My Gym

This year I’ve kind of put this blog on hold as I tried to figure out my life post school, and I regret not documenting my cheer year here, because it was truly a memorable one. In the spirit of this past weekend’s Cheer Evolution Nationals 2013 competition however, I feel it mandatory to get back into blogging about my true passion. This year has been a bit rough for me, and honestly, the one thing that has gotten me through and has always been there for me was my cheer gym, DCA. As soon as I walk into that gym I feel my worries melt away and the only thing I need to focus on is training. It’s like a sort of meditation. Let me walk you through it.

You walk down the stairs, walk through the welcoming open deep purple door, and are greeted by a sea of purple. As far as the eye can see, it’s purple sprung floor for miles (seemingly), beckoning you to come forth and leave your heart onto it. If you come at just the right time, when the sun is right over the gym and high up in the sky, large sun spots projected from the square skylights will be dancing on the violet strips of the floor – spotlights, ready for you to shine underneath them. It’s a beautiful sight. In the far end a rope hangs down mysteriously, ready to lift you high into the never-ending ceiling, so high it might as well be sky. Should you choose to take up its tempting offer, you’ll have to work hard to reach the top, but once you do, you will be rewarded with a sight like no other, a new dimension of the Purple Gym. If height is really not your thing, perhaps the 50 foot tumble track can lure you in with its shiny black surface and promise of a strong, controlled bounce. It’s easy to picture yourself tumbling along, handspring after handspring of bouncy bliss.

It’s quiet in the gym. The other athletes haven’t yet arrived, filling it with the happy sounds of accomplishments and cheers. But soon they will. There is an industrial type of musky scent in the air, fresh and cool, yet strong. I like this smell. It’s familiar and comforting. It sticks to your practice clothes and shoes, and when you go home and you take them out of your bag, you can still smell purple pride on them, laced with that day’s accomplishments.

gym

I like my gym. At a time when you’re feeling lost and confused, it provides relief from life, from stress, from pressure, even if it is just temporary. The challenges of learning skills, and the feeling of accomplishing them gives me purpose and satisfaction. Travis, DCA’s owner and head coach really motivates you and celebrates and recognizes every small accomplishment, taking the time to connect with every athlete, to make them feel included, special, and important members of the gym. He is a walking sport and body encyclopedia, and is dedicated to coaching through proper and repeated drills and progressions, through hard conditioning  and smart working rather than a ‘just do it’ or ‘just throw it’ stunt and tumble philosophy that is still widespread practice in many gyms.

When I started writing this post, I didn’t mean to turn it into a review of my gym, so I apologize if this feels too ‘scripted’. I simply want to share my love for this place, because it welcomed me so wholeheartedly and helped me out a lot this year. Those purple mats really have a way of etching themselves straight into your heart.

Live. Love. Cheer.

 

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USASF Gone Wild?

In an unexpected announcement, taking the all-star cheer world by storm, USASF decided to make an announcement last night, March 28th, with amendments to its rules for the 2012/2013 season. Before I comment on anything, here is a list of what those changes include, in case you’re not yet familiar with it (if you are, then scroll down past them for my blog post):

Tumbling:

  • Standing fulls and standing double fulls are not allowed Double fulls are only allowed in running tumbling and must be preceded by a back handspring
  • Consecutive bounding, twisting skills are not allowed

Age Grid:

  • All Open teams (5 and 6 [also Open 4 if it is added in the future]) must be 17yrs old and older
  • Eliminate the International age rule for U.S.A. teams
  • All athletes on USA teams must be of the legal age according to the age grid by August 31st of that season. This includes Worlds. The rule, an athlete may be younger than the allowed age as long as he/she becomes of the legal age by the calendar year of the competition, no longer stands
  • Eliminate Mini L3
  • Eliminate Youth 5 Restricted by placing the following limitations on Youth 5: No tumbling double fulls; No kick doubles in baskets; Braced flips may not twist
  • Youth top age is raised to 12
  • No longer separate Junior Coed 3 and 4 from their counterpart All Girl teams
  • Bottom age on Senior teams, Levels 1-4 and Senior 5R, will be 10 years old – Senior 5 teams will remain at 12

In addition, the USASF has developed a new “Image and Etiquette Policy”:

IMAGE POLICY

Judges reserve the right to assess warnings and/or deductions when a team’s choreography, uniform, make up, bows etc. do not meet the standards of ‘appropriate’ as described in this policy.

