Cheerleading: The not so glamorous reality

Think it's all pom-poms and big smiles? Think again

Share

Glittery outfits, fluffy pom-poms, big smiles and plenty of pep: cheerleaders always look fabulous. Why wouldn’t all girls want to pick up some poms and dance about looking pretty for the gratification of men? Bleurgh. Believe it or not, this isn’t some 1950’s view of the female ideal, but is the gist of a suggestion by our sports and equalities minister, just this week.

Helen Grant said in an interview with the Telegraph that girls should be encouraged to take up cheerleading because it is a “feminine” sport. On the same day that the British women’s curling team won a medal at Sochi, she said she was worried that women were being put off sport because many make girls look unglamorous. Obviously this was met with anger. Of course men and women look unglamorous when playing sports. If you’re focussing on looking glamorous while doing a sport, you’re probably doing it wrong. Laura Bates from the Everyday Sexism project sums it up well: sport should be judged on success at the sport alone, not how you look when you’re doing it.

But, and this is a big but, I totally agree that girls and women should take up cheerleading, and I’m a feminist, FYI. I’m completely against the kind of cheerleading that Grant seems to be advocating, but the competitive sport known as cheerleading is adifferent beast. I’ve written before about cheerleading at the Olympics and argued the merits of cheerleading as a proper sport but now I’m going to go a step further and declare that it is a feminist sport and a wonderful thing for boys and girls to learn in school.

I’m talking about competitive cheerleading, not the silly, fluffy pom-pom shaking, semi-nude dancing you see at the edges of American football games. I mean cheerleading as a sport where men and women form a team, throw each other in the air, do back-flips and handstands and toe-touches and dance to fast music and then get judged against other teams doing the same thing. This sport, unfortunately, shares a name with the dancey-dancey-booty-shaky version enacted for titillation on the sidelines of men’s games, but it bears very little resemblance to competitive cheerleading.

Competitive cheerleading is the sport that I took part in and coached for a decade of my life and I can’t recommend it enough as a fun tool for teaching fairness, teamwork and gender equality at school. Cheerleading is equal to both genders: you can have mixed gender teams that compete against other mixed gender teams at a national and international level. There isn’t another physical sport that allows such gender parity. It’s also all about teamwork. Just as the striker in football needs a good winger to pass to him, a flyer (the one that goes in the air in the pyramid) relies on the bases (the ones doing the lifting) to work together to get him or her up there.

As for the glamorous part, I’m sorry to disappoint, Ms Grant, but it gets pretty messy on the competition floor. You need the stunts to stay up in the air for as long as possible, so if that means you’ve got a hand gripping tightly to your bum cheek or another cheerleader counter-balancing against your armpit, so be it. Like any sport, it involves determination, stamina and strength. Sweaty clothes, messy hair and – if you’re unlucky – some battle scars, are all part of that. Whether your sport of choice is running, boxing, curling or cheerleading, performance matters, not your appearance. In a world where women’s looks are constantly scrutinised, a haven like sport where women don’t have to worry about what they look like is something that should be celebrated, not shied away from.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own