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You might associate professional sports with million-dollar contracts and glamor, but pro cheerleaders are some of the lowest-paid employees on professional teams and perhaps in the entire country. Competition for pro cheerleader jobs is so tough that professional teams rarely need to pay anything other than a token salary. Instead, pro cheerleaders use the position as a stepping stone to further their careers.
The salary of a cheerleader on a professional sports team depends on the team and the sport, but most make very little. Cheerleaders in the NFL and NBA earn about $50 per home game. Rarely do pro cheerleaders receive more than $135 for a game. Teams can pay small wages because some dancers would do the job for free. Dancing in front of millions of people can get a person noticed for other, higher-paying jobs, such as a dance choreographer.
Pro cheerleaders somewhat make up for their low salaries with the perks offered by teams. Teams usually give cheerleaders their own personal trainer and free beauty products, and some cheerleaders make extra money on the side from personal appearances and endorsement contracts. In general, most cheerleaders hold a full-time job or attend university.
Most people who become pro cheerleaders do so for the excitement or the hopes of launching into the entertainment business. Paula Abdul, a singer, choreographer and dancer, for example, worked as a Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader during the early 1980s. After three months on the job, notable celebrities, such as ZZ Top and The Jackson 5, noticed her and hired Abdul as a choreographer for their music videos.
Becoming a Pro Cheerleader
Dancers usually start their training at ages 5 to 15, and some obtain a bachelor's or master's degree in dancing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Dancers also need to keep in top shape when they are practicing their moves. Expect to arrive at games several hours before tip-off or kick-off for makeup and hair, and to stay afterward for meals and for meeting fans. Margeaux Lippman of Seventeen Magazine suggests that aspiring cheerleaders research a team before auditioning for a spot, because choreographers usually try to keep the look of the squad uniform. Reading up on news about the team you're interested in could give you the extra boost for a hire in an interview.