If there’s another career that is as glamorous as being a dancer, it’s being a professional cheerleader for a national team. There are more than 3.3 million Americans who participate in cheerleading each year, especially in NFL games. Did you know that the cheerleading profession was originally for men? It was not until the 1940s that female cheerleaders ruled the stage.
However, it’s still a very biased career choice with huge downsides and much less glamourous then the public is lead to believe. The wage and benefits of being a cheerleader have been minimal for the past decades, even up until now. We will get into the dark sides of becoming a professional cheerleader (and no, most cheerleaders do not end up marrying the star quarterback or pro athlete).
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How To Become a Pro Cheerleader
Becoming a cheerleader and maintaining your status as one is not an easy task. In reality, all cheerleaders are only cheerleaders for a season. Once the season is over, they need to try out again in the next season to participate in cheerleading. Both preparations and performances are equally difficult and demand time and effort.
First thing first, cheerleading aspirants should have a conditioned body to be able to do the routines. Working out, staying healthy, and being fit are things that you need to achieve before having a chance for a tryout. Most routines require flexibility, strength. and endurance to perform perfectly and safely.
Next, you need to know how to perform some of the basic cheerleading routines, in which you can learn from prep classes that can cost from $25 to $75. This step is required unless you know someone who can teach you the routines safely and for free. Knowing some tricks are preferred, as most coaches look for candidates who have a full grasp of the basics and also possess skills to be in the industry.
Audition / Tryouts
If you want to enter a tryout, you need to pay a certain fee first, which typically ranges from $15 to $75. For example, the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders usually charge $15 for the early birds while walk-in registration costs $30. This fee is likely not refundable whether you get the position or not.
The selection and competition are tough. Each aspirant will have their own time on the stage to perform routines. Take note that although the posture and the accuracy of routine execution are the major factors, there are other things considered such as the clarity and loudness of your voice and overall presentation.
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Pro-Cheer Salary: The Good & Bad
Getting into the ranks of NFL cheerleaders is already a hard task. But what’s harder is to keep your passion and keep participating. If you ask a cheerleader about her cheerleading salary, you’ll likely get a hesitant answer. Most cheerleaders receive salaries that barely meets the state’s minimum wage per season. And it took a lot of years and lawsuits to even make these changes.
How Much Do Professional Cheerleaders Make?
Cheerleading is a paid position. NFL teams include a cheerleading fund to their budgets every season. But unbeknown to a lot of people, the cheerleading position is not meant to be a full-time position. Once the season is over, each cheerleader will need to start from a clean slate and audition again to participate.
Most cheerleaders don’t really make a career out of cheerleading and only work as a part-time cheerleader. This is also the reason why a lot of teams accept college students to their ranks for part-time positions. Working adults and college students alike are expected to treat their cheerleading income to be supplemental while doing the things they love.
Professional cheerleaders who really dream to carve a career path out of cheerleading can become instructors. Instead of participating in cheerleading events, instructors often teach the basics in several prep schools. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, coaches, including cheerleading instructors, have a mean annual wage of $43,840.
The $40K annual wage is still a good starting point, considering what professional cheerleaders are getting per season. Each team has different payment systems, you’d be lucky if you belong to a more generous team. According to a report from PBS, most NFL cheerleaders earn between $75 to $150 per game. Twin sisters Dresdynn and Schuyler Warnell, who performed for Houston Texans from 2010 to 2014 said that they can earn up to $200 each for each game of the season. Meanwhile, cheerleaders from San Diego Chargers are paid $75.
How Does the Payment System Work?
Most cheerleaders do the activity due to their passion for dancing and sports, and income might only come as a secondary reward for some. There are reports stating that cheerleaders of San Francisco 49ers back in 2006 only earned $2.75 per hour. There are numerous lawsuits that rained down to NFL in recent years from former cheerleaders, with one of the most famous cases being from Kristan Ann Ware, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader. And yes, people who sell hotdogs in the game earn more than the cheerleaders.
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After the lawsuits and strikes, the NFL and its teams are now striving to give its cheerleaders at least the minimum wage of the state. Now, even the practice hours in some teams are counted in the pay with a different rate. Practices are usually rated at $9 per hr and official games are rated at $20 per hour. Appearances and other events other than practice and games are rated $100/hr. These appearances have higher rates because these events usually happen during off-seasons. It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of teams are not this generous.
