O.G. Pussycat Doll J Sutta on What It’s Really Like to Be an NBA Cheerleader
Jessica Sutta isn’t just a former Pussycat Doll — she also used to be captain of the Miami Heat dance team. Yes, this singer and dancer also used to be head cheerleader.
We talked to her about her former life with the Miami Heat and here’s what we found out.
1. Being a fan of the game is important.
Most people would assume that all dancers or cheerleaders are girly types, but Jessica says she’s a “tomboy at heart.” Her career with the Heat grew more out of her basketball fandom than anything else.
“I would always go to Miami Heat games,” she said. “I met the choreographer of the Heat dancers and she’d look at me and say, ‘When do you turn 18?'”
Jessica believes you need to be a fan of the sport to be a cheerleader or dancer.
2. You have to have stage presence.
Dancing and cheering aren’t necessarily acting — but “you have to be in a very, very good mood the whole time,” Jessica said. “Even if the team is losing. You need to keep that morale up for your team.”
3. Dating athletes is frowned upon.
“You just don’t,” Jessica said. “It’s part of the rules of being a cheerleader — although the towel boys would be sent by the basketball players to get the girls’ numbers or whatever.”
In fact, the cheerleaders weren’t even allowed to make eye contact with athletes, Jessica said. Sounds a little sus, but maybe the rules haven’t been updated since the 60s?
Jessica thinks the theory is that having a girlfriend dancing on the sideline could be distracting and hurt your performance. In fact, Jessica thinks the reason the cheerleaders are placed in front of the opposing team in NBA games is partially to distract them.
4. Continue your dance training.
Even if you grew up dancing, you’ll need to “take as many classes as you can” once you’re a cheerleader or dancer, Jessica said. Working out is also important because it can prevent injuries that come from overextending yourself or performing on a hard basketball court.
5. Don’t expect easy hours.
Being a dancer is “really demanding,” Jessica said. “It was three days a week [of practice] for three hours a day.” The schedule is “intense and grueling” for little to no pay, she said.
6. Don’t expect a big paycheck.
The cheerleaders pretty much all have day jobs in addition to their cheer duties. In fact, cheerleaders are criminally underpaid. That’s why many cheer and dance teams are taking legal action to ensure that they’re being paid fairly. Some cheerleaders and dancers actually make less than minimum wage when you factor in the amount of time they spend working on routines.
“We wanted to fight for more money and they would laugh us off,” Jessica said. “I made $60 a game. They didn’t pay for practice.”
The girls did pull in some cash from corporate events when they were paid about $150 a pop to make appearances, but they still didn’t make a fraction of what players rake in.
7. Don’t believe the stereotypes.
People think cheerleaders and dancers aren’t smart. But as Jessica pointed out, since you do need a day job to dance professionally, you can’t be a ditz.
“Everyone was going to college,” she said. “Everyone was a career woman.”
8. You have to do your own makeup.
The NBA doesn’t even pay its cheerleaders a decent wage — do you think they’d spring for a makeup artist? Hell no.
“We do our own makeup,” Jessica said. “That’s how I learned to do my own makeup. Luckily, when you’re on the basketball court, it’s far enough away [from the crowd] that you can get away with some mistakes…”
9. Criticism will come from truly messed up sources.
At one point, Jessica’s team was trying out a new uniform: a snakeskin unitard. But it got vetoed — by the players’ wives.
“It got banned because it was too sexy,” she said.
This is all kinds of messed up — why should the players’ wives care what the dancers are wearing? And even if they do care, why should their opinion matter?
And for the record, we emailed the Heat for comment on this but never heard back.
10. Don’t let anyone scare you off of cheering if it’s what you love.
As someone who felt judged for my own love of cheerleading as a teen, I asked Jessica what she thought about the lack of respect that cheerleaders are afforded as athletes and entertainers.
“I think everyones gonna have their perception of that,” she said. “I think for a woman to be out there with that confidence and putting herself on the line like that — there’s nothing more vivacious and brilliant than that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a confident woman.”
See Jessica’s new video for “Forever” below.