Lack of respect and minimal pay: What it's really like to be an NRL cheerleader.

Welcome to the cheerocracy era — another cheerleading documentary has captivated the world.

No, we're not talking about Cheer, this time it's a new docuseries about the most revered cheerleading team in the world, America's Sweethearts: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

The Texan team is known as the most prestigious team in cheerleading since rising to icon status in the 1970s. To this day, DCC remains the most coveted team to join and a new Netflix season offers a glimpse into the high-pressured team tryouts: charting the audition and boot camp process, the surprisingly low salaries for successful candidates and how much physical appearance impacts who is chosen to make the final 36-strong squad. 

Watch the trailer for America's Sweethearts: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Post continues after video.

Video via Netflix. 

The series has skyrocketed to number one on Netflix and it got us thinking about our Australian counterparts: the cheerleader squads for the NRL league and how the women's experiences compared. 

We spoke to retired Australian cheerleader Tanya*, who started cheering in 2014, before joining another team a few years later, staying with them and performing for stadiums all the way until 2019.

She told us that like the DCC cheerleaders, they didn't earn much. In the Netflix documentary, one former cheerleader revealed they made the same as a fast food worker. 


Tanya says she made around $120 per game and had no fixed salary. "I believe we will probably be some of the best paid," she says. 

"But it wasn't a lot at all when you consider that you're also having to purchase professional makeup or having to spray tan and you're having to pay for your own petrol to and from the games. At times, you'd have to pay for your own parking. And you do appearances and dinners and corporate work too."

Even though she trained 7pm to 10:30pm once a week, this would be unpaid.

By comparison, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders reportedly got paid around $750 per game but were compensated for rehearsals and promo work.

Like in the Netflix documentary, the women on the squad had to maintain other jobs to get by. 

"You'd be surprised but a lot of them are physiotherapists, nurses, doctors, solicitors. They all have their own very demanding careers as well and you would attend training after doing a full day's work but training was never paid. I don't believe any cheer squad in Australia that girls were paid for their training time." 

She added that her coach even paid for the women's costumes with the NRL unwilling to include their costumes in the budget — but has no regrets from her time on the field as she made "lifelong friends."

Listen to The Quicky's episode on the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Post continues below. 


The NRL squads take inspiration from the NFL-style of 'pom-pom cheerleading', which is a different style than the professional cheerleading competitions, which were platformed in the other Netflix series, Cheer

"Australia is very much like America like the Dallas Cowboys where it is more dancing with pom-poms, not so much your traditional cheer, where you're being thrown up [in the air]," she said. 

Tanya knows all too well how much weight the Dallas brand carries. 

"Dallas is the absolute pinnacle, absolute pinnacle. There have been two girls that I know from Australia from different teams that have successfully auditioned and been a part of the Dallas Cowboys brand. It was very, very exciting to have Australian girls in it. It's a huge achievement. You look up to those girls. Oh, my goodness, they've made it. They've made it big time."

But the environment in Australia is vastly different from the US for working cheerleaders. 

"There's a lot of fans in the NRL who take offense to what cheerleaders wear," she said. 

"They think no talent is required and that it's just there for men to ogle at the women and that kind of sentiment. This is obviously completely untrue, given you have to be technically trained dancer to be a cheerleader, this means trained in ballet and jazz at the very least," Tanya continued.

"Years of training is required to get into these squads. For one of the teams I worked with, we would do a six- to eight-week boot camp before we would be selected. There's an audition, and then there's a boot camp that follows — they're not easy to get into. It was very similar to Dallas in that sense."


DCC team candidates at bootcamp. Image: Netflix. 

Tanya has been dancing since she was "around three years old," she said. She went on to study at a prestigious dance school and then did full-time dance after she graduated from school and then started her own dance studio.

After randomly meeting one team's cheerleading coach, she was invited to audition and the rest is history.

She reflected on the parallels between the local and American cheerleading. 


"I had a very good experience here. It is very strict. I will say that," she said.

"There's really strict rules and regulations around how you dress and how you present yourself. Even how you walk and talk," she said, but admitted the US culture is on a whole other level when it comes to how women are judged. 

"It is very pageantry over there – they care a lot about that kind of thing. But in Australia, I find it a lot more laid-back. But there's a lack of support in Australia.

"The US fans appreciate what a cheerleader does more. In Australia... you get remarks like 'you're just bagging yourself a football player' and that kind of thing, which is really disappointing. Overall, I think in Australia, my experience was better because of my coach, but I do think that the NRL as a whole, they could be a lot more supportive of the cheerleaders."

Back in 2006, there were 16 cheerleading teams in the NRL but by 2021, only 11 teams remained in the league.

"The cheerleaders are starting to slowly die off as a breed in Australia," she said. "The irony is that the NRL promotes women in league every year, but every year they keep cutting cheerleaders from other teams — it's quite baffling."

She says it comes down to a lack of respect for the women in this field. 

"People don't respect it as much as what they do in other countries around the world," she shared. 

"In Australia, 90 per cent of people I spoke to were shocked that I was paid as a cheerleader. A lot of those people didn't think we should have been paid which is probably what hurts the most," she said. 


"A lot of people just compare us to strippers and I say that in a respectful way. I've got nothing against girls that do that kind of work. I'm all for it. Good on you. I have respect for that. But they would compare us to that and basically say 'you're literally you look like a stripper on the field'," Tanya recalled. 

"I was told to cover up and asked 'why are you wearing push-up bras under those tops?' They don't realise that's part of the aesthetic. That's just literally a part of the costume. We're dancers, we're performers but we cop a lot of abuse."

This is a far cry from the way the Dallas cheerleaders are worshipped in the US. 

"When they announced them as 'America's Sweethearts' at the beginning of every game, the crowd absolutely erupts. Whereas you go to a game in Australia and they will say please welcome the team's cheerleaders to the field, you get applause, but a lot of the time that's when people take a drink break or toilet break or break to get food," she said. 

"People don't pay as much attention to it." 

*Tanya is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous. Image depicts a US cheeleader.

Feature image: Getty.

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