NBA Dancer Claims She Was Given a 'Jiggle Test' as Others Recall Developing Eating Disorders
Fifteen women, all of whom are former NBA dancers, are speaking out about what they call a “decades-long culture of brainwashing.”
Detailing claims of body shaming and the perpetuation of an unhealthy body image, the women came forward with their past incidents, telling Yahoo! Lifestyle about their experiences as entertainers in franchises including the Milwaukee Bucks, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, Charlotte Hornets, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic.
Lauren Herington, formerly a one-year member of the Bucks Dancers, alleged her coach said she thought Herington looked “questionable” weight-wise and had instructed her to put on the team’s spandex uniform in order to perform a “jiggle test” in front of the team. Herington was 18 years old.
“She’d come up and grab underneath my butt or the side of my belly. She’d be like, ‘Lose 5 lbs. by tomorrow and you’ll be fine,’ ” Herington told Yahoo! Lifestyle.
Her comments come three years after she brought a class-action lawsuit against the Bucks in 2015. In her suit, she alleged that the dancers were paid as little as $3-$4 an hour after covering costs of required beauty routines, like spray tans and manicures.
At that time, Herington told The Guardian that weight restrictions set by the dance team left her “dehydrating and starving” herself to fit into her uniform.
The Bucks eventually settled Herington’s suit, paying a total of $250,000 in lost wages to 40 dancers. In a statement to Yahoo! Lifestyle, the Bucks said they take all of the allegations “very seriously” but “have found no evidence to support these claims.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, Bucks’ Senior Vice President of Communications Barry Baum tells PEOPLE: “We treat our dancers with the utmost respect and professionalism and value their contributions as ambassadors of our team on and off the court. We are committed to ensuring that all of our employees have a safe and welcoming environment. In recent years we have made improvements to our dancers’ compensation plan to ensure that we pay our dancers fairly. We have the highest regard for our dancers and consider them an important part of our organization.”
As Herington continues to speak out, others are coming forward publicly for the first time.
Many of those who spoke with Yahoo! Lifestyle also described facing regular weigh-ins and body-fat assessments or “weight probation” or “weight warning” as consequences for appearing to be over a “goal weight.”
“I would say that I definitely had an eating disorder,” said Sydney Sorenson, a former member of the Utah Jazz Dancers, who “came up with all these methods to weigh in smaller” at monthly weigh-ins.
Madison Murray, a former member of the Phoenix Suns Dancers, recalled a conversation she had with management over concerns regarding her weight.
“It was my dream for 15 years, so I put it on a pedestal. I knew it would be a lot of hard work and that never scared me, but I never knew how much of a toll it would take on my confidence,” Murray said. “That was a really hard thing. Once you get in that position, you want to do everything you can to keep it. But it takes a toll … it was a rough life.”
Another NBA dancer, Ana Ogbueze of the Charlotte Hornets’ Honey Bees, told Yahoo! Lifestyle that she “felt the need to starve myself,” adding that she had to keep a mandatory food log regarding her diet.
Meanwhile, Kathryn Dunn, formerly of the Dallas Mavericks Dancers, said she once “walked in on another girl on the team [who] passed out in the bathroom … because she had been throwing up her food.”
Speaking on the NBA’s “obsession with body image,” former Utah Jazz dancer Chenelle Young told Yahoo! Lifestyle, “I don’t think everyone thinks a tiny, 90-lb. girl is sexy. … So I don’t understand why [the NBA] thinks everyone needs to be that.”
Reps from the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, Charlotte Hornets, L.A. Clippers and Dallas Mavericks did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
Spokespeople for the Hawks and Magic declined to comment to PEOPLE.
A spokesperson for the Jazz tells PEOPLE: “The Jazz dancers are valued employees for their work as part of the game night experience and many hours spent as community ambassadors. Back in 2012, our organization reevaluated the program and made substantive changes that foster a positive and healthy work environment. We addressed healthy living issues where fitness and personal well-being are emphasized and the dancers now set their own weight and body assessment goals. Leadership changed with our dancers now under the direction of a former Jazz dancer. We also changed the pay structure, compensating them for hours spent at practice, games, travel and community appearances instead of a flat fee. Past issues have clearly been recognized and improved upon over the years to reflect better treatment and appreciation of the Jazz dancers.”
A spokesperson for the Mavericks told Yahoo! Lifestyle that the team eliminated “outdated image industry practices” regarding weight “several years ago,” further adding in a statement:
“A previous version of our contract contained a single clause that mentioned a weight policy. This policy provided that dancers were to remain within [5 lbs.] of their determined performance weight. … Image concepts like this were prevalent and previously accepted in the industry; however, not anymore at the Mavs.”