For 10 Sundays each year, members of the Bridgewater State University hip-hop dance team, Kinetic Edge, trade in their sleek dance costumes for polos and aprons.
The young women work concessions and clean up after events at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough to pay their way to the National Dance Association, the annual national competition for collegiate dancers. The job — which usually takes six to seven hours — pays around $100 per person.
“I'd rather work some extra hours and not have to pay for my airfare and hotel and competition fee … it is what it is, especially for us — that's how we make our money,” said Nicole Spruce, the club's president.
Kinetic Edge competes in national Division III competitions, but, unlike Bridgewater State's other Division III teams that receive funding from the school, the hip-hop dance crew has to fundraise its own way to the event.
And it's not an unusual circumstance for collegiate cheer and dance teams across Massachusetts. The cheer team at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and the cheer and dance teams at Boston University all represent their schools in national competitions, but they have to pay their own way to get there. Some even have to foot the bill for costumes and practice space.
Boston University’s dance team also works concessions at Gillette and cleans up Agganis Arena, the school’s hockey stadium and concert venue. Shanna Martinez, a former BU dance captain who graduated in 2022, said the team typically earned $700-$800 per cleanup at Agganis, a process that took four to five hours and ended as late as 3 a.m.
“We're supposed to practice and do all these other kinds of things for our team,” Martinez said. “But now we have to take time out of our schedule to go and clean the stadium for only a few hundred dollars, which, when you do the math, is not even minimum wage.”
It starts with team classification
The road to national competitions often begins with a cheer or dance team's classification within its school's athletics department, which can affect how much funding the team receives.
Kinetic Edge at Bridgewater State and the UMass Dartmouth cheer team are both considered club sports. The case is different at BU.
The BU cheer and dance teams are classified under BU Athletics, but they are not considered varsity sports. Instead, the teams are named part of the school's “spirit squads,” alongside the athletic bands. Unlike BU’s varsity teams, the spirit squads are not funded by BU Athletics for their national competitions, according to Brian Kelley, a spokesman for BU Athletics.
Kelley said cheer and dance are not considered varsity sports at BU because they’re not part of the NCAA.
“We fund them to provide a game day atmosphere for our basketball programs,” Kelley said. “Our funding isn't for them to compete nationally … [If] they want to go and compete at a national level, they surely need to find ways to raise money.”
According to Martinez, it cost anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 to send the dance team to nationals during her time on the team. The Daily Free Press, BU’s independent student newspaper, reported that members of the BU Cheer team had to pay $850 out of pocket to attend nationals during the 2022-23 season because they had a “debt of almost $10,000,” according to an alum who works with the team.
At BU, the men’s rowing and women’s lightweight rowing teams are also not part of the NCAA, but unlike the cheer and dance teams, they do not have to fundraise their way to national competitions.
“Rowing has an established history here and all the programs across the country, whether it's Ivy League or that. They are varsity sports,” Kelley said.
Bridgewater State's Kinetic Edge is considered a club sport, and Spruce says all of the money used to support the team comes from self funding.
UMass Dartmouth’s Division III cheer team faces similar funding hurdles. It costs about $20,000 to send the team to the National Cheerleading Association in Daytona, cheer President Jackie Horgan said. When the team requested that amount from the Student Government Association to fund its season, they received $7,700.
“It's a lot of money to raise, especially when we're all busy with classes and stuff like that,” Horgan said. “It's almost like a full time job trying to figure out what all that is coming from.” She is studying bioengineering and completing her master's degree at UMass Dartmouth.
“I spend more time doing stuff for cheer and figuring this stuff out than I do on my schoolwork,” she said.
The UMass Dartmouth SGA has begun discussions with university administration and athletics to "revamp club sports," SGA President Marshall MacDonald told GBH News. He said the cheer team's fundraising struggles were crucial to initiating the conversation.
Funding limitations also affect access to uniforms and equipment
Brenden Godino, a former captain of BU’s cheer team, said the team uses the same uniform for game days and competitions. They cost $200 to $350, and students are the ones paying.
“We're expected to cheer at these games, but we're not even given the basic necessity that uniforms will be covered,” Godino said.
At BU, Martinez said the team’s costumes are hand-me-downs.
“The costumes that we were wearing for game days were the same outfits that they were wearing 10+ years ago,” Martinez said. “The shirts were, like, not even red at that point. There were sweat stains in them; at that point, you can't even recover them.”
“The costumes that we were wearing for game days were the same outfits that they were wearing 10+ years ago. The shirts were, like, not even red at that point.”Shanna Martinez, a former BU dance captain
At UMass Dartmouth, “we did not have enough uniforms to fit the entire game team, so we were just going to games in a white t-shirt and black shorts,” Horgan said. “Then we got a nice email from athletics that said we were not allowed to be at the games anymore because we did not look good.”
When the mats used by the UMass Dartmouth cheer team for practice were deemed “unsafe,” the university would not pay to replace them, so the team could no longer practice in the gym.
Head coach Francis D’Ambrosio paid out of pocket for a new gym space.
“In football, if your helmet breaks, [athletics will] just hand you a new one,” D’Ambrosio said. “But because we’re not a varsity sport, they were not going to spend $8,000 to get us new mats.”
BU, Bridgewater State and UMass Dartmouth all host school-wide fundraisers for clubs, sports teams and other associations connected to the school, but Kinetic Edge found the most success raising money that way this year. The team raised more than $7,200 through Bridgewater State's school-wide fundraiser, the Crimson Pride Challenge, and received an extra $1,000 from the school because they raised the third-most of all sports teams, Spruce said.
Cheer and dance teams across Massachusetts say they’re looking for equal support.
At BU, that doesn’t look like the case. Kelley said funding will stay the same for BU’s cheer and dance teams.
“We have Boston written on our chests every single time we perform, every single time we go to a game,” said former BU cheer captain James La Rocca said. “And we just wanted them to support us like we were supporting them. And we really didn't see that our entire time.”