It’s not often that two Harvard graduates share an NBA court together. But when Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks visited the Washington Wizards on Feb. 8, another product of the Ivy League school — the Wizard Girls’ Joanna Zimmerman — was cheering from the sidelines.
Zimmerman graduated from Harvard in 2010 and first met Lin, whose performances have caught worldwide attention and dazzled NBA fans, on campus. They once lived in the same housing complex, and the two became good friends.
“He is driven and humble, with an unparalleled work ethic,” Zimmerman told The Daily Caller. “He is the kind of person you root for and want to see do well. I’m really excited for him, that he’s finally able to display his talents.”
Zimmerman’s own talents have allowed her the best of both worlds. When she’s not dancing at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, she’s a full-time teacher at an elementary school in the nation’s capital.
The social anthropology major also completed a minor in economics, leaving Massachusetts with not only a degree but 18 years of experience in different dance genres. A coveted spot on the Wizard Girls roster gave her the creative outlet she was looking for.
“I was looking for a way to pursue a high level of dancing … [and] juggle having a full time job, so I thought that this was a nice opportunity for me to be able to do both,” said Zimmerman.
Derric Whitfield, the Wizard Girls dance team manager and choreographer, told TheDC that Wizard Girls need more than just skills and beauty to make the team.
Finding overall “well-rounded” women for the team, he said, “lets you know that they’re responsible women, that they’re reliable, that they’re good to work with. It shows character.”
Zimmerman was a member of the Harvard Crimson Dance Team, the in-house cheer squad for basketball games.
“I was a cheerleader and cheered for eight years and always loved watching basketball, loved cheering for basketball,” Zimmerman said, adding that she was always “looking for a way to pursue a high level of dancing.”
At the same time, though, her teaching job proves that there’s more to life than dancing. “I do have other types of more professional aspirations, so I think balancing the two is good for me for right now,” she explained.
Being a professional cheerleader has its perks, but the profession also comes with its own peculiar stereotypes.
One organization, called “Science Cheerleaders,” brings current and former professional cheerleaders together to “playfully challenge” the idea that women like Zimmerman are all blonde, bubbly, and brain dead. The organization highlights America’s brainiest pom-pom shakers, including chemical engineers, computer whizzes, biologists and more — all with professional cheerleading jobs.
“It’s the only opportunity to bridge really these two different worlds,” said Science Cheerleaders founder Darlene Cavalier, a former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader. “I think the women really enjoy doing this, and when alumni come out and support [them] I think everyone feels like they’re making an impact.”
Zimmerman is not a member, but she is familiar with the program. And while her professional future is as unclear as any recent college graduate’s, she sees herself dancing with the Wizard Girls while her teaching career develops.
“Growing up in Detroit and being a product of the Detroit public school system, I’ve seen a lot of things wrong,” Zimmerman said.
“Where I work now is a fabulous school, very well run. So I’m learning a lot about how schools should be run, and I would love to pursue [a] policy-making type avenue later on.”