Three Cheers For the Dancers

Dancers in New York are an intrepid bunch – they have to be to get things done. So when ESPN branded them cheerleaders without a cause, the cable sports network might not have known just whom it was messing with.

The response from one dance group in particular was swift and effective. Dance/NYC, a branch of Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance, spoke with ESPN a number of times about the ad, eventually getting the attention of marketing chief Lee Ann Daly. “The intention [of the ad] was to be humorous, I have no doubt,” says Dance/NYC director Bob Yesselman. “But to people who spend their whole lives training for a career that can last just 10 or 15 years, to call them ‘just dancers’ really was very offensive.”
Yesselman says ESPN declined to apologize publicly but is promising two things. First, it will have its agency, Wieden + Kennedy in New York, create an ad to run in The New York Times and in Dance magazine showing a football player performing a balletic catch; the headline will read, “Without sports, we’d see dance only on stage.” Second, it will strike the cheerleader ad from the next round of the “Without Sports” effort, due in October. “They were extremely responsive,” Yesselman says of ESPN (and of Daly in particular). “I must say, I had girded myself for quite a fight.”

What about the ads that are still up? Someone has that covered. As reported in the Times’ Metropolitan Diary last week, stickers have been strategically placed over the work in some subway cars. The resulting headline, which may or may not bring protests from cheerleaders, reads: “Without dance, they’d just be trophies.”