APPROPRIATE CHOREOGRAPHY – in effect 2012/2013 season

All facets of a performance/routine, including both choreography and music selection, should be appropriate and suitable for family viewing and listening.

Examples of inappropriate choreography may include, but are not limited to, movements such as hip thrusting and inappropriate touching, gestures, hand/arm movements and signals, slapping, positioning of body parts and positioning to one another. Music or words unsuitable for family listening, which includes, but is not limited, to swearwords and connotations of any type of sexual act or behavior, drugs, explicit mention of specific parts of the body torso, and/or violent acts or behavior are other examples of inappropriate choreography. Removing improper language or words from a song and replacing with sound effects or other words may still constitute ‘inappropriate.’

Music or movement in which the appropriateness is questionable or with which uncertainty exists should be assumed by the coach to be inappropriate and removed as to not put their team in an unfortunate situation.

APPROPRIATE UNIFORM – in effect 2015/2016 season

General Uniform Guidelines

No risqué, sexually provocative or lingerie looking or inspired uniform or garments allowed. All uniform pieces should adequately cover an athlete and must be secured to eliminate any possible wardrobe malfunction. Appropriate undergarments must be worn. In addition to the below specific guidelines, athletes must also consider that a combination of uniform pieces may also deem a uniform appropriate or inappropriate.

Uniform Skirts/Shorts Guidelines

When a skirt is worn as part of the uniform, briefs under the skirt are required. The skirt must fully cover the hips. The skirt must completely cover the briefs and must fall at least 1 inch below briefs (regular and boy cut briefs). When shorts are worn as part of the uniform, there must be a minimum of a 2” inseam.

Uniform Top Guidelines

Uniform tops may not include an exposed midriff except for Seniors which may have a maximum of 10” between the skirt/short top and the uniform top bottom. Uniform tops must be secured by straps or material over at least one shoulder or around the neck (tube tops are not allowed).

COVER UP GUIDELINES – in effect 2012/2013 season

Athletes with non-full top uniforms must wear a t-shirt or other suitable cover up over their uniforms unless they are in the warm-up area, traveling as a group directly to or from the warm up area, or on the performance stage.

MAKEUP AND OTHER – goes into effect with the 2012-2013 season, but will not be enforceable by deduction until the 2013-2014 season.

Makeup – Makeup should be uniform and appropriate for both the performance and the age of the athletes. Face/Eyelid Rhinestones are not allowed. False eyelashes are allowed but may not be decorated in rhinestones or additional jewelry.

Bows – Bows should not be excessive in size (acceptable bows are generally no more than 3” in width) and shouldn’t be a distraction to the performance. Bows should be worn in a manner to minimize risk for the participants, should be adequately secured and should not fall over the forehead into the participants’ eyes or block the view of the participant while performing.

ETIQUETTE POLICY: 

AT ARRIVAL:

  • arrive looking the way you expect to compete
  • wear only outer wear approved by your Program
  • Don’t arrive at the event without wearing full uniform and hair done
  • Don’t arrive wearing sweatpants, pajama bottoms, trendy boots or jewelry

AT VENUE:

  • demonstrate Good Sportsmanship in the stands, restroom, outer halls, and everywhere
  • keep your uniform on and fully zipped at all times, and change only in the restroom
  • Don’t speak negatively about other individuals, teams, or programs
  • Don’t swear or use vulgar language
  • Don’t use social media to brag, belittle or ridicule any person, team or program
  • Don’t change into uniform, practice wear or “street clothes” in the stands or halls

AT AWARDS CEREMONY:

