DAVE & DUJANOVIC

Utah Jazz Dancers say they still don’t make a living wage, despite claims of policy changes

Dec 12, 2018, 12:00 PM | Updated: Dec 14, 2018, 6:12 pm
Hopefuls try out for the Utah Jazz. According to a Yahoo Lifestyle report, the lucky few chosen wil...
Hopefuls try out for the Utah Jazz. According to a Yahoo Lifestyle report, the lucky few chosen will be subjected to weigh-ins, benched if they gain weight, and paid less than a living wage. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
(Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

While players on the Utah Jazz sign multi-million contracts, another group of athletes, relegated to the sidelines, says they are struggling to bring in enough money to pay the rent.

The Utah Jazz Dancers, like the basketball players, are athletes in the highest level of their field. And yet, according to a Yahoo Lifestyle report, the dancers say they are being paid so little that they have to work second or even third jobs just to get by.

That’s just one of the accusations the exposé has thrown at the world of cheerleading in the NBA. Jazz Dancers, they claim, are pushed into eating disorders and benched if they gain weight.

Representatives from the Utah Jazz have categorically denied the accusations in the article, characterizing the women’s stories as a thing of the past. In 2012, a spokesperson says, the organization “re-evaluated the program to ensure that it creates a positive and healthy work environment.”

But members of the Utah Jazz Dancers themselves are continuing to report that they have to work a second job to make ends meet.

Inside the world of the Utah Jazz Dancers

Utah Jazz Dancer weigh-in

Jazz Dancer Crystal Armstrong, in 2005, has her stomach measured by a trainer. According to former Jazz Dancer Sydney Sorensen, cheerleaders who had put on weight would not be allowed to perform. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

The Jazz are just one of many teams investigated in Yahoo’s report, which interviewed 15 former NBA cheerleaders about the conditions on the job.

Their report is nothing short of scathing, accusing NBA cheerleading coaches of “brainwashing” their dancers, paying them little more than “gas money”, and harassing the women for their weight to the point that some women described throwing up their meals just to keep trim.

Women who’d worked with the Jazz spoke with Yahoo in disproportionate numbers. Of the fifteen women from all over the NBA who came forward, three were former Utah Jazz Dancers, and some of their stories were deeply concerning.

“We got weighed monthly; that’s what messed with me most,” Sydney Sorenson, who danced for the Utah Jazz from 2009 to 2012, told Yahoo.

If a woman had gained weight, Sorenson says, she wouldn’t be allowed to perform. That pressure pushed the dancers into some dangerous behavior.

“I came up with all these methods to weigh in smaller, like not eat anything solid for a week,” she says. “Point blank, I would say that I definitely had an eating disorder.”

Pay was another major point of contention. 14 out of 15 cheerleaders said that they worked a second job to make ends meet, with one former Jazz Dancer, Madison Murray, saying: “I had three jobs. I was getting up at 4 a.m. and working until 11:30 p.m.”

Sorenson, for her part, told Yahoo that she filed for unemployment because she couldn’t find time to make money while working for the team.

“I kind of crashed and burned,” she told Yahoo. “It had a huge effect on me.”

The Utah Jazz has declined to answer questions about the article. When KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic invited a spokesperson to participate in an interview, they replied by repeating their statement, which reads, in full:

The Jazz dancers are valued employees for their work as part of the game night experience and many hours spent as community ambassadors. In 2012, our organization reevaluated the program to ensure that it creates an appropriate work environment, adheres to the fair labor standards act and aligns with our culture. Our dance troupe is now under the direction of a former Jazz dancer.

Dancers still don’t make enough to pay the bills

Utah Jazz Dancer try-outs

More than a hundred Utah Jazz Dancer hopefuls audition for a spot on the team. July 8, 2017. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Despite the Utah Jazz’s statement, however, the words of the Jazz Dancers themselves suggest that, when it comes to money, little has changed.

Alisha, a member of the Dancers’ current line-up, states in her profile on the site that the Dancers still aren’t making enough money to pay their rent, saying: “We all work other jobs or go to school.”

The Jazz themselves seem to back up her claims. Directly on the audition application, they warn that “most girls are students or have other jobs”, making it clear that, whatever these women are being paid, it isn’t enough to live on.

It’s not easy to hold a full-time job while performing on an NBC cheerleading team, dancers say, and it affects their lives. Nine of the eighteen of the women on the team, directly on their official profiles, call managing the time commitment with their other obligations the “hardest part about being a Utah Jazz Dancer”.

It’s hard to pin down exactly how much they earn, but in the most recent salary disclosure we could find, released in 2002, Jazz Dancers were being paid just $25 for a four-hour practice and $45 for six hours of work during a game.

As an hourly rate, that worked out to little more than a dollar over minimum wage.

“It’s just crazy,” former Jazz Dancer Jennifer Stagg told KSL TV‘s Caitlin Burchill. “My babysitter makes more money than I made as a Jazz Dancer.”

The Utah Jazz have assured us that those salaries have changed since then. When KSL reporters asked for clarification on how their wages changed in 2012, a spokesperson provided us with this statement:

“Instead of flat fee, we pay an hourly wage for time dancers spend at practice, games, traveling to official events or making community appearances.”

Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get an exact figure for that hourly wage. But again, the Dancers’ own comments tell a very different story.

More to the story

When KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic talked about this story, Dave said that he’d talked to Jazz Dancers about the pay before.

“They seemed resigned to the facts,” Dave said, “and that’s terrible.”

If you missed the show live, you can still catch everything they had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast:

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on Google Play Music

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

Dave & Dujanovic

Multiple dollar bills are pictured, social security will see a bump...
Mark Jones

Eyeing retirement: How much money is enough after you leave a job?

How do you know when it's time to leave a job or if you'll have enough for retirement? Dave and Dujanovic talk to a financial planner about this important question.
5 days ago
interest rate...
Curt Gresseth

Interest rate ticks up. Time to tame your debt.

The chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com joins the show to talk about the rising interest rate and how you can get out from under the debt you have accumulated.
5 days ago
One of the topics being discussed during the 2023 Utah Legislative Session is how to combat the tea...
Mark Jones

Bill would allow individuals to become teachers without a bachelor’s degree

A bill being discussed on in the legislative session would allow for individuals to become teachers without obtaining a bachelor's degree.
6 days ago
The main reason small businesses fail in America is that the business owner doesn't have access to ...
Simone Seikaly

Lack of access stands between Black-owned businesses and success

But lack of access to money isn't the only thing that hinders Black-owned business in Utah and across the nation.
6 days ago
More Americans are struggling to pay their energy bills.  Nearly 1.5 million more U.S. households ...
Curt Gresseth

Cost of heating homes in Utah rising as thermometer sinks

The cost of heating a home in Utah is rising because demand has increased and the drought in the West has cut into production.
6 days ago
A bill that could make its way to the Utah legislature in the 2023 session would require school dis...
Mark Jones

Potential redesign of new Utah State Flag emphasizes Native American tribes

Sen. Dan McCay (R-Riverton) is sponsoring a bill that would call for a slight redesign of the new Utah State Flag.
7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
Utah Jazz Dancers say they still don’t make a living wage, despite claims of policy changes