Dance, Cheer undervalued at Tulane

Lily Mae Lazarus, Contributing Writer

Lily Lazarus is a former dancer. She is not a member of Shockwave or the Tulane Spirit Squad. The following is an opinion article and does not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Despite dance and cheer being key components of sports at Tulane, they are overlooked by Tulane Athletics. Dance and cheerleading are rarely considered sports despite both being extremely physically demanding and sometimes dangerous, requiring years of training to execute skills and perform. Dancers in particular are singled out and labeled as artists, not athletes. This distinction belittles the time commitment and strength required to dance or cheer at a collegiate level.

Photo Illustration by Elana Bush and Ashley Chen
Tulane Cheer, while a part of Tulane athletics, does not receive the same treatment as other sports.

Although the Tulane University Spirit Squad, the cheerleading team, falls under the jurisdiction of Tulane University Athletics, it receives unsubstantial support. Tulane’s Shockwave Dance Team is recognized as a part of the Tulane University Marching Band and is only considered a departmental club through Tulane Athletics. 

While under Tulane Athletics, the Tulane Spirit Squad is not considered a sport by the department. The name “Spirit Squad” distracts from what the team actually is — a Division I cheerleading team. Like other college athletes, members of the team must audition to join, return to campus early for preseason, practice for six hours or more a week during the school year, attend all home athletic events and perform dangerous skills such as tumbling and stunting. Cheerleaders at Tulane, however, are not viewed as members of a sports team and thus do not receive the same benefits from Tulane Athletics. 

While the cheerleading team’s association with Tulane Athletics allows members to use the athletic trainers, they are not permitted to use the fitness facilities reserved for athletes, do not have a locker room and are not given access to priority housing, which is given to other athletes. Additionally, the members of Tulane’s cheerleading team must purchase their own practice gear.

It is rare for cheerleading teams to receive academic scholarships, and Tulane’s Spirit Squad is no exception. Cheerleaders also do not receive a monetary stipend from Tulane Athletics, and it was not until this past semester, the fall of 2019, that the cheerleading team was allowed to use Tulane Athletics priority academic registration. 

Shockwave, Tulane’s official dance team performs one featured piece at all home Green Wave football and two featured pieces at Green Wave basketball games, dances on the sidelines, performs in every halftime show with TUMB and marches in Mardi Gras parades and with TUMB at other events. 

Shockwave members also return to campus two weeks before the fall semester to work 14-hour days on dances. However, Shockwave is not only under the jurisdiction of TUMB, but it has also officially been deemed a departmental club, meaning members of Shockwave pay dues to cover the price of warm-ups and additional team costs, and they fundraise to further support the demands of the team that are not covered by the funding from TUMB and Tulane Athletics. 

Shockwave’s association with TUMB, however, seems primarily positive. Shockwave dancers receive a scholarship and funding through TUMB. TUMB’s support, although beneficial, demonstrates a failure of Tulane Athletics to recognize dancers as athletes and treat them as such. Shockwave attends one non-home football game each season, and its transportation to the game is not provided by Tulane Athletics. Shockwave travels on a bus with TUMB while Tulane football players travel via private plane. 

According to Director of Bands Barry Spanier, Shockwave dancers receive none of the benefits of being recognized by athletics. Notably, Shockwave does not have access to the James W. Wilson Center’s athletic trainers. Should they sustain an injury, fairly common at their level of dance, Shockwave dancers must contract out to receive treatment. Shockwave does not have access to Tulane Athletics nutritionists nor does it have access to its academic services such as tutoring or priority registration. Although Shockwave dancers are allowed to “cool off” in the Hertz Center during football games, they are not welcomed into Tulane Athletics facilities, nor are their needs as athletes tended to. 

The underrepresentation of dance is not exclusive to Tulane. This is a systemic issue that reaches NFL and NBA teams where the teams are not as valued as they should be. Professional dancers for NFL and NBA teams are underpaid, barely making minimum wage, despite the time commitment and skill level required to perform at their level. 

University athletic departments comparable to Tulane’s, such as those of the University of Miami and Ohio State University, offer both their dance and cheerleading teams much greater support than Tulane Athletics offers. The athletics departments at both the University of Miami and Ohio State University offer their dancers and cheerleaders access to athletic trainers and nutritionists, monetary stipends, sponsored athletic gear and priority registration. 

Tulane Athletics subtly underrepresents cheerleaders and dancers who officially represent the university. Despite the growth of both Tulane’s cheerleading team and Shockwave, Tulane Athletics has made few accommodations to the teams. Neither Tulane cheerleaders nor Shockwave dancers have access to a locker room and, according to a recently graduated member of Shockwave, the bleachers in the Devlin Fieldhouse incorrectly label the space for Shockwave as for “Spirit Squad.” The physically taxing nature of dance and cheerleading and their historic underappreciation necessitates that Tulane Athletics to step up and support these equally qualified athletes to protect their safety and make team members feel supported by the university.