Pro Dance Team Ops

Many dancers dream of performing under the bright lights of an NFL stadium or on the court of an NBA arena, but landing a spot on one of these dance teams is tough. The good news is that if you’re aching for the glitz and glamour of a professional dance team job, there are plenty of other options. Lacrosse, hockey, arena football and soccer teams all have dancers, too. Here’s everything you need to know about joining one of these lesser-known—but equally awesome—groups.

The Advantages

A smaller market means that fewer dancers show up at auditions for alternative dance teams. While upward of 500 women may go to an NFL or NBA audition, less than 100 usually try out for a lacrosse or hockey dance team.

Sometimes, dancing for a less-recognizable sports team can mean more artistic freedom. With national TV audiences and sponsors to please, the management of many NBA and NFL teams closely monitor their dancers’ choreography, costuming and music choices. But many smaller teams aren’t as regulated.

For teams who dance for sports like hockey, it can also mean more chances to perform. “We don’t just perform during time-outs—we dance through the entire game,” says Aubrey Bailey, a New Jersey Devils Dancer. “There are 42 home games. Even if you dance at half of those, you’re getting a lot of exposure.”

Playing the Part

No matter what type of team you join, your role will almost always go beyond the court or field. “We represent the organization within the community,” says Heather Hanes, captain of the Goddesses dance team, which performs at Cleveland Gladiator arena football games. Dance team members bridge the gap between the players and their fans by greeting supporters as they enter the arena and participating in game promos on the field or court.

Technique Is a Must

Dancers on smaller teams still need strong technique. “Although there might not be as many dancers auditioning in a smaller arena, the level of talent is still high,” says Monae Thomas, the captain of the Washington Stealth Bombshells, which performs at its team’s professional indoor lacrosse games. Dancers are required to be versed in many styles, as well. “We perform high-energy jazz and hip-hop routines during games,” says Jillian Boprey, Bombshell coach and dancer.

It’s a Job

Once you make a team, you’ll be putting in lots of hours and getting a paycheck—but remember that it’s a part-time job, so don’t expect health insurance. Like the NBA and NFL, most teams pay their dancers per game, ranging anywhere from $25 to $75. If you’re lucky, you may find one that pays per practice, as well. Plus, you may receive perks from sponsors. Goddesses coach Kristen Bickel says her girls get “free haircuts and coloring from a local salon, gym memberships, spray tans and dance clothes and warm-ups.”

The amount of time you’ll need to commit to rehearsals, performances and appearances will vary according to the length of your team’s season. Dance teams rarely travel with the athletes, so you’ll only have to worry about home games. That said, if you’re in school or have a full-time job, you may want to consider a sport like lacrosse, which only has eight home games in the professional season (as opposed to hockey, which has about 40).

Making Adjustments

One challenge many teams face is the “stage” on which they perform. Smaller venues aren’t always as dance-friendly as large stadiums. Dancing on a hockey rink is out of the question, so the Devils Dancers perform on a platform in the stands. Lacrosse and arena football players use turf, so dancers who are used to doing more advanced choreography will be forced to adjust. “Doing turns is difficult,” Thomas says. They use duct tape on the ball of the shoe to prevent friction. “When we wear our slippery boots we have to use different tape to make them less slick,” she adds.

While some dancers choose smaller dance teams because they require a lesser commitment, others use them as a place to start building their professional dance team skills. “If you’ve been cut from an NBA or NFL team or never made the cut, look into these other options,” Thomas says. You can gain experience dancing in front of a crowd and move on to bigger teams later. With the same quality of dance and more opportunities to be featured, an alternative dance team may be just what you’re looking for.

Audition Advice

Amanda Grace, coach of the New Jersey Devils Dancers, and Jillian Boprey, coach of the Washington Stealth Bombshells, share their advice for making the team.

  • “Stay in shape,” Grace says. “This is a physically demanding job—you’re an athlete!”

  • “Since lacrosse is still a growing sport, something that really stands out is when a girl offers ideas during her interview on how to help spread the word about the NLL ,” Boprey says. “We want dancers who will find new ways to keep the community involved and interested in what we’re doing.”
Dance Team
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)

Congratulations to Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.

We also want you to get social! We'll be factoring social media likes and shares into our final tallies. Be sure to show your favorite finalist some love on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, sharing their profile pages and using the hashtag #DanceSpiritCMS.

Cover Model Search
Photo by Erin Baiano

Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.

Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."

Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?

Keep Reading Show less
Cover Story
Photo by Erin Baiano

Click here to vote for Emma.

There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "

Keep Reading Show less
Cover Model Search



Get Dance Spirit in your inbox