Ultimate Cheerleaders

Dallas Mavericks Dancers are in it for the play, not the pay

Their stipends can’t pay rent, but many see it as an opportunity to make dance a priority.
Tiney Ricciardi
Pegasus News
November 2, 2012

DALLAS — For the love of the game — that’s what we typically consider to be the attitude of our most skilled athletes. But history would prove that theory incorrect. Between the 2012 hockey lockout, which is still in full force, Lance Armstrong’s title revocations, the NFL referee strike, and the 2011 basketball lockout, money truly makes the sports world go ’round.

The Dallas Mavericks dance team, however, is an exception. First-grade teacher and Mavs Dancer Rachel Harpe calls it a “huge commitment” — one that isn’t rewarded with big bucks.

Dallas Mavericks Dancers are required to hold another part-time or full-time job, or be in school. They are paid a flat, undisclosed rate per game and appearance. They are often required at up to nine hours of practice a week.

“I’m a radiology administrative assistant at The Cooper Clinic in Dallas,” said Grace Sells. The 22-year-old former figure skater works at the clinic from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every weekday and then heads to dance practice at night.

“I actually quit my last job [at Michael Kors retailer] because my schedule often conflicted practice,” she said.

The Mavs dancers’ first game is Saturday. About half of the team will be eligible to dance each game, based on internal auditions for half-time routines.

“We practice at least three nights a week; sometimes we’ll have three games a week; sometimes you’ll have an appearance … it’s a lot to take in, but not because I enjoy it so much,” said Harpe, a first-grade teacher in the Plano Independent School District.

Watching the Mavs dancers at a game is like watching the movie Bring It On in fast forward. The team is distinguished by strong, fluid dance moves that are sharp like a cheerleader, but playful like a poms performer. Their specialty ranges from hip-hop to jazz; basically anything that is fast paced and exudes a lot of energy.

Ten to 12 girls dance in two routines per game, which means only some get paid during any given week. While intuition (or reality television) would say that makes for a highly competitive team dynamic, the girls interviewed by phone attested otherwise.

“You would think that in an environment where 20 girls are competing for 10 spots things could get ugly, but it doesn’t,” Harpe, a three-year veteran, said. “Everyone is very, very supportive.”

When the National Basketball Association went on hiatus for half a season in 2011 because of monetary feuding, so did the Mavs dancers’ main source of cash flow. The girls spent the days in boot camp, boot camp, and more boot camp. Were they bitter? Hardly, explained Lauren Gibler, whose rookie season ended in the Mavericks’ first franchise championship win.

“We were disappointed because it was our championship year,” said Gibler, also a full-time dance teacher at Royalty Dance Academy in Rockwall. “Thankfully, we got half a season after it was worked out.”

Though money is tight in this business, Gibler said there are other perks to the job. For instance, the dance team just got back from Barbados where they shot their babelicious 2013 calendar. Gibler said the NBA flew her and five teammates to Europe on behalf of the Mavericks to bring American sports enthusiasm to teams and crowds overseas. She has also visited Berlin and Barcelona during her tenure as a Mavs dancer.

While no dancer is able to pay rent with this endeavor yet, the consensus is that, hopefully, one day dance will provide a livelihood. Gibler aspires to own a dance studio of her own so she can intermix her love of dance and working with children. Harpe sees herself coaching cheerleading or dance on the elementary level in the future. And Sells said that if an opportunity to pursue dance full-time arose, she would take it, no questions asked.

“I just want to dance as long as I can,” radiologist Sells said. “It’s a passion, and I feel like when you find something you’re passionate about, it automatically takes priority.”

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