Taking cheerleading to a bigger stage after sport gains provisional Olympic recognition

Team bases from the Nanyang Technological University Aces cheerleading squad supporting a flyer while she performs a scorpion during a practice session.
Team bases from the Nanyang Technological University Aces cheerleading squad supporting a flyer while she performs a scorpion during a practice session.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG

Local cheerleading fraternity eager to show sport deserves its day under the Olympic stars

At the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Aces' cheerleading training session, voices count in unison as a girl is hoisted up, performs a mid-air flip before landing on the left thigh of her team-mate.

The latter, whose left leg is bent at a 90-degree angle and supported by at least three others, has her right leg perched on the shoulder of another team-mate.

Far from being a spectacle that involves participants wearing Spandex jumpsuits, shouting slogans and waving pom-poms, cheerleading is a physically-demanding sport that gained provisional recognition as an Olympic sport by the International Olympic Committee earlier this month.

And it has given the local fraternity cause for celebration and optimism that one day, Singaporeans could be flipping and somersaulting at the Summer Games.

NTU Aces president Vanessa Ong told The Straits Times: "This proves that cheerleading is a professional sport, and we're not just on the ground shouting - we are actually doing something that requires a lot of practice and muscles."

As the 23-year-old added, a "basic" move like standing upright during a stunt calls for a high degree of muscular control.

"It might look easy to others, but just standing up there requires you to lock your body to make sure it doesn't wobble," said Ong, a third-year linguistics student.


Team bases from the Nanyang Technological University Aces cheerleading squad supporting a
flyer while she performs a scorpion during a practice session. ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG

"Even the simplest elements need muscle and body control, so the advanced stunts definitely require a lot more strength training."

The last time a national cheerleading team entered an international competition was in 2013.

Then, Singapore won a silver in the team co-ed premier category and finished fourth in the co-ed group stunt category at the Asia Open Cheerleading Championships in Japan.

This year's National Cheerleading Championships (NCC), held by the Cheerleading Association of Singapore (CAS), saw five primary school teams, five tertiary teams and three club teams take part.

The association, founded in 2003, is made up of volunteers and is a member of the International Cheer Union (ICU), the world governing body for cheerleading.

CAS president Damien Ng also revealed that the non-profit organisation will apply for National Sports Association (NSA) status next year, adding that he hopes NSA recognition can be obtained within the next two years.


Team bases from the Nanyang Technological University Aces cheerleading squad supporting a
flyer while she performs a scorpion during a practice session. ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG

The CAS, which organises the annual NCC and Asia Cheerleading Invitational Championships in Singapore, also aims to organise an additional yearly competition - a national event for primary and secondary schools - starting next year.

CAS vice-president Jimmy Lin, who coaches independent team Nova All-Stars, said: "We'd like to build on primary and secondary school development, to work more on promoting the sport from a young age, so that when these children grow up, they can then continue to build the teams at the tertiary level.

"We also want to raise awareness of the sport locally through national-level events like the National Day Parade and Chingay."

One other common perception of cheerleading is that it is a dangerous sport as participants are hurled into the air to execute acrobatics.

  • FLYING ESSENTIALS

  • Anti-clockwise, from top: Three basic poses for a flyer, the person at the top of a stunt.

    THE LIBERTY

    The flyer balances on one foot in the hands of the base, with her free leg bent at an angle. Her arms are lifted up to form a 'V' shape.

  • THE HEEL STRETCH

    The flyer balances on one foot in the hands of the base and extends her free leg in the air. Holding her foot with one hand, she lifts her other arm up to form a 'V' shape.

  • THE SCORPION

    The flyer balances on one foot in the hands of the base. She stretches out her other leg backwards, and grasps her foot with both hands.

Ng Tian Jun, the founder of independent team Cheer Force, hopes that greater public awareness of the sport will help dispel notions of cheerleading as a dangerous activity, saying: "We need to convey the message to the public that safety is definitely a priority for us.

"This will then increase confidence in the sport and that's how we can grow the sport."

Ng, 23, and Ong both said their teams ensure the safety of their cheerleaders by making sure there are enough spotters - members of the team who remain on the ground preparing to catch the flyer if she falls - when performing stunts during training.

Added Lin: "We revise our rules regularly to make sure they are up to date and aligned with the ICU's, and we also offer safety audits for schools if they need it.

"We want to raise the awareness that the stunts at primary and secondary school level are different, as they are based on progression."

For now, CAS and its clubs are focused on growing the sport in hope that they can some day compete on sport's grandest stage.

Said Ong: "It's a dream of many cheerleaders to represent their team and country on such a big stage, and it's something we can work towards. It's definitely a dream for me, and something that I would want to aim to reach because of my passion for the sport."

VIDEO
See the NTU Aces team in action at http://str.sg/4drD

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline 'Taking cheer to a bigger stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe