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AN ENGLISH ROSE IN GEORGIA –

By Lesley Francis

THE WORLD OF CHEERLEADING

I have lived in Coastal Georgia for nearly 15 years and have been with my American husband for more than quarter of a century, so I thought there was little about America and high levels of American enthusiasm I had not seen by now. I was wrong. A couple of weeks ago we went to support our youngest granddaughter, who is a beautiful and athletic 9 year old, in her latest extracurricular activity which is what she describes as ‘Cheer’. I was not expecting the razzmatazz, excitement, high emotions and sheer noise levels of the event. 

My expectations were more aligned with the Grease movies, set in the 1950s, when the cheerleaders of the fictional Rydell High School wore modest red and white uniforms as they cheered on the football team.  Of course, I knew that Competitive Cheer Dance was a little different. It took off in the 1990s as competitive teams formed outside of the school system to take part in year-long competitions.  Although the basic moves and actions are the same in cheerleading and cheer dance, it really was much different to what I had expected!  

Cheerleading began in American universities in the 1880s.  This male sport began with chanting and clapping to encourage their colleges’ football teams during games and to inspire audience participation. During World War II, as men were pulled away from college and into military service, women students began to take over cheerleading, and the nature of the sport began to change, with more of an emphasis on physical attractiveness and costumes.  Some groups, like the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, have become superstars in their own right. As it modestly says on their website, they are “America’s sweethearts!  As pioneers of their sport, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders are an iconic symbol of America and a major global brand that has transformed sports entertainment forever.” 

By the 1960s cheerleaders were predominantly female and collegiate cheer teams began to travel to competitions and perform cheer routines with tumbling, jumping and complex athletic stunts. Cheerleaders are still an active part of high school and college athletics, where they raise the spirits and excite the crowd at sporting events.  Cheerleaders also take part in parades and other community events.  Competitive Cheer Dance, however, takes this to an a completely different level since the dancers are not part of the supporting act but instead take center stage. 

As I have discovered, cheer dancers are not associated with another sport like football or basketball.  They have similar skills to cheerleaders – chanting, clapping, stunts and tumbling – but they do this over an intense few minutes, choreographed and synchronized to energizing music. It is extremely competitive with prizes and travel to competitions at weekends.  It takes a lot of time and commitment from the whole family, and the expenses are significant.  It is clear though that there is a real feeling of being part of a ‘cheer family’ with close friendships and bonds forged, and these girls, as well as a handful of boys, clearly need to be very fit and athletic to participate.  The parents really get into the events, wearing “Cheer Mom and Dad” attire, dressing in the team colors, including wigs and hats, with a lot of bell ringing, shouting, and jumping up and down.  I must admit that my British reserve kicked in and I could not really participate in all the excitement, but I did love watching our granddaughter perform.  I am glad she enjoys it and am very proud of her but I was ready for a nice quiet cup of tea at home after all the excitement! 

There is a lot more information at www.rookieroad.com/cheerleading.  

I like this quote from the late British actress, daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and wife of Laim Neeson – the very talented Natasha Richardson:  “Cheerleading is life, you must give it your all, and always strive to be on top. It teaches you so much, from how to be a team player, leadership, dedication, confidence, and many other qualities”.  I will try to keep this in mind while watching my granddaughter being hoisted 12 feet into the air by her Cheer Team! 

God Bless America and Happy Thanksgiving! 

– ENDS – 

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or via her full-service marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com.