If you’re attractive, fit, personable, athletic, disciplined and an exceptional dancer, you’re amply qualified to be a professional cheerleader. Although the world of pro cheerleading has been at the center of recent controversy, concerning the unfair treatment of women in the workplace, it’s still a very much sought-after profession with limited openings and strict qualifications.
It’s easy for outsiders to speculate about what it’s like to cheer professionally. The lifestyle seems nothing short of exciting, lusty and glamorous – because cheerleaders are coached to portray the lifestyle as such! While most cheerleaders will tell you their passion for cheering outweighs the negatives, there are some who break under the pressure of living as a sports team representative with little monetary compensation.
So before you dust off your old pom-poms and hit the tumbling mat, there are some things you should know about what it takes to climb the cheerleading ladder… and it’s not all fun and football games. Scroll through for a look at some of the boxes that aspiring professional cheerleaders need to check off before even being considered for an audition – and some that could be the difference between getting a spot on the squad or being sent home packing.
15 They Must Be At Least 18-21 Years Old
Age isn’t just a number when it comes to professional cheerleading, and being at least 18-21 years of age is non-negotiable, according to most teams’ auditions guidebook. The age requirement varies from team to team, but most NFL teams list 18 as their minimum audition age, while NBA cheerleaders must be 21 or older.
Being a professional cheerleader requires a lot of maturity and accountability, so a minimum audition age makes sense.
And grown men and women, who make up a large percentage of professional sports fans, morally, ethically and legally, shouldn’t be asked to watch scantily clad underage cheerleaders dance around. On a more logistic note, though, cheering for professional sports teams is pretty much top of the line for people who want cheerleading to be part of their adult life.
So in order to get to that point, a certain level of experience needs to be evident – and experience in anything usually comes over time and with age.
But the good news is, for older women or men who want to become professional cheerleaders, there is no official maximum age! As long as a candidate meets the requirements of the team, he or she will not be denied from auditioning.
14 They're Encouraged To Take "Beauty" Classes Offered By The Team
Many professional sports teams offer workshops for their prospective cheerleaders prior to audition day. The workshops are specifically tailored to mold potential squad members to meet the expectations of the team. For example, the Grizzlies NBA team offers a “Get The Look Clinic” during which girls can learn how to dress, as well as how to do their hair and makeup, to meet the coaches’ standards on audition day.
But it’s not only the cheerleaders’ physical appearance that is subject to criticism, it’s also what they put in their bodies, like food, beverages, and chewing gum, that’s regulated to the discretion of the squad directors. According to The Sportster, the auditioning rules for the Seahawks cheerleaders, called the Sea Gals, reads: “The Sea Gal Director may dictate policies regarding gum chewing, smoking, eating, drinking, [substance use] and other activities whenever such activities may reflect negatively on the Seahawks' organization."
Aside from that, though, these classes cover etiquette in a wide range of scenarios, like when shaking hands or eating dinner in public; a cheerleader must fold her napkin a certain way – at least if she’s cheering for the Oakland Raiders! According to Teen Vogue, the Raiderettes handbook states: “Gently unfold your napkin and place it on your lap. Fold it almost in half and place it with the fold side toward your body. If you need to leave the table, place the napkin on your chair, and don’t forget to say, ‘Excuse me.’”
13 They Must Pay A Non-Refundable Audition Fee
In the competitive professional cheerleading world, it can be said that the cheerleader needs the team more than the team needs her. For each girl who auditions and gets a spot on a professional cheering squad, there are at least 10 other aspiring cheerleaders who would be more than willing to take her place. This makes cheerleaders rather disposable, and definitely easily replaced. And it’s part of the reason why teams can get away with charging their prospective squad members at try-outs.
The non-refundable fees range from $15 to $75, depending on the team – and there’s really no public record of where the money goes.
But one could assume it goes to the coaches and squad directors to compensate them for their time during the lengthy audition process. And most teams do not provide anything for their prospective cheerleaders during auditions – like water, snacks, or clothes – so the money almost certainly isn’t for audition-day resources.
It’s also of note that even veteran cheerleaders have to pay the fee. Whether they’ve been on the team for three years or they’re trying to snag a spot for the first time is irrelevant –because even cheerleaders who are already on the team have to re-tryout at every audition cycle.
12 They Must Have At Least High School Diploma Or GED
As a professional cheerleader, you can’t just be all beauty and no brains. Coaches want their cheerleaders to represent the team well, and that means being able to hold intelligent conversations and relate to a wide range of people. This requirement is justifiable, and likely isn’t difficult for most aspiring cheerleaders to fulfill, seeing as more than 80 percent of people in the United States hold a high school degree, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
And this condition isn’t specific to cheerleading. Almost every employer requires its employees to have at least completed high school or received their GED. But, in addition to it being a blanket requirement for most jobs, for professional cheerleading, specifically, it ensures that a candidate will be able to meet the demands of the team, without being pressured to drop out of high school.
It’s common, also, for professional cheerleaders to have been recruited after high school to cheer either competitively or cheer for a college sports team, so, again, generally not a difficult box to check for most. And, though most teams do, there are some teams that do not have education requirements.
But almost every team administers a test to its candidates on their NFL and dancing knowledge, so it can only help to have finished high school and have a familiarity with testing of some variation.
11 They Must Be Able To Tolerate The Demanding Time Commitment
Cheering professionally is a huge time commitment, with three-to-four-hour practices sometimes four times per week. And that’s not including long game days and travel for away games – if you’re on a team that travels with its cheerleaders.
One former Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader, Tiffany Monroe, told TIME, “I really felt like I had two full-time jobs during the season.” And she said she felt like “the season never really ended,” except for a “little” break the girls got in February of each season.
But if you don’t meet the time commitment expectations, you risk penalization.
The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, who are one of the most famous cheering squads in the world, are encouraged to refrain from auditioning if they know they will not be able to attend every single rehearsal, event, game, and whatever else they’re asked to do.
Being late to a practice or any scheduled team event could likely result in a hefty fine, sometimes reaching or going above $100, which is more than most cheerleaders make per game, depending on the team.
And, of course, professional cheer schedules vary, but they’re all indisputably demanding, even during what is supposed to be “off-season.” Cheerleaders who make the team must sign a one-year contract, during which they are obligated to meet all demands that, by signing the document, they agreed to meet.
10 They Must Bring A Full-Body Photo Of Themselves On Audition Day For The Team To Keep
There’s no denying that appearance matters in the cheerleading world, and especially at a professional level. Every team requires that, on audition day, all prospective cheerleaders bring a full-body 5” by 7” photo or photo composite of themselves for the coaches to keep. The composite would include multiple pictures, sometimes three, that show the cheerleader in different outfits, maybe making different faces or holding different props, like a football or something that shows an aspect of their character.
The photo (or photos) must be recent, unedited, and a good representation of the cheerleader’s demeanor and personality, as well as her physique and fitness level – so choose the photo wisely.
And it's not for nothing; a large part of being a professional cheerleader is being photogenic, for things like promotional videos, posters, and calendars. On the Washington Redskins audition FAQs section, the team mentions “the model aspect of the squad has grown,” so it added a “photogenic” round to auditions in order to judge how comfortable the prospective cheerleader is in front of a camera.
And if a girl is not photogenic, that could prevent her from being able to join the team, even if her dancing ability, her appearance, and her personality are up to the team’s standards.
9 They Must Have Performance-Ready Hair And Makeup At All Times
Whether you’ve already made the team or you’re trying to convince someone to let you on, there’s pressure to always look your best. One former NFL cheerleader wrote in a Cosmopolitan editorial, “I quickly found out that the hardest part of professional cheerleading isn't learning the eight counts, high kicks, or whatever cheesy dance move we were being taught. It was always looking perfect. Our contracts actually said, ‘Your appearance must be impeccable at all times.’"
Once professional cheerleaders are hired, they can expect to spend a lot of time and money (out of pocket) on their appearance.
Stylized hair, manicured nails and toes, a tan, and makeup must be kept up at all times.
The issue with this, though, is that most teams require their cheerleaders to have their hair and makeup be done by certain stylists… and they still don’t cover the cost, whatever ridiculous amount it may be. And if you’re looking to change your style while you’re under contract with the team, you can’t – well, at least not without permission from the coaches.
Oh, and the coaches can “force” you to change your hair color or cut if they think your look doesn’t fit in with that of the team. The Cosmopolitan editorial read, “One day, I was told to go to a preordained salon and pay out of my own pocket to have my hair dyed a different color, one that they’d chosen for me. Their reasoning? My natural hue made me look ‘too ethnic.’ My half-white, half-Latina jaw nearly hit the floor.”
8 They Must Wear Specific Clothing To Auditions And Events
Here’s yet another confirmation that physical appearance matters when it comes to scoring a spot on a professional cheering squad. In every team’s auditions handbook, it specifies in one way or another that the only acceptable attire for a tryout day is a bra-top that must show the midriff, and some form of short, tight shorts.
