot to do, you’re just like, I’ll get around to that later, or I’ll figure that out when I have time. If you’re busy, you kind of have a strict regimen. You’re like, I have to do this. I have to do this. You have places to be and people to see.

When I’m motivated, I feel like I’m doing my best work. I always feel like I want a stricter schedule. I’m a very regimented person, so when I’m off or have availability, I’m like, what the hell am I doing with my time? What am I doing with my life? I feel like everything’s sort of out of whack, but when I’m busy, I feel like it’s good for me to get everything done.

What are some future goals you hope to accomplish with your career?

Like we talked about earlier, I’d love to get more involved with the fashion industry, and I think that’s something that can be attainable. Never in a million years did I think I would become a wrestler for the WWE, yet I did it, and I did it to the best of my ability. I became champion; I broke a lot of barriers and made history, which is something that felt so far-fetched, but I did it. I think if I put my mind to something, and that’s for anybody, if you put your mind to something, you work hard, and it’s something you’re passionate about, you can make it happen.

Stay up-to-date and connect with Van Dale by following her on Twitter and Instagram @carmellawwe, and TikTok @leah_van_dale.

Photos courtesy of Kate Fesik and WWE

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