  • applaud for all Participants
  • wait to cheer for your Team until your name is called
  • follow directions of the Announcer, stay on the floor until dismissed, and congratulate all Teams
  • Don’t jump up and down when the 2nd Place Team is called if it isn’t your Team
  • Don’t overly emphasize the win, with overt displays of excitement
  • Don’t demonstrate disrespect by not allowing others their moment of recognition

ALWAYS USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO PROMOTE POSITIVE THOUGHTS, IDEAS, AND IMAGES

IN ADDITION: [Supposedly to ‘minimize’ the negative stereotypes associated with our sport]

  • Uniforms and Makeup should be age and gender appropriate
  • Hair should look natural and styled in a manner that is not a distraction to the Judges or routine
  • Choreography is combined with an athletic routine and complemented by appropriate music for all audiences
  • Education is promoted and successes are rewarded
  • Positive attitudes are demonstrated through discipline, unity, sportsmanship, leadership, and respect
  • Don’t wear overly glitzy makeup, uniforms that don’t fit correctly, or uniforms or makeup that is not age or gender appropriate
  • Athleticism should be male and female appropriate
  • Avoid anything overtly sexual or flirtatious
  • Males should minimize exaggerated or theatrical movements
  • Don’t place a lack of emphasis on education
  • Attitude should not be unsportsmanlike, suggestive, sexual, or include flirtatious music, movements, or voice overs

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The Thrill of Being a “Cheerleader”

Okay, let’s face it – cheer is addictive. But why? What makes it so difficult to quit, or to even think about quitting, and how do so many people get sucked into this sport, only to emerge some 15 years later, (mind you, only because their broken-down and over-stretched bodies could no longer take it) with the final realizations that retirement time has probably come. Why do we continue suffering through countless hours of treachery, sweat, and fear of heights, when we could just be sitting at home relaxing, or doing a lower-intensity sport like aqua fitness? Surely, those must be better for our bodies?

I’m sure you’ve all got your clever answers ready – “I love the athleticism!” or “It keeps me in great shape”, or even “It gives me confidence and challenges me to attain new skills!”, you might say. “Perfecting a new stunt or a tumbling pass feels amazing!”, or “I love the teamwork and my teammates.” are also viable options. I hear you, and I feel you on those points too.

However, I think there’s a bit of an underlying thematic behind the sport that makes it particularly appealing and sticky. You may argue with me on this – but you can’t deny that it nevertheless does exist. What I am talking about is the thrill of ‘being a cheerleader’. There is still a lot of labels and perceptions about cheerleaders, many of which are unfortunately negative, but the main one having to do with sex appeal. There are few cheerleaders who don’t enjoy having an excuse to wear cure sparkly uniforms, massive amounts of glitter, and giant shiny bows on their heads. Just think about the number of people who dress up as cheerleaders for Halloween – clearly the uniform is a coveted item. In fact, from personal experience I can say that one of the main reasons that so many of the grade 9 girls tried out for my high school team was because they wanted that thrill of being able to say they’re cheerleaders. Since few (dare I say none) of them had ever actually stunted or tumbled before, the athleticism was definitely not the main reason for them trying out. I won’t lie, it was the same reason that I myself tried out. Surviving the rest of it was the true test of whether you were cut out or not. But for some, this ‘thrill’ and idea is what kept them going and motivated them to learn the difficult stunting combinations and push through 2 hour practices four times a week. After a few years of cheering, a bit of this novelty does wear off, but I don’t think it ever completely dies. It’s always fun to meet new people and boast about your stunting accomplishments and cheerleading highlights. After a while, all your non-cheer friends, relatives, and pretty much the world knows you as ‘a cheerleader’…and it becomes difficult to imagine what you would be if you quit. It literally becomes your identity. And frankly, I see nothing wrong with that. ❤

Cheers!

-M

 


Tryout Troubles

Well, it’s that time of year again. Tryouts. And aside from the physical nerves, trying to remember a new dance, and sticking your tumbling passes in front of the harshest judges you will face (your future coaches), tryouts can also come with the added stress of choices, decisions, and questions that need your answers. Depending on your age and ability, your might have to make some very important decisions regarding your cheer life, and it’s important to take your time when deciding.