One cheerleading blogger on The Line Up wrote, “Just like a job interview, first impressions are important." The writer, Trisha, suggested watching videos and looking at photos of tryouts from previous years to see what candidates were wearing; “If most of the candidates accessorize with rhinestones, be prepared to add bling to your outfit. [And] if most wear shorts instead of briefs, be prepared to do the same.”
Many of the coaches also require their prospects to wear the team’s colors during try-outs to make sure they would look good in the team’s official uniform. Then, once girls make the team, they are still subject to outfit requirements, and even more so. Shocking, I know!
Just like with being late or missing a required event, wearing the wrong outfit can subject the cheerleaders to fines as well. But they’re not as hefty, coming in at around $10, give or take, depending on the team.
7 They Cannot Be Dating An Athlete On Their Team
Aside from those that reference appearance standards, a good amount of the rules mentioned in many NFL teams’ handbooks are related to “fraternization,” AKA relations between cheerleaders and players – or any staff member of the team, including the mascot.
So if you’re entangled with anyone who works with the team you’re looking to join, just turn right around, ‘cause it’s not going to fly.
In most cases, the handbooks heavily emphasize that “fraternization” between co-workers is prohibited and, basically, the burden falls on the cheerleaders to avoid contact – or they risk penalization. Some cheerleaders report they’re only allowed to say “hello” and “good game” to their team’s players. All other conversation is prohibited, according to Moneyish.
But here’s the kicker: the players are not penalized for reaching out to their cheerleaders. So there is definitely a double standard that exists in the conduct guidelines between the male and female employees of the team. One former cheerleader told the Today Show, “We’re stifled by these rules. I worked just as hard growing up to be a dancer as the football players did to be a football player.”
And it’s pretty weird that cheerleaders aren’t permitted to speak to the people for which they’re cheering… some team mentality, huh?
6 They Should Study Videos And Photos Of The Try-Out Process
If there’s a cheering squad you really want to join but you’re not familiar with their auditioning process and you’d like to be, you’re in luck. Almost all professional cheerleading teams record their auditions in some form – and it’s so that aspiring cheerleaders can watch to gain insight on attire, expectations, and the process, or just to see if they think they have what it takes.
Just like with the preparation classes some teams offer, this is another means of preparing candidates for the audition process, and many coaches and veteran cheerleaders strongly encourage it. And in some of the classes, watching videos from previous try-outs is actually required.
An article on Street Directory explained, “Not all squads are the same. Some have different dancing styles, so it would be handy to watch their moves in order to prepare for the audition.” The article also mentioned the importance of paying attention to small details, like if the team likes a specific “look.” Straight or curly hair? Blonde, redhead, brunette? “If you can note that,” the article read. “Then try to achieve that look.”
It’s all about fitting the mold, apparently. Don’t deviate from the norm too much, but also make yourself stand out. Easy, right?
5 Must Have Experience With Tumbling And Choreographed Dancing
Many girls on professional cheerleading squads can get away with not having had any real cheering experience if they can dance. Learning how to dance to choreography is harder than it looks, and it’s a large part of what professional cheerleaders do. So if you’ve got that skill down, you’re more likely to get on the team than someone who has no dancing experience.
One NBA cheerleader who has been cheering since she was 10 years old said in a Kandid Kaiya YouTube video: “Now that I’m at a professional level, I’ve seen that it’s really honestly more dance based. So if you are a cheerleader [who] can adapt to dance, that’s probably your best bet.”
Tumbling, on the other hand, most cheerleaders say, is not as important as being able to follow choreography, but still important to have experience, even if it’s minimal.
But every team has different specialties, like the Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders, who are a precision dance and stunt team – tumbling would probably be a required skill for them.
An article on Livestrong explained, “Although tumbling has become a major part of cheerleading, it isn’t always a required skill. If you are trying out for a squad that requires tumbling, talk to the coach to find out what specific skills are required.”
4 Must Keep A Clean Social Media Reputation
If you’re interested in cheerleading – and you probably are if you’re reading this – you’ve likely heard about the former Saints cheerleader, Bailey Davis, who was recently fired because she posted a “revealing” photo in a one-piece outfit on her Instagram page.
Davis’s termination from the team resulted in her filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for gender discrimination – because the players, who are all men, are not required to follow the same rules as the cheerleaders, who are all women.
