Nearly every team in the National Basketball Association (NBA) has a squad of talented dancers/cheerleaders backing them up and entertaining the crowds, as well as representing the team at games, charity events, or fundraisers. Landing a coveted spot on one of these squads requires dedication, talent, know-how, and — perhaps most importantly — a positive mindset.
GeNienne Samuels knows precisely what it takes to land a spot on a professional cheer team. The former professional NBA and NFL cheerleader founded Sideline Prep, a professional cheer and dance consulting company that helps hopefuls land prime positions with pro sports teams.
What Sets the NBA Apart
“Cheer team” may be a misnomer for NBA teams, as these teams primarily focus on technical dance skills with some cheer and stunt components woven in. Because NBA dancers perform on a basketball court, they are able to more easily execute more advanced dance skills, formations, tricks and skills. The unique dance-heavy aspect of the NBA teams makes them an excellent option for talented dancers seeking a professional role.
Given the more dance-focused nature of NBA teams, people interested in snagging a place on an NBA team should first determine the dance skills required by the team and then perform a self-evaluation on the strength of their dance skills in comparison. NBA dance teams are elite squads and take the best of the best. If a person has more of a cheer and stunt-centered background, focusing on auditioning for a team more aligned with those skills may lead to better results. However, professional NBA cheerleading may be right up their alley if one is a talented dancer.
What the Teams are Looking For
Dancers at the NBA level frequently perform using hip-hop, jazz, jazz/funk, and lyrical dancing styles. These dancers are also technically trained and able to perform jazz or ballet pirouettes, leaps, and other technical skills.
Samuels has learned from experience that every team is looking for something different, but there are definite standards that most teams appreciate—no matter the sport or the city.
“To speak in general terms, the two most important characteristics or scoring elements on most NBA score sheets would be a candidate’s dance or technical ability and their overall appearance and showmanship,” explains Samuels.
Other essential attributes candidates need include a high level of physical fitness with great stamina, excellent speaking ability, interview skills, and above-average communication skills. NBA dance team members often interact with fans and people at charity events and other showcase opportunities. As such, NBA teams will want their dance squad members to have outgoing personalities and an innate ability to connect with people. Having these qualities is crucial as hundreds of women can attend an NBA dance team audition at a time, making the competition fierce.
“The teams are looking for someone that will represent their organization at the highest level and highest standard,” explains Samuels. “They are looking for an ambassador for the team.”
Nailing the Audition
Sideline Prep uses years of combined experience from its instructors to best prepare NBA dance team hopefuls for their auditions. The process, after all, can be a daunting one. Sideline Prep’s approach is comprehensive and provides a 360-degree approach to preparation. What sets their program apart is the focus on mindset and confidence, as well as the technical skills needed for each round of the process.
“The core foundation of our program is helping individuals improve their self-esteem, their mindset, and their confidence so they walk into auditions feeling their absolute best,” says Samuels.
Sideline Prep seeks to help NBA dance squad hopefuls present the entire package. Their coaches work with dancers to equip them with the skills to create a healthy lifestyle, including working on their diet, water intake, and workout regimen. All of this plays into presenting a total package at auditions and will help dancers have the stamina to perform well should they land a spot on a team.
The “total package” also includes instructions on one’s “look”. Sideline Prep coaches help each person create their “unique pro cheer look” by focusing on hair, makeup, and audition attire. Coaches also help dancers craft noteworthy resumes and interview skills. These lessons can create a candidate that will make NBA teams sit up and take notice when combined.
It’s All About Mindset
Samuels strongly believes that mindset is the most essential attribute of successful NBA dancers. She impresses on her clients that establishing good habits is critical.
“Habits will either set people up for success or hinder progress,” says Samuels.
Hopefuls have to be willing to put in the work and keep their eyes on the prize. A healthy mindset combined with the necessary skills and physical ability can help a person snag a coveted spot on an NBA dance team.
“If you have a habit of not giving up and always pushing forward in spite of rejection, then you’re able to accomplish just about anything you set your mind to,” says Samuels.
Since its inception, approximately 390 cheerleaders/dancers have graduated from the Sideline Prep program. Of those, more than 280 have made a professional or semi-professional cheer or dance team… that’s over a 70% success rate.
“There is sometimes a misconception that you need to have grown up as a dancer or cheerleader to make a professional-level team,” says Samuels. “While having this background is definitely helpful, the majority of the skills needed to make the team are teachable and learnable. That’s what we do every day, all day.”
Samuels and her team of experts have perfected the professional team audition approach and continue to help their dancers nail auditions and snag their dream jobs.