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A brief History of Cheerleading, Cheerleaders and their Uniforms
The Weird Glamour of the Cheerleader
As an English male, although I know little about American football, the concept of the cheerleader has a strange fascination for me.
You see, we have no equivalent in the British Isles. The nearest thing is probably the old fashioned beauty contestant but they were banned from our TV screen years ago for being ‘politically incorrect’.
So we Brits watch our Premiership football with no female flesh, sexy uniforms, pom poms or high kicks in view. The nearest thing to glamour in English soccer is a glimpse of the footballer’s Wives And Girlfriends (WAGs) seated in the director’s box.
Therefore our English perception of cheerleaders comes primarily via High School Movies or an occasional chance viewing of the Super Bowl highlights on UK TV. Again British culture doesn't include the American High School or the cliché characters that inhabit them, such as the jocks and cheer leaders.
To the British, therefore, the cheerleader is an exotic bird in flamboyant plumage, slightly weird but glamorous and not part of our everyday experience or our local wildlife.
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Born in the USA
In America, cheer leading is often described as a sport in its own right with serious national competitions to chose the best teams.
Cheer leading includes elements of tumbling, dance, jumps and stunts and was originally intended to encourage the crowd to support and cheer on their own team.
There are literally millions of Americans actively involved in cheer leading making it one of the nation’s most popular pastimes. There are also around 100,000 active cheerleaders in other parts of the world including the UK.
Unfortunately, I haven’t located any British ones yet or where they practice. Incidentally, my closest encounter with real cheerleaders came some years ago when I was at a conference in Chicago.
A sign in the hotel lobby announced the HoneyPots (sweetly named cheerleaders of the Chicago Bears) were practicing in the hotel that evening. I saw them arriving in their winter coats (Chicago is ice cold in November) but unfortunately the practice session was held in private!
Did you know the 2011 Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers is the first game since 1968 NOT to feature cheerleaders? So read on to get your fix of those pom pom waving girls!
Brief History of Cheer Leading and Cheer Leaders
Cheer leading originated at the University of Minnesota around 1898 when a student, Johnny Campbell, directed a crowd to chant and cheer. This developed into a ‘yell leader squad’ of 6 male students.
By 1923 women began to get involved too, partly due to the relative lack of college sports for girls. Megaphones and gymnastics were added around this time and today around 97% of cheerleaders are female although there is a much high proportion of men involved at college level.
During the 1960s National Football League (NFL) teams began to introduce cheerleaders. The first being the Baltimore Colts. In the 1970s the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders became particularly popular with their rauncy dance moves and revealing outfits.
More exposure followed (those revealing uniforms again) when they performed at the 1976 Super Bowl and they established a trend where NFL cheerleaders became more like professional dancers and no longer directly encouraged the crowd to chant or cheer.
Meanwhile, traditional cheer leading began to incorporate more complex moves and stunts and the National High School Cheer leading Competition was first televised nationwide in 1983.
Today, cheer leading is most closely associated with American football and basketball. Major League Baseball first included cheerleaders in 2003 while the ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup, held in South Africa in 2007, was the first international cricket tournament to have cheerleaders.
Sociology of the Cheerleader
Cheerleaders are one of the major icons of the American Dream. Healthy, fit, happy young women who occupy traditional, small-town America. A land of celebration, healthy innocence, patriotism, God, Motherhood and Apple Pie.
But today they can also be found in an altogether wilder frontier where pubescent sensual fantasy and seduction clash with the raw sexuality of the lap dancer. But fortunately the wholesome innocence remains.
Even the raunchiest of cheerleaders perform in the fresh air before an open sky to cheering crowds and razzmatazz. Meanwhile their darker sisters, lap dancers and strippers, perform in a more private, secret and shadowy setting to the applause of dollar bills.
What do you think about Cheerleading and Cheerleaders?
You can measure something of the hold that the Cheerleader has on the American Psyche by the study of movies, books and magazines. Cheerleader movies are almost a cinema genre in their own right.
There is the somewhat cheesy, feel-good Bring It On (2000) movie franchise staring Kirsten Dunce. This movie was followed by the unimaginatively titled Bring It On Again, followed by Bring It On - All or Nothing and finally Bring It On - In It To Win It.
While the darker side of cheer leading is reflected in Cheerleader Camp (Horror) and darker Movies like Death of a Cheerleader.
The Internet features several sites offering papers and essays for sale relating to cheer leading studies. This indicates 2 alarming facts:
- That Cheerleading is a subject for serious academic study
- That many studying cheer leading are happy to cheat
Perhaps an indication that many cheerleaders find the practical side of things easier than the academic.
Some may say the very existence of cheerleaders is sexist. Some that the art and sport of cheer leading is trivial and belongs only in history books.
But in these recessionary, downturn times isn't anything that celebrates youth, beauty, fitness and success worthwhile?
Isn't this simple expression of exuberance and joy a good thing? If only to recapture the American Dream and make older men like me feel young again?
So ladies, get out there and buy some pom poms and a cheer leading outfit today. Then send morale in your house through the roof with an impromptu cheer in the living room.
That should get the man in your life on his feet and out of his comfy chair in front of the TV. Of course, what you do with him next is entirely up to you!