Being an NBA cheerleader may seem like a glamorous gig, as depicted in the VH1 drama Hit The Floor, which centers on the lives of the league’s dancers for the Los Angeles Devils and the glitz and scandals that come with it. However, the girls’ intense performances and hectic work schedule end once the cameras stop rolling but for Jemila Worley, current dancer for the Philadelphia 76ers, this is real-life.
After joining the Sixers dancers in 2013 and working with the team for three seasons (she visited China twice on the road and sang the national anthem for the 2016 season opener after Sevyn Streeter’s performance was canceled over her “We Matter” jersey), Worley turned her love for dance, which started at age three, into a career. Add a full-time course load as an occupational therapy graduate student at Stockton University coupled with the demands of a professional NBA dancer’s schedule are enough to make the average dream-chaser fold under pressure but the Atlantic City native somehow manages to make self-care a priority.
Below, her sweat. recently spoke with Worley about landing her gig as a Sixers dancer and her daily fitness routine.
Let’s talk about your journey. How did you end up with the Sixers?
I first went to Widener University. It was a very small school and they didn’t have a dance team. I wanted to be a part of a team again because growing up, I was a part of a lot of competition teams and I was used to having a team all the time. I auditioned for the Philadelphia Eagles two times in a row and I didn’t make the team. One of my friends was on the 76ers dance team and I was always a Sixers fan but I didn’t know too much about basketball so I didn’t necessarily think I’d make the team. So my friend told me that auditions were coming up and I might as well come out and try so I agreed. I made the team.
Given your experience, what type of qualities or characteristics does one need to excel as a professional dancer?
I cannot speak for everyone, but there are a few qualities that I believe are very important. First, having a positive attitude and having confidence in yourself is most important, because in this industry, you will not always book every job that you audition for. It takes a bubbly person to succeed in this industry, as many dance teams and companies look for dancers that have a lot of personality, especially while performing.
Any pregame rituals you do to get you pumped before a performance?
I always pray. I’m usually praying from the moment I leave school until the moment we go out on the court. It relaxes me and it’s my time to get centered and focused.
Switching gears to fitness, what are some of your favorite exercises?
I mostly do light weight lifting. I’ll do an arm set but my set would be a 10 to 11-minute arm set consistently, non-stop with two pound weights. A lot of people don’t realize when you’re holding two pounds consistently and doing 10 reps of five different arm exercises, it’s actually working more of your muscles in more places than if you’re doing two sets of one workout using 20 to 30 pound weights. I can work out and use heavy weights two days in a row and the next day, I have these giant arms. [Laughs]. I don’t like to bulk up, I just like to be toned and lean.
I guess my favorite workout would be the glute bridge because that is the best glute activator and hamstring activator in the world. If I’m going to do legs, I always start with a glute bridge and I’ll even add weight on the third set so I as hip thrust forward, it activates my glutes even more; I can’t start a leg day workout without doing a glute bridge.
Least favorite exercise?
I will never, ever, ever use a free weight bar and add weight on it to squat or lift because it adds so much pressure on your back and being that I’m in occupational therapy school, I’m very aware of body mechanics and the things that are going to impact your body as you age. It’s very easy to have incorrect form or even if you have correct form when you’re using the bar bell, you can hurt your lower back easily.
Walk me through one of your daily workouts.
Two times a week, I like to do glute exercises with a resistance band and then two other times a week, I do just glutes, hamstrings and quads. The days I use resistance bands, I’ll do my hip flexors, hip abductor and gluteus minimus. When I do my quads, I usually do quads, inner thighs and tabata.
Do you follow a strict diet?
I do not but I try not to eat a lot of meat. I have to eat a lot of carbs and protein because if I don’t eat a lot, I’ll lose a lot of weight in a few days; I need the carbs because I’m so active. I usually try to stick with the same breakfast rotation because breakfast is the most important part of your day – it sets the tone for how the rest of your day is going to be and how you’re going to feel. I also don’t like to eat late so I cut it off at about eight o’clock.
With your busy schedule, what types of dishes do you cook?
Mostly chicken – baked chicken, grilled chicken, fish, salmon. I usually eat egg salads for lunch.
What are your plans for the remainder of 2017?
I have a year left of grad school so finishing up that but mainly making sure I’m focusing on my health and eating better. Also, not working myself to death because I tend to overwork and just having more time for myself and my family. I guess the biggest plan for 2017 is making sure I’m not overwhelming myself so I have time to enjoy the little things because that’s what’s important.