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Cheered Up: You Can Be a Dancer and a Lawyer

“I'm going to tell you something I wish I had told my younger self: Don't stop dancing.”

December 1, 2022
by Rachel Schuster ’17, J.D. ’23 as told to Margie Cullen, M.J. ’22
Drawing of Schuster (Illustration by Monica Hellström)

When I was really young, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Basically, my immune system started eating away at the good, strong tissues in my joints and weakened my important muscles. The doctors encouraged my parents to put me in sports as a kind of physical therapy. I didn’t like anything with a ball, so they put me in a dance class instead. I fell in love with it. I was obviously terrible because my joints and muscles were messed up. I also clapped offbeat, always faced the wrong way … I was just super bad. But the great thing about dance at that age is that it’s just for fun. It also helped my body so much by building muscles and working on flexibility, and I actually went into remission ten years later, which my doctors never thought would happen. So, in a way, dance saved my life. 

I thought I had to stop dancing at Berkeley because I would have to spend all my time studying. That lasted about a week. Then I joined five different dance groups on campus. My senior year, I joined the Cal Dance Team, where I fell in love with sports and being part of a team. I wanted to continue after graduation, so my best friend and I tried out for the Golden State Warriors Dance Team.

The first audition you go to is extremely overwhelming. You walk in and see hundreds of gorgeous women with six-pack abs vying for 20 spots. You learn a routine, you perform it in small groups, the judges make cuts, and repeat, plus an interview and a freestyle to a random song. Sometimes you get lucky and the song will be, like, a popular Dua Lipa song. But when I auditioned for an NFL cheer team last year, my freestyle song was a rock cover remix of a slow Ed Sheeran song. But you have to show you can think on your feet and be professional, so 
I smiled and made it work!

My third season dancing for the Warriors was during my first year of law school at Berkeley, and I realized that a full NBA schedule wasn’t sustainable. I ended up auditioning for a Bay Area NFL cheer team; I’m currently in my second season with them. There isn’t a specific game that sticks out to me the most, but during the NBA Finals in 2019, I remember dancing to a Beyoncé song, looking up, and seeing Beyoncé right in front of me. I could’ve inhaled her scent. In the pro dance world, you have so many moments like that, where you’re like, wow, what 
I do is really freaking cool. 

There were also moments towards the end of my time with the Warriors where we as a team pushed to have a bigger voice and transform what it means to be a cheerleader. In June 2020, we wanted to step up and do something to advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead of being just girls with sparkly uniforms who shake pom-poms, we leaned into our ambassador role. We made testimonials with different perspectives on what racial justice means, and highlighted the voices of our Black dancers. More recently, too, there’s been a trend where cheerleaders are starting to talk about their professions outside of dance. On my current team, several girls are EMTs or frontline workers, and we were able to highlight them during the games for the amazing work they did during the pandemic. Generally, I think the cheer world is rebranding, showing that we are more than people think. 

My law school classmates don’t know I’m a cheerleader. I don’t bring it up because as much as I want to fight the prejudice against cheerleaders, I know that it exists. But one of my professors knows. She is a former professional ballerina. I talked to her when I realized I couldn’t handle both dancing in the NBA and law school; I told her, “I’m worried about balance, but I already miss dancing. What should I do?” She said, “I’m going to tell you something I wish I had told my younger self: Don’t stop dancing.”

I’m really grateful for her because otherwise, I don’t think I would have danced in the NFL. I needed to hear that from somebody who was not only a dancer, but a very distinguished attorney and professor because if she could do it, then I knew I could too.

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