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Just Bring It… Okay?

Posted on 3rd October 2009. One Comment

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 Lulu Trask , member of the Durham University Cheerleading Squad rails against the vacuous Cheerleader stereotype..

It’s not all pom-poms and Kirsten Dunst.

ferrari-f1-15When I googled ‘cheerleading’, each result defined cheerleading as a sport.  Even Wikipedia, the lecturers nightmare and the students best friend defines it as such, whilst at the same time stating that “Cheerleading has not yet been recognised as a sport in the UK”.  So why is it that something requiring not only athletic talent but emotional and physical strength is constantly overlooked?

I am a member of the Durham Divas, the Durham University Cheerleading Squad. Many people I speak to in Durham either do not know that the University even has a cheerleading squad, or, if aware of our existence, are utterly oblivious to what we actually do. Not only do we support our sports teams at games, but we are also a competitive cheerleading squad. We are two-time UK national champions and over the past two years have won 11 trophies. Why is it, then, that we are not considered athletes, and our successes overlooked? The answer – the cinematic creation of a stereotype that portrays cheerleaders as people with no real athletic ability.

 ”Physically you have to be able to throw someone 10ft in the air..”

But why is this the case? I have been on the Durham University cheerleadingferrari-f1-15 squad for two years, and not once have I come across anyone remotely nasty, unintelligent, or untalented, or in other words, someone who fits the well-known stereotype. To me, cheerleading is not prancing round, waving pom poms, whilst doing a dance more appropriate for MTV than for its actual spectators. No, cheerleading is strength. It is a sport that requires a physical and emotional ability, as well as talent, trust and passion.

Physically, you have to be able to throw someone 10ft in the air. Emotionally, you have to be prepared to be thrown 10ft in the air, spin round, go upside down, and then get caught. You are literally trusting fellow team members with your life. NBC published information earlier this year showing that in the past 27 years, cheerleading accounted for 70.5% of fatal or severely disabling injuries in college sport in the USA. In no way am I stating that becoming a cheerleader is a death sentence, but rather, I am asserting that any cheerleader who walks through their gym doors onto the practice mat, has an emotional strength that is hidden behind a face of admirable determination.

In no way am I slandering the chick flick genre or high school televised dramas – I’m first in line at the cinema to see the next romantic comedy and I own more DVD box sets than anyone could imagine. I will say, however, that it is because of these American outlets that cheerleading is overlooked as a sport. Every film, every TV show, needs the popular girl, the nasty girl, the pretty girl, and it is often in the token cheerleader character that this girl is found. This girl has turned into the stereotypical cheerleader that we, as athletes, are perceived to be.

“Yes, Cheerleaders wear short skirts, but so does Maria Sharapova…”

ferrari-f1-15She is nasty, has fake blonde hair, a full face of make-up, a short skirt, the IQ of a pom pom and a body that appears constantly airbrushed. Yes, I am a fake blonde, my cheer skirt is short but I can safely say that is as close as I, or anyone I know, could ever get to that famous stereotype. Why is it, then, that other sports holding similarities to cheerleading do not have to bear the weight of these stereotypes? Yes, cheerleaders wear short skirts, but so does Maria Sharapova and her fellow competitors. Yes, cheerleaders’ uniforms do not always cover up much of the body, but nor do those of gymnasts. Yes, as a cheerleader I put a lot of effort into my appearance on the day of a competition, but so does Ronaldo (a scary amount of attention has been paid to the plucking of his eyebrows). None of these sports or their athletes, however, are thought of as stupid or their talent disregarded. The difference? They are all long-established, highly televised sports. Cheerleading, as a relatively new sport, is not as highly respected, nor is it as highly established in the UK. As a result, others look to American television and cinema, and ironically, the country that established cheerleading as a sport, presents us with a stereotype that consequently hinders its status.

 Just like any other sports team, we train for hours every week, we have a captain who puts an enormous amount of time and effort into choreographing routines, and each and every member of our squad has the passion that is needed to be part of such a physically demanding and time consuming sport. It is the passion of each individual member that has resulted in the squad’s title as two-time UK national champions. Cheerleading is a rapidly growing, and I am one of an estimated 100,000 people currently taking part. I can only hope that its growing popularity will be partnered with the disintegration of the stereotype that has been the cause of cheerleading being overlooked as a sport, and its members overlooked as athletes.

Lulu Trask

 

One Comment »

  • Torrance Shipman said:

    What is a sport? A lot of it is just semantics, there are common factors among the activities that we call sport, rather than arts or hobbies.

    Any sport needs an goal or objective. How well this objective is defined depends on the sport. It could be a physical goal, crossing a finishing line or hitting a ball into an opposing court such that your opponent cannot return it.

    Some sports have a narrower goal, in which the participants strive to perform some task as close to an imagined ideal as possible. Gymnastics is an example of this, but note that the tasks are very well defined and the participants are marked according to their execution of those tasks – as far as possible, gymnastics remains an objective sport. Judged, but with less room provided for subjectivity than, say, dance.

    The difference between sport and art is one of objectivity. Some sports are more objective than others, but all participants know what they are aiming for and are measured by their progress towards that goal, that ideal.

    Cheerleaders are not marked on their ability to execute a perfect lift in isolation. The whole performance is marked as a single entity, and the range of variables considered is huge. I recently watched a college competition in which one team was very creative and original, and had a lot of passion. Some of the moves blew my mind. The other team was very tight on timing, while still demonstrating that quasi-indefinable quality called ‘Cheer Spirit’.

    That isn’t an easy judgment to make.

    Imagine if a tennis score could be overruled by the fact that one player showed more ‘Tennis Spirit’. Imagine if a gymnast was marked down because they didn’t look like they were enjoying their performance.
    Imagine if a football score was augmented by an additional judgment of the flair and grace, and originality in tactics that the team showed on the pitch.

    The sheer amount of subjectivity in cheerleading, the fusion of creativity and original choreography with technical, athletic skill, means that it simply cannot be considered a sport. But this shouldn’t be something to challenge, it should be something to celebrate.

    By arguing that it should be considered a sport, I feel that you’re selling out the very concept of cheerleading. You’re arguing in the wrong direction. Nobody argues that the study of English should be performed in the science faculty. Why strive to define tightly something that is enjoyable to watch and perform, when it’s current state is still ill-defined enough to surprise and delight you?

    Cheerleading as an exiting and athletic form of dance performed by a large team. It’s fantastic as it is. But if you want to call it a sport, you’re going to have to step your game up. And I don’t mean ‘Yo GAME!’, I mean those elements which make it work as a competitive game in the first place.

    Just don’t bother bringing the spirit… Okay?