To Brighton, and after a delightful picnic at the back end of the beach (where we avoided the mass of bodies, and instead observed the delightful summer sport that is Aussie Hunks Unsuccessfully Chatting Up Eastern European Hotties), we headed inside for Future Cheer 2006
. As newbies, we were unprepared for what was to come. Below, some contemporaneous notes made while the competition reached its climax.
* 5.11pm: The first sighting of pom-poms
* This is a very democratic sport, in the sense that all shall - and indeed must - have prizes. Testimony to this is the dizzying number of categories that one could compete in, including: youth, junior, senior and pee-wee stunt groups; senior stunt groups all girl elite; mascots; and university all girl advanced elite. But it also democratic in the sense that all body masses and shapes can and do participate. In fact, to put it crudely, the thunder-thighed are necessary, as support and foundation for the more vertiginous pyramidal lifts attempted. And, as if to confirm this, one of the younger members of Little Stars has only one hand, and is yet as vigorously running and dancing as her team mates.
* It appears that there are three main elements to any routine, used sequentially or, more often, broken apart and then recombined:
1. 'free' rhythmic gymnastics, mostly manifesting in cartwheels, springs, rolls etc
2. lifts/throws/spins of team members (generally the smaller/younger thereof)
3. simple choreography, sometimes accompanied by a chant of sorts.
The best routines achieve a harmonious balance of these three elements. Standouts included ADA Allstars, whose hip hop derived dancing stood out from the rest of the competitors' power-pop driven exuberance. In this, being too cool for school was definitely an advantage.
* Men as members of teams, as opposed to dads/boyfriends/chauffers/cameramen (and they aren't leching, btw) are definitely thin on the ground. A co-ed section of the competition has only 5 teams going through. Men in routines appear to be given the same tasks as other members, but with an added emphasis on lifting and throwing.
* Team names generally don't break the conventions of US sports franchising: all stars, saints, eagles, as well as some cats (tomcats, pussycats, vixens), a phoenix, an xtreme, a mustang and for those of you of a star-gazing bent, a zodiac and a galaxy.
* Our adopted team, the London City Stars, stole the show in terms of choreography; slightly odd/worrying to report that they were a notch towards 'sexy' in the midst of chaste routines. (Our other team would be the Silver Valley Vixens, because they wear polka dot headbands and hair ties. If only they had some Pipettes in their mix.)
* Naturally, this is all Americana in microcosm, from the names, to the uniforms, to the permagrins and the locus on entertainment. But what is interesting, at least from up here in the cheap seats, is the absence of all out, gung-ho competition. Everything is achieved in the best possible taste, in the most marvellous of spirits; and one that strikes as being quintessentially English (including the lack of sleaze). Even to the extent that there was a girl brandishing a trumpet in lieu of a klaxon.
* And there is danger: one jump into its routine, one of the seven men in the AEC Eagles (the Man U of UK cheerleading, I am reliably informed) is medic-d off after an awkward landing and a nasty sprain. An unsettled hum filled the hall, only dissipated when the Eagles plus injured party came back strongly with the most ambitious series of lifts and sparkly red knickers. He grimaced and rough-housed his way through the routine, collapsing at the end, in pain and oxygen debt. The cheers they received gladdened the heart: truly, there is no animus here, especially as we all applaud each others' towering ambitions in lifts, throws and spins.
* Potential collective nouns for cheerleaders: a cheer, a squad, a pom-pom
* If something in a routine does go wrong, ie a landing not nailed or a person not successfully lifted, the sub-group in a team attempting the move does (must?) freeze, as if the space-time continuum on that corner of the mat has been suspended. They wait, millisecond into demi-second into second into two seconds, until the cue in the soundtrack means that they can spring back to life, and action.
And then you realise that at certain moments you are actually watching human firework displays: the rising and falling of bodies is explosive and eye-catching against the purple and black backdrop, the synchronicity with the music making a riot of movement.
* As ever, when experiencing a new sport/subculture for the first time, one immediately wants to become a conceptual innovator. And after some consideration, it's clear that to revolutionise the sport (hey, lets not be modest here) one would need to try using one piece of (ideally hip hop) music rather than a mix, and strip back the numbers within a team while attempting the same number of lifts. And maybe wear uniforms made of natural materials. The maths is hard to fight against however. Generally more bodies leads to better routines.
* And now it's... Team USA! They are technically very good and very (crazily) energetic, a flail of hair, legs and - surprisingly - the only team immodest enough to show off their midriffs. And their mums make up the second biggest entourage. And during the awards they dance to every single piece of incidental music, before walking off with the top prize, There's a whiff of cultural cringe about this.
* A totality of vision, encompassing the athletic and aesthetic.