“Cheerleaders are dancers who have gone retarded.” – Bring It On, 2000.
Hollywood has portrayed cheerleading as involving a group of catty girls doing flips around a mat and suggestive dance moves in movies, such as Bring It On, for years, however this statement doesn’t accurately describe cheerleaders. While the sport is commonly associated with the USA, it may surprise you to know that cheerleading in Australia is taking off, and this is beyond the stuff you’d see on a footy field during half time.
Morgan Graves-Burnnand is an international cheerleading champion with five years competitive experience who, with her new squad, won the NSW State Cheerleading Championships and hopes to add another title to her belt at the Australian All Star Cheerleading Federation National Championships in November.
“Cheerleading is rapidly growing in Australia,” she told The Newsroom. “It is definitely not as recognised as it should be, obviously being significantly smaller than how popular it is in America where the world championships are held each year, but with its growing popularity Australia-wide, it will take over and gain the recognition it deserves in the future.”
Miss Graves-Burnnand said the public’s perception of cheerleading is generally “just girls wearing minimal clothing shaking their pom poms for eye candy.” As it turns out, that is not the case.
“Competitive cheerleading consists of dedicated, strong athletes who train as a group weekly and sometimes even up to three times a week,” she said. “I also think another thing people may be surprised about is that it is really not a bitchy sport at all like the movies make it out to be. I have many friends from other teams and inter team friendships are common. We are all so supportive and caring of each other and are there to cheer each other on from the stand.”
According to Miss Graves-Burnnand, when she first started cheerleading, the Australian All Star Cheerleading Federation (AASCF) were excited to have approximately 10,000 likes on Facebook. Now, the page is just about to quadruple that with 39,447 likes (and counting). Despite its growing popularity in Australia, however, Miss Graves-Burnnand doesn’t think cheerleading will ever reach the heights of American cheerleading.
“As much as I would absolutely love for cheerleading to be as popular here in Australia as it is in America, I don’t think it will ever be as intense and crazy as it is there,” she said. “Pretty much every school and college has a cheerleading team in America, and while each uni here is slowly jumping on the bandwagon, the scholastic divisions at competitions are always so small.”
Comparing competitive cheerleading to the cheerleading seen on footy fields, she says that NRL cheerleaders are from a completely different world to her.
“They are there to cheer the teams on, create crowd participation and be a form of entertainment, while competitive cheerleading is a whole different league,” she said.
Abbey Stace, the captain of the junior cheerleading squad for the Sydney Roosters, has been cheerleading in total for six years but has been with the 2013 premier club for four. She told The Newsroom that one of the biggest differences between NRL cheerleading and competitive cheerleading is the intent.
“They [competitive cheerleaders] are getting judged, whereas we are entertaining a large crowd,” she said.
According to Miss Stace, one of the major problems of cheerleading in the NRL is the negative reactions she sometimes gets from the male-heavy crowd.
“I think that NRL cheerleaders don’t get enough respect shown towards them,” she said. “The fans sometimes call us names, but we have to just ignore that and get the job done.”
With the objectifying of cheerleading being apparent in sport such as rugby league, Miss Graves-Burnnand and Miss Stace have a few choice words for those who doubt cheerleading’s athletic ability and sporting status.
“Anyone who says that cheerleading isn’t a sport obviously knows nothing about it and hasn’t done any research into the topic,” Miss Graves-Burnnand said. “All you need to do is watch a level five or six routine on YouTube to have your mind blown at the level of skills, tumbling and perfection that is put out onto that floor and how much physical and mental strength that would take.
“[For those who doubt cheerleading], I recommend to at least go and watch one routine and I feel like that will change your mind.”
Miss Stace thinks people don’t truly understand all the amount of strength and flexibility training that goes into her sport.
“I would say it is one of the most athletic sports that any person could do, performing for three even four minutes straight is very difficult especially when you have to please so many people in the crowd,” she said.
If you still doubt cheerleading’s athletic content, the National Championships are coming up in November and will be held at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre. Take a trip and see for yourself. I’m sure the cheerleaders there would be more than happy to prove you wrong. – Noah La’ulu
Top photo courtesy of Morgan Graves-Burnnand.