If you’ve only ever cheered on All-star team,  should you try out for your school team for a new experience? If you make it, should you quit all-star? Or can you handle both? Be very honest with yourself and how much you can take on your plate, making sure to prioritize what you need to focus most on in the upcoming year. This goes for both high school and college teams. In general, school teams usually require more time commitment and practice more often than all-star teams. Keep in mind that school teams will also expect you to be present to cheer at football, basketball, and other games taking place at the school. All-star teams on the other hand can be a lot more of a financial strain than school, since you have to pay tuition every month.

Maybe you started cheering on a school team, and now are wondering if you should transition to all-star. And, here comes the million dollar question – if yes, WHICH all-star team should you try out for? It’s a good idea to try out for as many teams as you can, because it’s good to experience how different gyms run their programs. Plus, you never know where you will make it. Don’t underestimate yourself and miss a tryout because you don’t think you’re good enough for a certain team. That’s not your decision to make. So if there’s a team that you’ve had your eye on, don’t wait around until “next year when I’m better”, because you will always have something you can improve on. However, do keep in mind that by trying out you are giving a certain piece of commitment to the gym. If you make it to every gym you try out for, which gym would you choose? You need to know this before you try out, and have the other gyms as your back-ups if you don’t make the one you want.

If you’re on an all-star team, under 18 and not in the College or Open divisions, you might be given a choice of a few different teams you can be on in your gym  – you might be eligible for either a Junior or a Senior team, sometimes competing at different levels. You’ll have to decide if you want to compete at a higher level, or if you’re happy with your current one. Keep in mind that if you’re a top and you’re the smallest/youngest one on a senior team, it’s probably better to stay on Junior, because you’ll learn to be a better flyer when you can hold your own weight being held by girls your own size and not simply being muscled around by bases that are twice your size. You might decide to be a crossover athlete – being on more than one team at your gym. Make sure you can handle the pressures of training so much, and learning more than one routine at the same time while keeping up with your school work and other commitments.

Then there’s the whole issue of coed vs. all-girl, and that’s a different game altogether. Perhaps you’ve never been on coed but would like to try it, or the other way around. It can be hard making the switch the older you are, especially on all-star teams. One way to get more coed experience is to join a good coed university/college team. (Unfortunately this also comes with the little problem of having to actually be enrolled in the school.)

Maybe you’ve been on an all-star team for years, and you’ve had the same coach throughout. While you’ve had a blast, maybe you feel like you’ve stopped improving, or maybe you’ve just gotten bored of the same coaching style. Don’t be afraid to explore other cheer options just because you’re ‘loyal’ to your gym and may be afraid of unspoken repercussions by your gym, your teammates and your coaches. You shouldn’t be bullied into staying on a team, and even if it’s not an in-your-face verbal abuse, unspoken judgment  that affects your relationship with your teammates, coaches, and gym can still be considered bullying. Switching to another gym shouldn’t be like breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, and you shouldn’t have to lose friends in the process. Every good coach should understand that it’s good for athletes to experience a few different gyms and coaches throughout their cheer careers, to figure out what fits them best and what pushes them to be the best athlete they can be. A lot of the time there isn’t one coach that is the best coach for every single one of their athletes, because athletes are human, and have very different needs in terms of coaching. Gyms should be happy for their athletes wherever they are, as long as they’re improving and becoming the best cheerleaders they can be.

Perhaps you have a tough year ahead – maybe your last year of university, or you’re going away to study elsewhere for a semester, or you’ve got a new very demanding job. You might have to consider – GASP – dropping cheerleading altogether for a year or two. While it may seem impossible to do, you must think what will be best for you in the long run. Yes, you may lose some skills, but you don’t have to! All gyms have an ‘Open gym’ night every week where you can keep up with your tumbling and stunting, without the pressures of a routine or competition.

