Last month Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall told The Dallas Morning News that she has ordered more wholesome uniforms and less provocative routines for the Dallas Mavericks Dancers.
After a February report from Sports Illustrated detailing a workplace that involved alleged sexual harassment from then-CEO Terdema Ussery, the Mavericks have been cleaning up the team's image with a 100-day plan.
Part of the 100-day plan is to make everything more family-friendly — less sex, more basketball. And that includes the dancers. The Dallas Mavericks Dancers entertain crowds during timeouts, quarter breaks and halftime.
However, in the Sports Illustrated piece, the Mavs Dancers weren't mentioned once. Dozens of former and current Mavericks employees said they felt uncomfortable in their workplace because of the former CEO, not because of anything the dancers did.
"We love our dancers, but we are re-evaluating every aspect of this organization to make sure they are living up to the values we are instilling in the entire Mavericks operation," Marshall told the DMN.
Kathryn Dunn, a former Dallas Mavericks dancer who performed from 2013 to 2016, thinks making the dancers appear more wholesome sounds like a publicity stunt.
"If it truly does boil down to the Mavs Dancers, why is the front office hiring somebody that can’t control themselves after seeing a Mavs Dancers dance routine?" Dunn writes via email. "If this is the case, I think it’s time that they start providing stricter background checks on potential employees and start holding their current employees to a higher standard. If a dance team is making your employees think aggravated sexual or violent thoughts, I guarantee you that their problems are much more deep rooted, and won’t be solved with a costume or choreography change."
While Marshall didn't say the Mavericks Dancers were responsible for any harassment, she told the DMN that she just wants everyone to feel comfortable.
"If someone brings a 10-year-old to the game, I don't want them having to cover the kid's eyes during performances," Marshall told the DMN.
Dunn says that quote stung.
"Despite my decision to wear a two-piece Mavs uniform, I’m a role model, and I take that title very seriously," Dunn says. "The most rewarding part about being a Mavs Dancer was hearing young girls tell me that they want to be like me when they grow up. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dressing modest or changing the style of dance, but blaming the dancers for the behaviors of front-office employees is irresponsible."
Dunn, who considers herself a feminist, believes making women change the way they look and present themselves leads to much bigger issues.
"Once you begin to teach young girls that their body is something to be ashamed of, that's when insecurity takes over, eating disorders happen, and girls grow up to hate their bodies," she says. "I know that may sound intense, but these are the types of things we need to think about when turning sexual and domestic violence into a discussion about women’s bodies. We are now sending a subconscious (and very powerful) message to the younger generation, and the decision to blame the dancers is reckless. I don’t know how much longer we are going to keep using women as a scapegoat for criminal acts and harassment, but I like to think that this discussion will move us towards the right place."
Dunn has an idea for changing the culture of the dancers. And it doesn't involve their uniforms.
"Consider hiring them on as a full-time marketing team, giving them insurance benefits and paying them what they’re worth," she says.
Dunn says the dancers are paid $50 per appearance and $7.50 per hour of practice but for a two-hour maximum, meaning dancers could only earn $15 for practices. Two-hour pay, but practice would typically last from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Dunn says.
Dunn can't remember how much she was paid for games, but she says the Mavericks could only afford 12 women to dance per game, even though the squad consisted of 18 to 22 women.
"So to cut down the costs they would have us audition for every game, and if you made both dances you would get paid," Dunn says. "Even if you were only in one dance, you still had to be there at the same time and put in the same amount of work as the others, however, you would not get paid. If more than 12 girls made both dances, then they would 'rotate pay,' which means that you could show up at the game, dance in both dances, yet still not get paid while 12 of your teammates were."
Dunn estimates she was paid for five games during her three-season career as a dancer. During her last season, she says she earned about $1,000.
The Dallas Mavericks organization wasn't granting any interviews on the topic when we reached out, but Marshall offered a statement.
“The Mavs Dancers and all of our entertainment groups are a part of the Mavericks family," Marshall says via the statement. "They are also a part of this culture transformation and will live by the same mission, vision and values that any Mavs staff member or player will live by. When I came into the Mavs organization, I said that the Dallas Mavericks will be the NBA standard for diversity and inclusion by 2019 — and I believe that the Dancers are a big part of that. We want our Mavs Dancers and all of our entertainment groups to continue to be the best in the NBA, on and off the court and in the community.”
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Kitty Carter, a Dallas dance studio owner who has trained professional dancers, says it will take more than just a costume change to change the Mavs culture.
“My hat goes off to Mark Cuban for the house cleaning, especially in these more delicate times of the #metoo movement," Carter says. "You would have to do a complete overhaul of a brand like the Dallas Maverick Dancers, which would be a little more than a costume and choreography change. It’s an image of a legacy that has had a defined look and mentality of what is and isn’t allowed for years. Maverick fans are faithful followers of the team and of the girls that root them on. Either way you would have to completely clean house from the top — not just a couple of Band-Aids to truly make a difference."
Dunn encourages people to read the Sports Illustrated piece.
"Now, try explaining to your daughter exactly how the dancers caused Terdema Ussery to sexually harass multiple female employees or how they influenced Earl K. Sneed to beat up his girlfriend," she says. "Sickening, right?"