There’s never been a better time for amateur cheerleaders to go pro. According to GeNienne Samuels, Co-Founder and President of Sideline Prep, recent trends in the industry make 2023 an exciting time for those who aspire to join a professional cheerleading team.
Samuels should know; in her former career, she was a cheerleader in the NFL for eight years and in the NBA for 3 seasons. Her company, Sideline Prep, gives high school, college, and other aspiring dancers and cheerleaders all the tools they need to become professionals, and has already successfully placed performers on 19 NFL and 15 NBA performance teams.
Demand for professional cheerleaders is returning
Samuels noted that, over the past few years, some NFL and NBA teams disbanded their professional and semi-professional dance teams.
“Because of the allegations and negative publicity a few years ago, some teams felt like having dance entertainment teams was too controversial or too much of a strain on their organization since new requirements necessitated paying the entertainers better,” she explained. “There was so much uncertainty at that time. Some of our clients who wanted to go pro felt scared or worried that they might make a team, but it would be disbanded the next year.”
However, the industry is currently less volatile and unpredictable. “What we’re seeing now is that the industry is stabilizing,” Samuels added. “Teams that were disbanded are now coming back. Professional and semi-professional cheerleading teams are being revamped and reintroduced, and the teams that were bold enough to keep their entertainment programs are remaining strong and true to their original identity.”
This means professional entertainment teams have regained their status as a viable long-term “next level” opportunity for dancers, cheerleaders, and other entertainers.
Professional cheerleading squads are diversifying
In other good news, Samuels says that professional cheerleading squads are becoming more diverse.
“Teams are becoming more open and accepting of a diversity of skin tones, hair textures, body images, and body weight,” Samuels said. “For example, women aren’t held to such strict requirements for their weight, and more women of color are able to wear their natural hair.” Men, she noted, have also been added to rosters in increasing numbers.
Samuels also observed that professional cheerleaders’ uniforms have changed. Gone are the revealing attire of the past.
“A lot of teams are going more hip-hop, with full-coverage shirts for tops and leggings or pants for bottoms,” she said. “That opens the door more for people who don’t have six-pack abs!”
Cheerleaders who don’t have a technical dance background should also take heart. While teams used to require complex technical moves like double or triple pirouettes, Samuels says these expectations still remain. The more advanced skills are a “nice to have” and not always required, especially for the NFL.
“Some teams are opening up to people who haven’t trained from the time they were little girls,” she said. “They’ve started to consider women and men who are self-taught — including people who join programs like Sideline Prep and learn the technical skills and dance abilities on their own.”
These changes have made choreography more innovative and dynamic. “Maybe one-third of their team can execute a certain skill, so in the center of the lineup, that third is doing that skill while the thirds on the right and left are doing something different,” Samuels explained. “Teams are getting creative with their choreography based on the skill set of the people that they have.”
While dance ability, stage presence, showmanship, appearance, and stamina remain important, Samuels says teams have begun to prioritize additional skills and assets.
“Teams are looking for someone who has interview skills and public-speaking ability,” she said. “They want people who can interact on a human level with fans. We’re also seeing teams being impressed with performers from different professions and backgrounds. They’re hiring beyond just the dance skills by paying more attention to each applicant’s resume, as well.”
Instead of focusing exclusively on dancing prowess and physical appearance, today’s teams “really look at the person for who they are and take all aspects into consideration,” Samuels said.
Auditions are more accessible than ever
According to Samuels, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the audition process for professional cheerleading teams for the better. Previously, aspiring members of these squads needed to travel in person to every round of auditions from the beginning, but teams are now more open to virtual auditions.
“Many teams are still allowing people to submit virtually, at least for the first round of auditions,” Samuels said. “Instead of having to spend money to travel to the first round, you can do it in the comfort of your home or a local dance studio — you just record your video and submit it. When you make it to the second round, then you can spend the money to go in-person with everyone else to participate in those auditions.”
Without needing to pay for costly airfare and hotels, more people can afford to participate, and the number of teams within reach expands. No matter where amateur cheerleaders are located, they can experiment with this career path by submitting first-round videos online and attending virtual prep classes to test the waters.
Seize the day
2023 is the right year to go pro, Samuels suggested, because the competition is going to become fiercer in future years. “Professional cheerleading is becoming more popular,” she said. “People are learning more about how to go pro and figuring out it’s not necessarily out of their grasp.”
For these reasons, Samuels encourages all aspiring professional cheerleaders to take their shot. “With anything in life, if you have a desire, goal, or aspiration — if there’s something that has been tugging at you, but you keep putting it off — ‘why not now’ is the better question to ask,” she said.
For some, making professional cheerleading dreams a reality simply requires getting out of their own way. “Unfortunately, whenever you have something you want to achieve that’s out of your comfort zone, naysayers, people in your life, and your own negative self-talk might try to keep you safe and comfortable because of the fear of rejection,” she said. “But now is the best time to go after your goals and dreams.”