A Chat With Cheer

Jeyda Hasip talks with Becca Stewart about everything from feminism to family within Royal Holloway's Cheerleading teams.

Cheerleading is a sport that is often associated with American High Schools, PomPoms and the ‘Mean Girls’ type Popularity. In order to break that stereotype and reveal the truth about what it takes to be a cheerleader, I spoke to Becca Stewart, President of Cheerleading at Royal Holloway and gained insight into what the sport really entails.

It is no doubt that cheerleading is one of the fiercest sports on campus, but fierce often gets confused with bitchy. What would you say to any freshers wanting to try out that might feel a little intimidated by the sport’s reputation?

I want to assure all freshers that being a part of our club is like joining a family. Whilst we are fierce and fiery on the mat, as soon as we come off we are straight back to being so supportive and friendly, always cheering each other on at the side line. We are each other’s biggest fans and are always there for each other both during cheer and outside. I know that I have, amongst others, made some best friends through cheer and I’m sure that any new joiners will do the same!

According to some (very delusional) people, Cheer is not a sport. What do you have to say to anyone who believes this?

The people that believe this clearly do not understand sport and understand what cheerleading involves. Some people have the common misconception that we simply stand at the sidelines of football and rugby games waving pompoms however they could not be more wrong. Cheerleading involves a combination of dance, gymnastics and stunting and we perform incredibly complex and tiring routines. These three aspects separately are always considered sports therefore our combination of the three obviously makes cheer a sport.

A lot of people don’t know that there are actually five teams within the sport. What are these teams and what do they do?

Within our club we have five teams, four competitive and one non-competitive. Amongst the competitive teams we have the first and second cheer teams as well as our hip hop and jazz dance teams. Our competitive teams each train 4 hours a week across 2 training sessions and compete at 3 competitions each year; ICC Southern Regionals, ICC Nationals and Future Cheer Nationals. All of our competitive teams are reigning regional champions and both our first cheer team and hip-hop team were national champions this year.

Our non-competitive team is our sideline team who perform at our annual showcase and also are often asked by other sports teams at our uni to go down and support during games. The sideline team is more casual with one 2-hour session a week that can be used to rehearse for the showcase or just to try out cheerleading with your friends.

Having so many sub teams on one big team can make people feel easily divided. As president, what will you do to make everyone on each team feel included in the big bear family?

As with any situation where people are split into teams, people may have closer relationships with their teammates. However, integration between the teams is something we really try to focus on whether this is through socials or supporting each other at competitions. I want to make sure that everyone on each team gets the opportunity to meet and get to know each other and I will work with our amazing social sec this year, Katrina Rutina, to organise socials throughout the year to do this. We plan to host our welcome BBQ again this year as a first chance to get to meet people, but it won’t stop here. I’m going to work with the captains of each team, especially the dance teams as they are smaller, to ensure that every team member feels welcome and part of the family. I want them to be able to give inputs into what socials they want to ensure people aren’t left out.

You say it will be hard to live up to former Cheer President, Shannon Winslade, but what one thing did she do as President that you will be sure to incorporate into your team this year?

Shannon was our president for the past two years and she really has done wonders for the club. One thing I will definitely be incorporating into my time as president is her constant support. Shannon was always so approachable and there for everyone on every team, going above and beyond to resolve any issues that arose and checking up on people. I want to make sure that any member of our club can come to me about anything because just like a family, we are a support system. Be it to do with cheer, your course or your personal life, I will always be a port of call and will offer help and support in any way I can.

Cheerleading is often an over sexualised  underestimated sport, but, many of its athletes see it as a feminist sport that gives them loads of power. What is your view of Cheerleading as a feminist sport?

Cheerleading is one of few sports that is dominated by women and for some people, that can be very empowering. It allows women to showcase their ability to perform and combine gymnastics and dance to amaze and entertain their audiences. However male cheerleaders are so important for the sport and they feature in so many all-star teams. Having stronger male cheerleaders on the team opens up a whole range of more difficult group and partner stunts that can be performed. As much as it’s great for female cheerleaders to feel empowered, cheerleading involves a lot of strength and so is as suited to males as it is females.

It is said that Cheerleading can be more mentally challenging than physically challenging at times. If a Cheerleader is going through a hard time it is bound to show in her training sessions. As president, what would you say and do to help any of your team members if they’re going through a hard time?

Perseverance is so important in cheerleading as it involves learning so many new skills and stunts that you will rarely be able to do successfully the first time. As with any sport that involves learning so many new skills, it can be very disheartening to be trying so hard and yet not being able to perfect that skill. As president I will be encouraging everyone to just keep trying and take on all the advice your captains give you, whether you are learning a new dance move or a new tumble. Everyday stresses and personal problems can also affect everyone, but I see our training sessions as an escape, where for two hours you can just think solely about cheer or dance and forget all the other issues you are facing. Being a part of this club means surrounding yourself in a huge support system of people, including me, who will always be there to help whenever anyone needs it.

What is one aspect of the sport (other than performing) that you love?

I love the whole competition experience, even the endless bus journeys to get there and back. Each competition is a day full of excitement and is a chance to watch not only other university teams, but also higher-level all-star teams. Seeing some of the amazing skills they can execute is so inspiring and really pushes us to do better. I love being able to cheer on all of our bears teams during their performances and presentations and just spending a day away with my big bear family in such an exciting atmosphere is the best.

What is one thing about the sport that you wish you could change?

I think the only thing I would change wouldn’t really be about the sport itself, it would be other people’s perceptions of the sport. I wish people wouldn’t perceive or portray it to just be a girl’s sport as male participation is so important and I really hope we can get more guys involved with our club next year, whether it be through cheer or dance. I also would change people’s misconceptions about cheer so that everyone can give it the credit as a sport that it truly deserves.

As a final question, what would you like to say to the new freshers that could potentially be on your team?

To the freshers next year, I would like to say please just come along to the tasters and give it a go, whether it’s cheer, hip hop or jazz. You don’t need previous experience to join the teams and I can say that honestly as I came in pretty much new to cheer and I progressed from the second team to the first team and now to president. Not only will you have so much fun learning new things at training and competing, but also getting to meet so many new people who will be on the same page as you. I know last year that my team and I spent so much time together outside of training, going for lunch or watching movies, or stalking each other on snapchat. So please just come and join our big bear family and I can guarantee that you will love it!