Cheerleading is a very common sport especially in the United States. In Europe it is catching on, thanks to a movement that is gaining more and more competence and professionalism, coming out of an initial phase of improvisation. The goal of cheerleading is to combine choreography composed of elements of gymnastics, dance and acrobatics, to create routines. Cheerleading is designed to encourage teams on the playing field during matches. For this reason, an element of excitment and encouragement to the public is never missing in the choreography, to increase its involvement during the performance.
Cheerleading - What is it?
Cheerleading is a routine of dance. This is a group dance that includes cheering, aerobics, gymnastics and more. It began to develop in the 19th century in the United States as a supportive activity in other sports (»rtv slo: otroški portal - Navijanje«, 2019).
There are 2 types of cheerleading: the first is competitive cheerleading, and the other is the pom pom groups (Cheerleading, 2018).
It is common for both of them that their main purpose is to enhance the sporting atmosphere at competitions and to represent the society, school or institution. Choreographies are made up of dance steps performed with rhythmic music, and is very cheerful, where the vocal power of performers, their energetic and originality appear. Groups can make use of boards with signs, coffees (pom poms), megaphones, flags and other. Cheerleaders include choreographers with rather difficult acrobatic elements (jumping, pyramid), but choreographies of pom pom groups should not contain acrobatic elements. Important part of the choreography is the clothes that need to be matched in color. In the pom pom dance groups, the pom poms need to be matched in color also (Zveza znps: Navijaške in plesne skupine, 2019).
Cheerleading - Who is it for?
Cheerleading is very versatile and, working on the complexity of the choreography, it is possible to adapt it to almost all types of disability. For example, there are integrated teams with physical and intellectual relational disabilities, which perform with great ease.
Obviously the basic level will be composed mainly by elements of dance, leaving the parts of artistic gymnastics (flip, wheels...) or acrobatic (jumps, stunt...) only to athletes whose disabilities allow it. The element of spectacularisation that cheerleading brings with it should not be underestimated. It is not by chance that the term “exhibition” is used. The choreography is made to bring attention to the guys who are doing it, to engage the public on an extrovert and energizing way. That is an aspect that could help young people to relate to a more or less extensive public.
Why do it?
Energy, excitment, involvement. These are three key words in cheerleading. This allows the wall of pietism and sadness to be more effectively eliminated, which too often accompanies the activities of disabled children. Even public accustomed to contact with the Paralympic activity will be infected by the choreography, the invitation to action and rhythmic music.
Furthermore, cheerleading is not just a competition sport. Born as a “sideline” activity, that is to say the field of a sporting event, to entertain the public and encourage it to cheer. It’s a component that can still be exploited today, leading the team to perform at large or small events in the area and help promote and raise awareness of the sport.
How to adapt the activity
The activity is adapted, as already underlined, depends on the difficulty of the choreography. The simplest elements are those of the dance that should be well exploited with intelligence. The routine must be simple enough for the kids to perform but interesting enough for the audience.
If for the users with relational intellectual disability coordination, memory and spatiality should be taken into account, for the Paralympics users others factors must be taken into account.
Artificial arts may not be a problem in the simplest choreography, but they could become a risk in the more complex ones, becoming blunt objects. Always pay close attention. Wheelchairs, on the other hand, are not an insurmountable obstacle. There are also many examples in the dance world, from which it is possible to take a cue.
When athletes have more physical possibilities, they can include elements of artistic gymnastics or even acrobatics. Recall that these elements should be well considered and evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In addition, you should devote much effort and introduce them gradually, so as to make them as perfect as possible (during the performance the emotion could play tricks).
Cheerleading, in its less demanding form, does not require special equipment:
The impact of a uniform is fundamental, at least during performances. Various solutions are possible. An equal suit for everyone is a good starting point, up to the professional uniforms (which require an important budget).
Old-fashioned in the collective imagination, they are not absolutely necessary elements in sports cheerleading. Also in this case there are cheaper “training” versions up to the professional ones.
The choreography is designed based on a musical composition. This must be played during the tests. It will therefore be necessary to equip oneself with a system to reproduce the chosen track. This is what is needed to carry out a very basic choreography, composed of elements of pure dance. As training difficulties increase, other equipment will also be needed. Mattresses and artistic stripes are essential to train stunt and artistic gymnastics safely.
Example - cheerleading in Center Naprej
In Center Naprej, we offered users the opportunity to join the pom pom dance group. We made two groups of users who expressed their desire to participate in the group. Different movable structures, jumps, dance steps and spatial changes affect the balance, coordination, flexibility and memory of the involved users. Because the activity is group-based and requires cooperation and consistency, we also actively work on social skills like cooperation, customization, acceptance...
We adapt choreographies to the abilities and limitations of the users involved (problems with balance, motor interference, memory disturbances, poor coordination...). Although the ultimate goal is the composition and implementation of the choreography, which the group performs as synchronously as possible, it is very important in the rehabilitation sense that we include users in the planning of choreography, costume design, music selection, preparation of cheerleading equipment and pom poms.
Recommendations for work:
Involvement of users in the planning of choreography and the preparation of equipment, clothing and music;
Adapting choreography to the abilities and limitations of the users involved;
Suitable footwear (comfortable, soft, non-slippery);
Heating before the start of the exercise (walking, jogging, leg lift) and stretching (neck, shoulders, arms, back, abdomen, chest, legs, ankles)
Dance part (progressive learning of steps, change of positions) without music by counting, later with music;
Adapting the choreography to the capabilities of the involved;
Talk and relaxation after the training session.
Basic palm positions:
- “blade” (straight palm, fingers together),
- jazz position of the hands.
Basic foot positions:
- extension (“spikes”),
- normal position.
Typical foot positions:
- stands apart (wide range),
- a step forward and to the side,
- Basic movements with hands:
- high and low “V”,
- an archery position,
- position “L”,
- position “T” (half),
- position “K” (Zagorc, Korošec, Čebela and Fajmut, 2009).
Photo: Center Naprej, 2017
Navijanje, retrieved from https://otroski.rtvslo.si/bans... 13.2.2019
Cheerleading (2018), retrieved from https://sl.wikipedia.org/wiki/... 13.2.2019
Zveza znps: Navijaške in plesne skupine, retrieved from http://www.zveza-znps.si/preds... 13.2.2019
Zagorc, M., Korošec, N., Čebela, D., Fajmut, N. (2009). Priročnik za navijaške skupine. Ljubljana: Fakulteta za šport, Inštitut za šport