So yesterday I opened up my phone, and I saw an alert that announced that the Orlando Magic has decided to get rid of their long-standing all-female dance team, and instead they are replacing it with a co-ed hip-hop entertainment team.
And while their website and official statement might be about "fresh entertainment", I think we can all be honest about what it really is...it's a cop-out. It's no secret what's been going on in the media. Many teams...the Spurs, now the Magic, and surely many more teams to follow are either eliminating or completely changing their cheerleading/ their dance/ entertainment squads.
There's been countless allegations made, and lawsuits brought by cheerleaders demanding fair pay. And it is a real shame that instead of working towards that fairness and working towards that equality, that we're just gonna eliminate it all together because we don't want the headache.
For those of you who don't know me my name is Marissa, and I'm a progressive. I am a supporter of "Me Too". But I'm also a former professional cheerleader.
This afternoon I was on my phone and I was looking more into the issue, and I came across an opinion piece by a former co-worker of mine... and I've got a few things to say about that. According to this author, these all-female cheerleading squads "were started to provide eye candy for guys at games."
I can assure you these women are not on a field, on a court, on a stage for the sole purpose of providing eye candy to men. In fact, let me take you a little bit behind the scenes of an audition process for a team.
Of course each team is going to be a little bit different, but here's my experience.
My experience...there was always an initial full day of auditions where you learn multiple routines, there's multiple rounds of cuts, often times when we're talking about the elite professional teams..NFL, NBA, we're talking about hundreds of women-500 women- being narrowed down to a group of 20/ 30/ 40.
Generally after that you have a week of boot camp. This is intense physical classes. They're testing your strength, your endurance, your mental fitness. During that week often times there's some sort of corporate interview where you're sitting down with the executives at whatever company you're auditioning for. They're asking about your education, your career, your community service events, and overall trying to get to know you and make sure that you're gonna be a good representation of their organization.
After that there's usually some sort of public final-round. This is in front of all of your friends, your family, to see how you perform in front of a crowd. Can you keep the energy up and remember the routine under pressure?
And let me be very blunt...none of this is cheap. You're spending hundreds of dollars getting headshots taken, on costumes, getting your hair, makeup, nails, tan, done. And let's be honest...nobody is going to be fooled. Of course looks are taken into account, but it is not just that. It is also about talent and stamina.
Just a few hours ago I was venting to a friend on the phone about this, and she said "is it all really worth that?"
And you better believe the answer is yes. If a woman is out performing out on that court, out on that field, out on that stage, it is because she wants to be there. It is probably because she's been spending her entire life training for that moment. We're talking recitals, competitions, thousands of dollars on dance lessons. A lot of times these women are trained in ballet, tap, jazz, acro. They've been dancing and cheering since they could walk.
In my career...on top of my entire competitive childhood dancing, I was on my college team... I was on a professional team for the National Lacrosse League...and eventually I moved up to several years with Orlando city soccer, which is now of course part of the MLS. I can't speak for all women, but for me being on those teams built my self confidence. It built my physical health, my mental health. I have friends on those teams that I'm still in touch with now ten years later, and I know are going to be part of my life for eternity. It teaches you teamwork and community service, charity, giving back, being part of whatever city you're living in. It gave me the chance to travel and be part of finals and playoff games that I would have never been able to have been a part of if it wasn't for those dance teams.
So to the author who says that "these teams are only there objectifying women for the viewing pleasure of male audiences" or to the other author with an opinion piece that says "with skimpy suggestive outfits as their uniform their only purpose is to titillate"...
It shows me that we have lost the capacity for nuance. We have lost the ability to separate serious allegations of rape, with women who are voluntarily on the court because they earned it, they earned their place on that field, on that stage. And they have a right to wear whatever they want to wear and not be assaulted.
It is absolutely possible to want to dance, to be sexy, and to respect women. Those things are not mutually exclusive.
I can want to not be catcalled and also be damn proud of myself for the way that I look in a swimsuit calendar.
It is evident by these opinion pieces by men who have never stepped foot on a field or performed in front of a crowd, or gone through the rigorous audition process of women who so badly want to be on that stage, and by the owners who are more concerned with protecting themselves than they are protecting the women who work for them. They are willing to pay their male athletes tens of millions of dollars, but they are unwilling to pay a fair wage for women who are performing on those teams. And it is not unreasonable to ask for that fair wage.
These women who are putting their jobs and their identities, and their reputations on the line to bring these lawsuits forward are honestly so brave, because it's something that I would have never done when I was on those teams. I would have never even thought to do it.
I mean often times we were asked to arrive at least two hours early so that we could get ready, and do rehearsal on the field. Following that we were the last ones to leave after the game because we were signing autographs and interacting with fans. And for one of the teams I worked for I made $50 per game, and for another team that I worked for I made $25 per game. That's all while doing unpaid practices two/ three/ four times a week, and charity appearances that were built into our contracts.
And I did it because I wanted to be there. So let me reiterate I was not doing it because I was thinking about how turned on someone in the stands might be by my performance. I was doing it because I loved my teammates, I love to perform, and I love to dance.
If you are genuinely interested in keeping up with the times, and moving forward, and being progressive there's absolutely changes that can and should be made.
So where would we go from here?
First and foremost I see nothing wrong with allowing men to perform on these teams. If there are men who are equally as talented, and passionate, and driven as the women who are auditioning...I personally see nothing wrong with that.
Number two...a fair wage. Compensate your dancers and cheerleaders as you would any other member of your organization.
And three...let's teach the men in our lives- our sons, fathers, dads, brothers, to do better. Teach them that just because I'm doing a sexy dance routine or because my uniform happens to be spandex and lycra that it is not okay to touch me, it is not okay to grope me, and it is not okay to cat call.
And we have to teach our girls that they can want to be both strong AND sexy.
That they can want to be both desired AND respected.
And that yes, you can be a *massive* supporter of the #MeToo movement AND also a professional cheerleader.