Why Do Colleges Still Have Dance Teams?

Why do colleges still have dance teams? And if colleges are going to have dance teams why can’t they treat the women on those teams as athletes?

I ask this question because I just finished reading an article (https://www.latimes.com/sports/usc/story/2021-04-22/usc-song-girls) in the L.A. Times about the USC dance team and all the misery these young women had to endure from being berated and bullied for their weight, looks and even sex lives. Of the ten current and former USC dance team members that were interviewed for the story several said they developed eating disorders and one considered suicide.

Sadly, I’m not surprised by any of this. Misogyny lives large in the collegiate dance team environs. I’ve heard of coaches telling girls to duct tape their breasts so their cleavage can be seen from the “nosebleed section.” I’ve known of girls not making a dance team because they don’t have “the look” or have been told more bluntly they’re “not sexy enough.” Horrifyingly most of the people telling this to 18 to 22 year olds are women. (Yes, women can be misogynists.)

Spray tans, going blonde, and starving themselves before tryouts can be considered normal dance team protocol and “what it takes” to get on a collegiate dance team. In fact, to be a USC Song Girl you had to sign a contract that your weight wouldn’t fluctuate more than five pounds from what it was at tryouts. This is SOP for a lot of dance teams, not just USC

Some dance teams also require their athletes to perform with a full face of makeup, false eyelashes, and their hair down so they can be a throwback to some outdated Hugh Hefner-esque notion of what women are supposed to look like.

It’s all so bat shit crazy. These are student athletes. All of these dancers have invested years of training to get to the level of being able to make a college dance team and yet in many cases they’re viewed and treated as shake your ass eye candy for the spectators instead of the elite athletes they are.

Don’t believe me about my elite athlete statement? Well, how about you try doing leaps, jumps, turns during a three hour football game in 100 degree heat while wearing white Go-Go boots with a three inch heel and get back to me. (And please can we all agree the Go-Go boot needs to be relegated to Halloween costume only attire?)

Also, full ride scholarships for being on a college dance team are rare as in I couldn’t find a college or university that gave out any dance team scholarships that were comparable to other sports. Yet, these dancers are athletes.

What also confounds me is the disconnect between what’s happening on college dance teams versus what’s happening in the dance community. My daughter (full disclosure never tried out for or was on a high school or college dance team) danced competitively for years where the emphasis is on talent not body size. Dance is now one of her majors in college and again talent is not measured by cleavage or thigh gap.

Another conundrum is that some of these dance team “coaches” have no accredited training in dance or dance degrees. Lori Nelson, the former coach of the USC Song Girls who is currently part of a Title IX investigation, primary “credential” was that she was a former Song Girl.

Colleges need to do better by these young women. If you’re going to have dance teams then acknowledge the team as athletes and treat them with the respect you would give any other player on the football field on a hot September afternoon surrounded by 50,000 screaming fans.