Cheerleading has come a long way since the days of pom-poms and girls in short skirts. In fact, it is no longer just about supporting other sportsmen in their competitions, but is also a world of its own.
Competitive cheerleading routines typically consists of a few segments including tumbling (gymnastics), dance, jumps, cheers, stunts, and pyramids. The latter two are usually what first comes to mind when people think of competitive cheerleading.
Stunts in cheerleading comprises of two main players – flyers and bases. Flyers are those that are lifted into the air during a stunt, and bases are those supporting them on the ground. Oftentimes, spotters are also present to ensure the safety of the stunts, catching the flyers should they fall.
Pyramids are a different form of stunts where multiple tiers of people are involved (usually 2 ½ – 3). The flyers in a pyramid are known as the mid-tier and top-tier, with the former being the flyer that is directly on top of the bases, and the latter being the flyer right at the top of the pyramid.
More Than Just A Little Red Dot
For the first time, the Singapore Cheerleading Association gathered a team of cheerleaders to compete in the International Cheer Union (ICU) World Cheerleading Championships, held in Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida USA from 25-27 April this year.
The ICU World Cheerleading Championships is to cheerleaders what the Olympic Games are to athletes. Held annually, the ICU Worlds welcomes teams from countries all around the world to compete.
I approached a couple of the athletes with some questions to gain some insight into their journey toward the ICU Worlds. As a cheerleader myself, I hope that their journey helps tackle some of the common misconceptions of the sport and the people who participate in it.
Team SG’s journey to the international stage started back in July 2017 when they first tried out for the team.
Wei Sheng, a base in the national team, had this to say about the try outs: “Try-outs was exciting because you see different people coming in and performing their best.”
“It is like a mini competition. You have one try to either hit it nicely and cleanly, [thus making] it into the team, or you screw up at the moment.”
Eventually, the national team was formed, with 9 flyers and 16 bases made up of both tertiary students and working adults.
The team held trainings 2 to 3 times every week – which, according to some of the members, were physically demanding but fulfilling.
For Chen Simin, one of the flyers in Team SG, this meant having to take on a novel role as a mid-tier. Whether or not they were familiar with their roles in the team, they all had to learn quickly and work together in order to perfect the routine.
Forming The Dream Team
Cheerleading is a sport that requires teamwork above everything else – every member is crucial to the team.
This sentiment was reflected by both Simin and Wei Sheng, who acknowledged that one of the most challenging parts of the journey was the commitment to the training schedule. Being made up of students or working adults, the entire team had to juggle both school/work and cheerleading throughout the year.
This posed a challenge when some members were absent and they could not execute their stunts.
In spite of their challenges and setbacks, the team persevered and represented Singapore for the first time in the ICU Worlds.
On Competition Ground
This was the first time that the international cheerleading community had its eyes on Singapore’s cheerleading, and it was also the first time the cheerleaders got to experience being on an international stage.
The pressure was on them to make a lasting first impression and set the benchmark for future teams going into international competitions.
For them, this monumental moment came with its own rewards. Both athletes I interviewed expressed wholeheartedly positive sentiments about their experience.
Wei Sheng mentioned that his experience provided him with a “whole new perspective of cheerleading” where “the atmosphere [was] filled with positive vibes and competitors [were] supporting one another”.
Team SG certainly didn’t disappoint! They put up a stellar performance, making it through to the finals and eventually finishing in the Top Ten.
These athletes hope that their achievement in the ICU Worlds will bring forth a revitalisation of cheerleading in Singapore.
Wei Sheng wishes that the “cheer scene will slowly pick up like how it used to be” after the public has seen Team Singapore’s efforts in the ICU Worlds. Simin also hopes that more people will come to know about cheerleading and that their international participation will draw more young talents into the sport.
Eventually, they wish to see more Singaporean teams competing on an international level.
Just like any other sport, cheerleading comes with its risks. Common public perception is that cheerleading is a dangerous sport, with a high risk of injury. Ever since the unfortunate incidence of a cheerleader’s death back in 2014, doubt and wariness has surrounded cheerleading in Singapore.
However, safety measures in cheerleading have been continuously enforced and improved on since it has hit the shores of Singapore. The Cheerleading Association (Singapore) has set stringent safety measures to guide cheerleading both during competition and trainings.
Why Do You Cheer?
Cheerleading is by no means an easy sport. Despite being physically demanding, cheerleaders need to smile and seem enthusiastic (what is known as the “cheer face”) for the entire routine. They devote hours upon hours – for a routine that lasts only for a few minutes.
With that in mind, I ended off the e-mail interview by asking the two cheerleaders why they cheer in the first place.
For Wei Sheng, the reason he cheers are plentiful. To him, it’s a form of fitness, bonding, and a way to meet friends. His love for cheerleading specifically stems from his belief that it’s a sport that “will never end”, where there are always new skills to learn and master.
Simin feels that cheerleading brings her a great sense of achievement as she strives to do better each time. She gains encouragement from her loved ones, who are often impressed by the stunts she manages to hit during practices.
For her, it’s a form of escape from stress and in her words, it has become “a part of [her] life”.
Despite the numerous concerns and risks behind cheerleading, these athletes persevered and continue to do what they love. Hopefully, their foray into the ICU Worlds is just the beginning, and their journey will inspire a new generation of cheerleaders to excel and make Singapore’s name known in the world of cheerleading.