The State of Cheerleading
Written by Jane CHAN
At 7 a.m. sharp, perplexed locals witness students pile into the Ma On Shan sports ground. Some take out their phones, videotaping the strange gathering. Some simply stare at the garishly colored skater skirts and knee-high socks, while some remain absorbed in Tai Chi, ignorant to their surroundings.
The cheerleaders themselves gather in their house groups, where the atmosphere can be summarised as follows: tense, electrifying, and brimming with the thrum of anticipation. The shrill yells of panicking choreographers echo across the sports pitch, as bleary-eyed cheerleaders attempt to coordinate their bodies in the absence of sleep and coffee.
For some choreographers, the end of the day will bring a conclusion to their 4-year long cheerleading ‘career’. For others, it marks one of the last moments of their secondary school career as they leave to other schools, or prepare for Year 13 exams.
Regardless, two months worth of planning and practicing eventually comes to an end on March 28, resulting in Ming being the victor of Cheer and Sports Day, concluding this product of so much anxiety amidst the usual stress of assessments and IB.
Cheerleading at RCHK began as a novelty event on Sports Day. The earliest surviving recording dating from 2012’s Swim Gala - a prehistoric dance routine to the then-viral Gangnam Style. Since then, the school has seen a progression in both quality and participation in their performances, spanning to include all year groups and dangerous stunts, such as full extension lifts, basket tosses, and assisted aerial layouts. It has also developed to become one of the most anticipated sports events during our annual Sports Day.
This is, no doubt, the result of increasing competitiveness and effort between the choreographers and cheerleaders themselves. Former Ming choreographer Nicole Yang (class of 2018), explains the increasing popularity of cheerleading through her perspective, reasoning that “cheerleading has become a legacy project… usually [potential] choreographers have joined in previous years, and they learn what they want to do for when it’s their turn to choreograph.” This causes a natural tendency to become more invested in the sport, upping the competitive edge, the quality of the performance, and the appeal to join the team.
There also exists a wide variety of reasons for the increasing appeal of cheerleading, ranging from the expedient to the superficial to the genuinely passionate. One anonymous student declared that she joined her cheer team “cuz it was a CAS creativity major.” Others are motivated for more dubious reasons: former cheerleader Matthew Wong (Y13) stating that he joined to “to get in with a girl.” However, the general consensus among current and aspiring choreographers is that the appeal of cheerleading derives from more wholesome motives. Song cheerleader Alison Murphy cites her love of “ the energy of cheer…[and] being able to look back at the competition and be proud.” Ming choreographer Rochelle Kwan (Year12) appreciates how “you get to do something different than just studying, and show house spirit.” To her, choreographing “takes [my mind] off… school… and strengthens my leadership skills.” Qing choreographer Siena Talas (Year 13) also points to the social opportunities cheerleading provides to students, stating that it is a “great way to break the barrier of age that exists in our society,” providing a rare opportunity to make “unique friendships” with students from other year levels. These unique friendships also extend beyond the friend zone - as in the case of the aforementioned Matthew Wong’s relationship: constant practices and after-school McDonalds-Gong Cha runs can bolster existing relationships to a romantic level.
However, no sport exists without controversy. Some students and faculty point to the objectified nature of cheer, referring to the short skirts, enforcement of gender stereotypes and the similarities to their NFL counterparts. To this, Tang choreographer Jasmine Lee observes that it is “different in RCHK” with the atmosphere being very safe. She has never felt objectified, only “united because it’s a big group dance.” Rochelle Kwan also claims that, contrary to public opinion, the presence and subsequent mockery of gender stereotypes actually “makes cheerleading appealing to the audience.” This exists in cases such as in 2017’s Ming cheer, where deafening cheers were elicited from the audience by the sight of scantily clad boys awkwardly swinging their hips to Hollaback Girl. She also states that the debated uniform should “not be blamed for sexualizing girls because they’re standard outfits for the sport,” and believes that people are “exaggerating and overthinking” the issue.
Moreover, those who defend the cheerleading event say focusing on the controversy undercuts the serious effort such a dance requires. Talas states that her commitment to the sport was such that it caused her to fall ill from over-exertion, due to being the sole choreographer for the formerly dominant Qing House. For her, the task was “insanely hard to take on alone.” But despite Qing’s fall from first place, she remains happy and proud of the overall performance. Similarly, Tang house has faced struggles as well, grappling with the excess of choreographers and a lack of coordination. One of the Tang choreographers references the “many arguments, [much] confusion, and complaints” to explain their lack of productivity, and how “IT CAUSED STRESS” (sic).
So, while the nature of cheerleading is not free from its own brand of controversy and questionable actors, its appeal and sheer popularity make it a mainstay of RCHK Sports Day. The relationships gained from joining are invaluable, along with the experience of belonging in a team.
In the future, an increase in quality is already anticipated, as the landscape for the 2020 cheer competition is shaping to be fierce. Choreographers are already beginning to plan for the coming year’s cheer routine, determined to topple the reigning champion from the podium, as Ming has done this year to frequent winners Qing. But for now Ming can revel in its newly found confidence as the dual champions of the Cheerleading event and Sports Day - but the question is, how long can they keep it.