Teacher: Vivian Lee from Blackout Evolution
From: East London
“Give me a T, give me an E, give me an A, C, H!” – that’s how we imagined our first experience of cheerleading to go. As it turned out, however, it was quite a lot different.
Rather than dancing and baton twirling, this group of cheerleaders spend their time practising standing back flips, working on high kicks and throwing each other 10 feet into the air. From the moment the warm up playlist started and the whole troupe broke into routine, hitting every beat with a star jump as though they’d been mechanically programmed to do so, it felt more like we were training with an army than a group of performers. We thought this was going to be easy!
Once the warm up was over (and we were about ready to lie down), we were thrown straight in at the deep end. We came on a night when the troupe were throwing their ‘flyers’ (the girls they throw into the air and (more often than not) catch again), and we were going to be doing the same. We were assigned a ‘flyer’ called Amy who, bizarrely, seemed quite comfortable with the idea that three complete amateurs would be throwing her into the air over and over, for the next two hours.
Throwing Amy for the first time was perhaps the most terrifying thing any of the three of us have ever done. As she dropped out of the air back into our arms, we grabbed her tight enough that she’d have been able to hear the sound of our beating hearts racing. After a few more goes, we managed to get the hang of it and relaxed a little (once a little too much, requiring a last minute diving catch). As with everything we’ve tried so far, we got really into cheerleading, and developed a huge respect for the sport that is so much more physical and disciplined than we’d ever imagined. Eager to find out how long it would take us to get to her level if we were to continue, we asked our fantastic coach Vivian a few questions.
What are you teaching us today?
Today you learnt how to be cheerleaders. We taught you some basic prep level skills before moving onto extension level skills, teddy bear sits and cradles.
Can you tell us one interesting fact about cheerleading that people might not know?
Apparently many American Presidents have been cheerleaders! Apparently! I think George Bush or Bill Clinton was, but I’m not certain… (we checked and George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Franklin Roosevelt were all cheerleaders in college).
What level are you at?
I’m at Level 5. There are 6 levels, with 6 being the highest and 1 the lowest.
When and how did you start?
I started at university. I tried to find a dance team but they didn’t have one, so I tried cheerleading and loved it!
I love training hard and pushing my physical limits, but I also love that cheer is a team sport. We all have to work hard together, which means we all get really close and become like a family. It’s a great sport and a great community.
What’s been your proudest moment?
Winning the national championships in July. We got zero deductions, which is super hard to do.
Have you done much teaching?
I haven’t taught much cheer, actually. I’ve taught other things like kick boxing, netball, trampolining, dance and other sports, but I’m only just starting to teach cheer. and dance.
Do you like teaching?
Yeah, I do like coaching. It’s very fun to learn and I love watching the athletes I teach get better.
Is this something anyone can learn?
I think anyone can do anything, and I know that sounds very cliche, but it’s what this team believes. Hard work pays off, and if you put your mind to it you can do it. It just takes a lot of training and self discipline.
What are the most common mistakes made by beginners?
Cheerleading is a lot more dangerous than people think. If one thing goes wrong, or one person does something wrong then the entire stunt can fail and someone can get really injured. These mistakes are easy to avoid however, by just taking things slowly and focusing on the basics.
How long would it take for us to get to your level?
It depends on how much you train. The more you train, the faster you learn. It can take from a few months to a few years, depending on how much you want to improve.
How were we today?
You were great! I was very impressed – you guys took to it really quickly.
Who’s the most skilled person you know?
I look up to all great athletes to be honest. Anyone who has put in the work to be where they are.
Is there another skill you wish you had?
This is a big secret of mine… I can do almost any sport, but I can’t dribble a basketball or ride a bike. So either of those two would be great!
What we learned
- The person the troupe throws is called a ‘flyer’. Flyers range in experience, indicated by a number 1-6.
- Cheerleading is definitely not just a sport for girls (we’re now embarrassed to admit we ever thought this) but an all inclusive, super physical, team sport that everyone who’s into keeping fit should try.
- George W. Bush was a cheerleader in college.