Everything you think you know about cheerleading is wrong.

Image: Bring It On/Beacon Pictures. 

I’ve never had a gym membership because I’ve never needed one – my sport has kept me fit, healthy and active for over 12 years.

I am a cheerleader. Throughout my cheerleading career I’ve worn many hats – from cheerleader to coach, choreographer to gym owner. But it doesn’t matter how many International Championships we win or how many records we break, cheerleading still seems to get a bad wrap.

So allow me to debunk seven of the most common myths about cheerleading – maybe it’s the sport you’ve been waiting for.

(Paper Tiger show Mamamia a great ab exercise. Post continues after video.)

1. Cheerleading is exclusive

The whole concept that cheerleading is only for skinny blondes who can high-kick their legs behind their ears is probably the most frustrating myth for me as a coach.

What I love most about cheerleading is that it is for everybody. Just like other team sports, cheerleading has positions (flyers, bases, back bases, tumblers, dancers) that require athletes of various shapes, sizes and skill sets to fill them. Tall, short, solid, skinny, blonde, brunette – it takes them all to hit that perfect routine! Cheerleading competitions offer divisions for absolutely everybody – beginner, elite, all-girl, co-ed and more recently, special needs teams.

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The Atomic Allstars in action. Supplied.

 

2. Cheerleaders are not athletes

Yes, I just called us athletes. Cheerleading requires its participants to lift, toss, fly, jump, flip, dance and smile through it all. It’s every cardio pop, body pump and cross fit class you’ve ever taken, all rolled into one – and then some! We’re not just lifting barbells or tossing balls – we lift and toss our teammates. Talk about team bonding!

On top of training anywhere between four to 12 hours per week, we also cross-train and fuel our bodies with healthy foods, just like any other athlete.

3. Cheerleaders are dumb

Don’t be fooled by all the excessive smiling, glitter and jumping around – this myth couldn’t be further from the truth. Cheerleading requires intense concentration and quick thinking. In my experience, cheerleading attracts some of the smartest, most driven and ambitious young people in our communities. The day jobs of just some of my personal cheerleading peers include: marine biologist, architect, doctor (fun fact: I could fill an entire hospital with all the cheerleading doctors I know), lawyer, entrepreneur and aerospace engineer.

4. The whole point of cheerleading is to be sexy

As an advocate of cheerleading being a great sport for young girls, teenagers and women, this myth makes my blood boil. Sassy? Sure. Confident? Yes. But sexy? No. The sexualisation and objectification of female athletes by both the media and the psyche of the general population is something I’ve had to deal with time and time again as a cheerleading professional. Cheerleaders strive to execute their skills and hit strong routines, they do not strive to be sexy. Which leads me to our next myth… (Post continues after gallery.)

5. Cheerleaders are 'slutty' because they’re always half naked

Cleavage and short skirts and midriffs, oh my! This is where I need to clarify that the promotional dancers and models you often see at events or on the sidelines at rugby games are not the same as competitive cheerleaders.

When it comes to competitive cheerleading, you won’t see boobs or butt cheeks. You will see skin, though – legs and sometimes midriffs. But there’s good reason for the short skirts and crop tops! Think of it like gymnastics, swimming, running or pole vaulting – the tight fitting and often barely-there uniforms are to allow maximum body movement for skill execution and to ensure the safety of the athletes.

6. Cheerleaders shake pom poms

The Grease cheerleaders and their pom poms

 

I really didn’t want to mention pom poms because it’s the oldest myth in the book and for whatever reason (cough, Hollywood, cough) they have a terrible stigma attached to them. But what would an article about cheerleading be without pom poms, hey?

The truth is, sometimes we do use them. What of it? They’re a great tool for maximising visual effect and crowd leading – and they’re fun! But the key word here is sometimes. It depends on which division you’re competing in, which is getting a little technical so I’ll leave it at that. But as far as busting the myth goes, in most competitive cheerleading routines we do not use pom poms.

7. Cheerleaders can recite every line from Bring It On (2000) like in that scene from Fired Up (2009)

Ah, who am I kidding? This one is true.

Sarah Mihalopoulos is a choreographer and coach. If you'd like to learn more about cheerleading in Australia, visit the Australian Allstar Cheerleading Federation.

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