My Final Project, Part Four: Cheerleading Competition


Yesterday, my daughter participated in her first cheerleading competition. Now, I didn’t think that this would qualify as a possible final project event, but I was surprised.

When I first learned that my daughter was to compete just months after starting her cheerleading class, I thought it was a little premature. Afterall, it takes musicians years of study to attain competition-level competency. But, once I looked at it like a concert – or a performance – it made sense. After three hours a week of practice, and since this cheerleading organization is not affiliated with a school – so there are no actual games to cheer at, competitions serve as an outlet, as well as a showcase for all their hard work. So, taking the attitude that cheerleading, which is a combination of gymnastics, dance, and entertainment, I think it can be compared to other performance-oriented art forms.

Similarities of this event to a musical concert:

  • There was an audience, a rather large, enthusiastic audience
  • Music – albeit recorded music – was the accoustic backdrop. All of the music for each cheerleading squad were mash-up mixes of pop and hip-hop tunes.
  • There was a program – no big deal, but when you sit in the bleachers for four hours, it’s nice to be able to follow the progress of the event

What I found interesting was the realization that, much like chamber music, the groups required hours of individual, as well as group practice and relied on synchronicity, uniformity and imitation.

My wife and I were a little concerned at the lengthy list of specific instructions regarding hair and makeup, but once the show started, following these helped the larger group seem more uniform and made a strong visual impact.

I also noticed how some of the girls, and a few boys, seemed to be “going through the motions” while others just sparkled with energy. It reminded me of the difference between “just playing the notes” and playing music with expression and energy. I didn’t need to know much about cheerleading or dance to be engaged by the talent of these kids, which is why I often find myself saying to students that even non-musicians can detect the absence of talent or commitment from performers. Regardless of their training, all humans can detect emotion and expression from each other, primarily through facial expression. Just as the highly expressive cheerleaders made an impact, and continued to smile despite nerves or mistakes, musicians should at least be aware of how they look on stage, as well as how they sound. Remember this when you have a less-than-perfect moment at a performance – don’t let your expression give away your mistakes.

This particular competition was a “Dance and Cheer” event, with hundreds of participants from dozens of teams, and many categories and divisions. One of the “open” dance division teams dressed as zombies and recreated Michael Jackson’s Thriller. (Click here to see a bizarre, yet unrelated video of prisoners rehearsing their version of Thriller)

One of the categories, high-kickers I think, had a style similar to the Radio City Rockettes, and the night concluded by an exhibition by the adult team from Iowa Elite Cheer, which is the organization my daughter is in. By the way, my daughter’s team got FIRST PLACE – not bad for her first competition.

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