Behind the Pom-Poms: What You Don’t Know About Professional Cheerleading
Allison Montgomery | On 23, Jul 2013
I became interested in writing about the world of professional dancing and cheerleading based on my own experiences dancing for the NBA and AFL and after having a mixture of emotions about what I had been through. Although the opportunity gave me the chance to perform in front of big crowds, learn fun choreography, and experience things I never would have without being a part of a prestigious organization, I also had a constant inner conflict and struggle with the fact that my body and appearance were such an integral part of being a part of these teams. However, being a member of a professional dance and cheerleading team is complicated, and not as singularly faceted as one might think when watching these women from the bleachers.
In fact, many people, women included, judge dancers and cheerleaders based on what they see at a game, rarely knowing what really goes on behind the scenes and how these ladies are chosen to be on the field and court. You may be surprised that selection process includes more than having a six pack midriff. Although some women judge, scoff, or write off the women in front of them as being nothing more than sex objects, and personally feel disgusted that women would subject themselves to such scrutiny, “sell themselves out,” or be a part of the objectification of women, they are contributing to stereotypes that are often shattered if looked at closely.
I am not arguing that the objectification of women is not a problem with these teams, but I am arguing that, as a woman who donned the short and skimpy uniforms myself, I had a lot more going on off the court and field as being part of the team, and as an intelligent, successful, well-rounded woman. These stories behind the poms poms are what I want share.
Here are just a few reasons to look past the cleavage, glossy lips and hair, and barely-there outfits and to consider what these teams and women are about.
1. Many women on these teams have masters degrees, challenging careers, are moms, and push themselves to excel beyond just their seemingly perfect appearances.
Sure, it may seem like all there is to these dancers is their next tanning, hair, or nail appointment, but that could not be further from the truth. In fact, many of the women I danced with were and are nurses, moms, teachers, engineers, business professionals, realtors, writers, journalists, pharmacists, PhD students, accountants, and business owners. Many of these women would dance at the games and the next morning wake up to pursue their careers and go to school for Masters and Doctorate degrees.
2. They are ambassadors for the community and touch the lives of others.
During my time on a professional dance team for the NBA and AFL, we traveled for charity basketball games, made children’s hospital visits, and gave just as much of our time to community service as to the games we danced at. During these appearances and endeavors, our appearance and dancing had nothing to do with how we were representing the team or franchise, but instead it was how we related to people, and how we were able to represent the organization. These women take pride in the organizations they represent and pour their energy into representing it well.
In fact, The Denver Broncos Cheerleaders, my hometown football cheerleading team, divided more than 1,500 hours of civic involvement among 100 Colorado organizations. This squad lists their community involvement as their first priority, and chooses to mention their involvement in community service before anything else on their webpage. These dance and cheerleading teams understand that they can use their position in the limelight as a platform to do more than swimsuit calendars.
3. They’re talented beyond just flicking their hair.
Believe it or not, myself and other women do not endure grueling auditions and interviews that often last for weeks, amongst hundreds of women, in order to simply be made into a sex object. Many of the dancers have extremely athletic gymnastic and dance backgrounds, and I personally came from a background in competitive figure skating and intense training.
Many of the women run marathons, participate in triathlons, and invest in their health and nutrition beyond just looking good in a uniform.
Additionally, many of the dancers on these teams have danced most of their lives, and even competed on the national stage at the collegiate level. For many of these collegiate dancers, dancing professionally for an athletic team is one of the few next steps for adult female dancers who want to continue to perform as part of a team for large crowds. I myself have continued my dance career dancing for the NBA and AFL, but also danced for my church worship dance team, again proving there is more to a dancer than what they look like. Many cheerleaders and dancers are a part of these teams first for the love of performing, and the tight outfit happens to be a part of being on these teams.
4. Like any group that falls victim to stereotypes, there is more than meets the eye.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a professional dancer, because I didn’t limit myself or my view of the other women I had the honor of dancing with to our weight on the scale, how we looked in a uniform, or how the men and women in the audience were looking at us or perceiving us.
Many of the women openly accept the challenge to shatter stereotypes, willingly opening their lives, sharing their stories, and almost daring anyone to ask what they were about beyond the pom poms. Yes, the women wear revealing uniforms and clothing; however, these women also have confidence to own the bodies they are in.
One woman shattering some of these stereotypes is Laura Vikmanis, who wrote the book It’s Not About the Pom-Poms: How a 40 Year-Old Mom Became the NFLs Oldest Cheerleader.
Vikmanis hasn’t an easy life, and broke free from her past of an abusive relationship to pursue her dream of continuing to dance by trying out for the Cincinnati Bengals. She did it not only because she loved to dance, but because for her it meant pursuing something for herself beyond being a mom, and proving we can shatter the boxes we and others put us in.
She not only proves there is more to an NFL cheerleader than what meets the eye, but also that our roles and lives as women are often limited by our own thinking. She sends a message that as women we should never say it’s too late, or stop pushing ourselves to take a leap for our own happiness. Her book also unveils some truths behind being on an NFL cheerleading team, including the grueling workouts, bad pay, and lifelong bonds many women form from being a part of these teams. She also discusses some of the not-so-pretty sides to these teams such as weigh-ins, but from my experience, this all varies based on your director and the culture of each team.
Unfortunately, there are always going to be women that feed into the stereotypes and paint a bad picture for the rest, but overall these women are mature, caring, dedicated, hardworking, and have a lot going for them. If you ask me, we should be embracing some of this, instead of looking at one aspect and devaluing it. These talented women should not have censor, apologize, or cover up, both figuratively and literally, who they are to be taken seriously. Many of these women simply love to perform, dance and are proud of the name on their uniform.
So the next time you see the ladies on the sidelines at a game, remember they are made up of more than their skirts and poms, and may have just written their thesis, hugged their child, or put a big smile on someone’s face by signing an autograph in the lobby. There is good there, so don’t miss it because you are too busy judging them based on lack of fabric or hip rolling.
December 6, 2013
December 5, 2013
December 4, 2013
December 4, 2013
December 2, 2013
November 27, 2013
November 25, 2013