Cheerleading: More than glitter and pom-poms

Cheerleaders need mental and physical strength, making them tough athletes

It was 8pm on a Tuesday recently and the basketball court and surrounding open space at *Scape Orchard was empty, save for some cheerleaders from the independent team Legacy All Stars.

The workday may have ended for most, but for these cheerleaders it is the start of their practice session.

With a foam mat on the ground, they warm up, performing handstands, cartwheels and roundoffs - a move similar to a cartwheel, except the person lands with two feet on the ground and not one at a time.

The team is preparing for a cheerleading contest in Malaysia at the end of the month, organised by the Cheerleading Association and Register of Malaysia.

Members train from Tuesday to Friday from 8pm to 10pm, and sometimes also on Saturday or Sunday.

Founded in 2009, Legacy All Stars' cheerleaders come from all walks of life. There are students, national servicemen and working adults, ranging from 16 to 35 years old.

The team is one of five independent cheer teams here recognised by the Cheerleading Association of Singapore (CAS).

 

There are also a total of 10 school teams across primary, secondary and tertiary levels. These teams compete inevents such as the Cheerleading Association of Singapore National Cheerleading Championships and the Asia Cheerleading Invitational Championships.

Behind the glitter and glamour of the contests is sheer hard work and dedication. Cheerleaders are not just dancers with pom-poms but among the toughest athletes around.

Mr Damien Ng, president of CAS, said: "Cheerleading takes a huge amount of time and effort... it's not just for bimbos, as people may stereotype it to be."

Said Legacy All Stars founder Lenny Foo: "Cheerleading teaches you to be bold, to be determined, to fight your fears - you cannot give up, you must persevere and execute the moves."

Mr Jimmy Lin, coach and founder of independent team Nova All-Stars and CAS vice-president, said: "Cheerleading requires you to be physically and mentally strong. You need to be flexible, have no phobia of height, and be ready to push yourself beyond your perceived limits.

"Imagine the ability to allow someone to stand on your palm in an extended position. That requires skill and technique."

His team, Nova All-Stars, was champion at both the Cheerleading Association of Singapore National Cheerleading Championships and Asia Cheerleading Invitational Championships this year.

Typical practice sessions include warm-ups and stretching, followed by moves such as partner stunts, tumbling, basket toss or pyramids.

Miss Alyssa Ng, 22, was in the National University of Singapore Kent Ridge Hall cheer team KR Steppers, and has been cheerleading since she was 11 years old.

She said: "Training can be tough and you need to be strong mentally and physically .

"But what people don't realise is that anyone can be a cheerleader if they really make an effort, commit to training and try their best."

Mr Lin said a major fear that deters parents in Singapore from allowing their children to be cheerleaders is the risk of injury or death.

He said: "People who don't know much about cheerleading will deem the sport very risky and dangerous.

"But just like... rugby and gymnastics, all sports have inherent risks, but these are mitigated through progressive training and safety spotting."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2016, with the headline 'More than glitter and pom-poms'. Print Edition | Subscribe