According to a New York Times article, the Saints cheerleader’s handbook states they’re not allowed to post “photos of themselves in Saints gear… or appearing nude, seminude or in lingerie,” otherwise they risk termination. And some teams not only regulate what their girls can post, they also regulate who they can follow and who can follow them. Cheerleaders are not allowed to follow the players and they must block all players from following them, the Times reported. However, the players are not required to follow these same rules, leaving only the cheerleaders with the burden of being mindful of what they post and of actively avoiding contact with players, for fear of termination.
And aspiring cheerleaders aren’t safe from these stifling rules either. If the cheer coaches and directors closely monitor their active members’ social media accounts, they definitely make it their business to poke around prospective members’ accounts, looking for things candidates publicized that could hurt the team’s reputation.
3 Must Be A Full-Time Student Or Hold A Full Or Part-Time Job Elsewhere
If you’re looking to become a professional cheerleader, don’t quit your day job. It’s a requirement for all sports teams that their cheerleaders have other professional or education-related commitments.
According to TIME, some NFL cheerleaders report only making around $1,000 per season. So, in that regard, professional cheerleading really isn’t a profession at all – it’s a hobby. And to make this incredibly low wage sting, even more, just look at the pay gap between the cheerleaders and the players. On average, according to Forbes, an NFL player’s annual salary comes out to more than $2 million.
The NFL generates nearly $14 billion annually, so there’s really no justifiable reason for the enormity of this disparity, especially when cheerleaders have to revolve their lives around their respective teams just as much as the players do.
But aspiring and former professional cheerleaders alike seem to have grown to accept the realities of the deal, with some warning their successors about what they should and shouldn’t expect.
Former NFL cheerleader Tessa Shea Whitehead told GoBankingRates.com, “The… most important thing is that you’re doing it because you love it. If you go into it with these high expectations because you’re going to make a lot of money and marry a football player, none of that is true.”
2 Must Maintain Certain Physique Requirements
Professional cheerleaders rely pretty heavily on their physical appearance as a means of pleasing others and keeping sports fans engaged. For this reason, many teams require their cheerleaders to maintain a certain physique throughout their employment contract.
In their guidebooks, some teams note that these rules are not to body shame team members. They’re simply put in place to make sure their cheerleaders are “not becoming too skinny,” even though many teams have contradicted this justification through their actions. Cheerleaders perform a lot of stunts and dance routines, and these performances require a lot of energy. So team members need stamina and a great deal of muscle to support themselves and their teammates during stunts – that’s understandable.
But this rule goes beyond maintaining a standard of athletic ability. And it’s to the point where coaches on some teams are allowed to “bench” their cheerleaders for gaining just a couple of pounds. One former Ravens cheerleader, Courtney Lenz, said she was not invited to cheer at the Super Bowl when her team went because she had gained nearly two pounds. “[The Ravens] said that I had a ‘rough year,’” Lenz told NBC. “We get weighed every week during the season, and you can’t fluctuate at all. I gained, I think it was 1.8 pounds.”
1 Can't Have Visible Tattoos, And Piercings Must Be Kept Minimal
There’s definitely a sense of uniformity in professional cheerleading, with the predetermined outfits, makeup styles and hairstyles, and the in-sync dance routines. So it may not come as a surprise that most diversions from uniformity, like visible tattoos and over-the-top piercings, are strictly prohibited on some teams, like the NHL’s Washington Capitals, for example.
But at a time in our society when individuality and distinctiveness are becoming increasingly more important, it’s a hard pill for some aspiring cheerleaders to swallow.
Fortunately, though, you don’t have to run to a doctor and undergo a painful tattoo removal procedure in order to pursue your dream of becoming a professional cheerleader.
Certain makeup products will suffice to hide the tattoos, and that’s a perfectly acceptable solution, according to most teams’ guidebooks. Just make sure the makeup you choose is perspiration and weatherproof!
As for the piercings – belly-button rings, nose rings, etc. – you’ll have to take those out or choose to wear less noticeable jewelry for your audition, as well as for any subsequent practices, games, and appearances. The only pieces of jewelry that all teams agree to allow their cheerleaders to wear are engagement and wedding rings. All other jewelry must be kept to a minimum in both size and quantity.
References: seahawks.com, teenvogue.com, time.com, redskins.com, cosmopolitan.com, thelineup.com, moneyish.com, streetdirectory.com, proplayinsiders.com, nytimes.com, livestrong.com, Kandid Kaiya YouTube, nbcnews.com, cheerleading.lovetoknow.com, ultimatecheerleaders.com, thesportster.com