Ten former members of the University of Southern California‘s Song Girls dance team have described a toxic environment which left some of the squad developing eating disorders and even feeling suicidal.
The dancers spoke out after their longstanding coach resigned amid a Title IX investigation and allegations that she forced the team to wear make up and Victoria’s Secret padded bras.
Eight of those who spoke to The LA Times say they saw counselors as a result of their time with the squad, who perform at the school’s football and basketball games as well as other sporting events.
Others describe comments on how they looked or what they ate.
The team’s contract reportedly told the girls they could not gain more than 5lb from their audition weight.
Some say they were told to dye their hair blonde to the point of it falling out and to buy a Victoria’s Secret padded bra.
One girl said her experience left her suicidal; others allege they were dropped from the team after complaining about their treatment. Another says she was even falsely accused of having sex another student during a team trip.
Some of these complaints led last year to the resignation of coach Lori Nelson. The 63-year-old former Song Girl took over the team from founder Lindley Bothwell.
Adrianna and Bella Robakowski. Ten former members of the University of Southern California’s Song Girls dance team have described developing eating disorders, being forced to wear make up and even feeling suicidal after their longstanding coach was forced to resign
USC Trojans Song Girl Alexa Trujillo pictured in 2013. Eight of those who spoke to The LA Times say they saw counselors as a result of their time with the squad who perform at the school’s football games, basketball games and other sporting events.
Josie Bullen is pictured. Others describe comments on how they looked or what they ate
Nelson’s lawyer told DailyMail.com: ‘Ms. Nelson vehemently and unequivocally denies the harmful and misleading allegations made against her.
‘Ms. Nelson has well-documented communications between team members and her, and she acted in a professional manner in enforcing team policies that were agreed upon by university supervisors and general counsel.
‘These are false allegations embellished for a bombastic news story. She did nothing wrong.’
But Josie Bullen, who joined USC in 2017, told The LA Times she was treated for an eating disorder following her time on the squad.
Lori Nelson (center-right) and Diana De Bruhl (center-left) with USC Song Girls in June 2015
Allegations into mistreatment were first reported last year; that led to an investigation into ‘potential violations of the university’s non-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policy by Ms. Nelson’
Another dancer, Adrianna Robakowski, described the culture as ‘sick’. She joined two other girls in complaining to USC athletic director Mike Bohn in February last year.
And former Song Girl Alexa Trujillo, 27, said Nelson referenced her ‘appearance’ in discussing why she might have been cut from the team.
She said: ‘If you showed up to class, and you didn’t have makeup on somehow Lori would find out about it.’
Trujillo said she started to ‘compulsive exercise, diet, and spend a lot of money on a nutritionist’ after she lost her place on the team.
In defending Nelson other dancers have called her a ‘mother figure’ and said girls were picked on only talent.
But an unnamed girl said: ‘I’ve been doing this my whole life, and never, with the exception of this program, have ever I felt like, ‘Oh, I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m fat.’
Another added of Nelson: ‘She just instilled this fear.’
Mike Bohn pictured in 2019. Adrianna Robakowski described the culture as ‘sick’. She joined two other girls in complaining to USC athletic director Mike Bohn in February last year
Allegations into mistreatment were first reported last year; that led to an investigation into ‘potential violations of the university’s non-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policy by Ms. Nelson.’
USC said in a statement to DailyMail: ‘We are deeply concerned when any student experiences emotional or mental health challenges or other barriers to our educational programs and activities, and we offer both private and confidential support resources to current and former students.
‘While we are not able to discuss pending investigations or personnel matters, we can share that we are aware of concerns raised by current and former Song Girls and have been actively addressing them through the appropriate university process.’