Performances and appearances are not the only way to earn money as a cheerleader. Cheerleaders would often receive hair, tan, and gym sponsorships. There is also merchandise such as calendars and promotions for other products, Still, the upgrade is not as lucrative compared to other sports-related jobs. A team mascot is reported to earn from $25,000 up to $60,000 per season. If you want a more lucrative income, you can consider side hustles like Shipt or Phrendly, which can earn more than $20 per hour.
Maintaining Their Appearances
While you’re under a cheerleading squad, you’re in charge of the expenses needed in order to perform according to the association and the team’s guidelines. According to former Cincinnatti Bengals cheerleader Alexa Wesendorf in an interview, cheerleaders are expected to pay for their own hair and nail expenses. These expenses can all stack up and make a bigger expense, considering that these are recurring expenses and appears every performance.
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Since cheerleaders need to maintain their body appearance, some teams would even require a member to have a gym membership. On average, a person who has a year-round gym membership pays at least $58 per month. This price almost costs a lot of cheerleaders half of their earnings per game. In maintaining the appearance alone, it is obvious that cheerleading is not a lucrative sideline as it seems. But what caused a lot of former cheerleaders to bring their voices in front of the law’s jurisdiction are other psychological and more damaging factors.
The Dark Side of Professional Cheerleading
1. Cheerleading Practice Hours Are Loooong
Cheerleaders go to practice for long hours multiple times a week. A typical run can get 2 hours per session. It can even go for as long as 4 hours if needed. And yes, after long hours of practice, most cheerleaders feel like they’re in a hangover because of dehydration and exhaustion.
2. They Have To Go To Appearances, Even During Off-Seasons
There are times when cheerleaders appear on charity and corporate appearances. If you happen to be in a very generous organization, pay with different rates is guaranteed. But that’s unlikely. If not, then all you have is to swallow the bittersweet “thank you” offered.
3. Once You’re Injured Or Broke a Rule, You’re Fired
Unlike players, once a cheerleader is injured, or did something controversial (like break the rules), she can be immediately fired. And in most cases, since the pay is per performance or per hour, no performance means no pay. That applies to cases where unwanted and unintended injuries are the cause.
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4. Cheerleaders Are Not Tied To A Contract
Contracts are not thrown in the mix when you’re a cheerleader. This means that on top of lower-than-minimum-wage pay, you won’t receive benefits. Even mascots have their own benefits to some extent. Cheerleading is a very physically demanding job, and it’s not surprising that some accidents can happen.
5. Discrimination & Abuse Do Happen
One of the biggest contributors to NFL lawsuits in recent years is the fact that some ladies received verbal and mental abuse. One such example is Kristan Ann Ware who received religious and gender discrimination. It was also reported that members of the Washington Redskin were forced to do a topless photoshoot in front of male endorsers.
Benefits Of Being a Cheerleader
Not all cheerleaders treat the experience as bad. A lot of perks and benefits are given to cheerleaders, including opportunities that are hard to come. Not all cheerleaders have the same experience, a lot of people even reported that they enjoyed their stay during a season. Here are some of the benefits that you can get by being a cheerleader.
1. New Experiences
Whether its meeting celebrities, appearing on events, traveling to other places, or even just performing in a big crowd is a great experience for performers. It is a dream come true for a lot of people, an unforgettable moment for some, and a fulfillment of passion for most.
2. Great Portfolio Booster
For dancers who are just starting their careers, cheerleading is a powerful boost in their portfolio. It takes years of preparation and patience to be able to succeed in a cheerleading tryout. Performing as one says a lot of things about the performer and her capabilities.
3. Expose You To Media Opportunities
Getting a job on TV or on other media It is not a surprising thought, especially in this digital age. There are actresses such as Michelle Parma and Jennilee Harrison who once cheered for teams. Kristin Holt, on the other hand, became a TV personality after her stint as a part of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleading team.
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4. Sidelines From A Sideline
Cheerleaders can receive sponsorships and other gigs from them being a cheerleader. For example, they get a portion from each NFL calendar sold where they made their appearance. An example rate is $5 for every $20 calendar sold. Take note that not all teams sell calendars or give portions of the sale to the model. Your miles and benefits will vary and for most cheerleaders, it might not be worth the crazy long hours and physical toll.
All the bad things aside, cheerleading can be a great way to improve your craft if you are backed up by nothing but passion. You’d learn a lot about coordination with other dancers and build more self-confidence for your craft. If you are coming into this highly demanding, risky, and low pay career with some doubt I would consider a secondary backup plan. But as with everything in life, let your passions direct where you should go.
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