Then there’s the possibility of transitioning from being an athlete to coaching. It’s a whole new way of looking at cheerleading, that can be very rewarding, but also very stressful and time-consuming. You can start by volunteering with a team or being an assistant coach. You’ll have to also get your USASF certifications, as well as maybe a few other qualifications, depending on the gym’s requirements, but some gyms offer to pay the fees for you if you’ll coach for them. Another good way to try out coaching is to go back to your high school team (if you were on it) and talk to their coach about helping out.

I hope I’ve given you enough to think about, and I hope you all make it on your dream team this year! I know that having so many choices can be very stressful and difficult, but once you sort it out  you will feel very relieved, trust! It’s easiest if you start off by process of elimination, being realistic about what you can and can’t handle, and narrow it down from there. Some of your cheer dreams may have to wait, and that’s perfectly okay, because cheerleaders always find their way in the world. 🙂

Cheer on!

-Mina


Cheerleading – A Sport or A Beauty Pageant?

At a recent 2-day competition we attended this weekend, all those hairspray fumes got to my head and got me thinking. Power Cheerleading is definitely a sport to those of us who are involved in it – we know how hard we sweat, condition, bruise, and endure pain to get to where we are, making flying through the air seem easy and defying gravity in tumble passes and pyramids. But to an on-looker who is unfamiliar with all this, the athletic aspect might seem to come in second.

I was telling one of my non-cheer friends about how I had to get a spray tan, spend two grueling nights in a row sleeping on curlers in my hair, have half of my top vision cut off and my eyes burn due to fake eyelashes and eyelash glue, and spend 45 minutes each day carefully applying competition make-up (which, as you know, involves a lot of glitter and bright red lipstick), and she (rightly so) exclaimed “Wow, sounds more like you’re going to a beauty pageant!”. Hmmm. Well, coupled with the giant bows on our heads, and shiny, skirted uniforms, competitive cheerleaders probably look like anything but serious athletes.

Think about it. How many other athletes wear bows on their heads and have to curl their hair or have the privilege to even wear their hair half-up-half-down? For a bunch of people claiming that we work harder than football players, we certainly don’t look the part. It seems to me that too much attention is being put on looking pretty at competition, while not enough is placed on hitting a flawless routine. Gymnasts don’t even tumble with their hair down, and certainly don’t wear so much glitter on their face, that they resemble incandescent lamps from far away. While there are other sports where looking pretty is required, (like figure skating or synchronized swimming), cheerleading is the only one that is still plagued with stereotypes. Putting such extreme efforts into appearance within our sport only confirms the existing stereotypes of cheerleaders to people unfamiliar with what we do (which sadly is a pretty large chunk of the population).

Don’t get me wrong, as a cheerleader I do enjoy getting primped for a performance, but I’m just saying it’s becoming rather on the extreme side. When people ask me “Why do you have to get a spray tan for cheer?”, I’m really not sure what to answer. Uhhhh….because we are a vain little bunch and strive to look hot in our itsy bitsy midriff exposing uniforms? I try and make up something like “If you’re too pale you look washed out in the bright lights and you really stand out…”

While this is true, at the end of the day, when you go out on that floor, the most perfect curls and the longest lashes in the world won’t make a difference if you hit a bad routine and have stunts fall. Judges almost never comment on makeup or tans on score sheets. Putting so much emphasis on your athletes’ appearance makes them unfocused, and adds to their worry. Having to worry about things like your eyelash falling and hanging off your eye mid-routine, or your hair getting stuck on your face while performing, is stressful. Instead of focusing on hitting sharp motions and sticking stunts, athletes (especially younger ones not used to it) can easily be distracted by wardrobe, hair, and makeup malfunctions.

It’s not really the coaches’ fault – it’s the way the whole industry is set up. Hair down shouldn’t be allowed, and fake eyelashes really won’t make a huge difference from 50m away (regular mascara will do just as well). The fact that our uniforms still involve skirts 100 years after the birth of  original cheerleading, is a little ridiculous, considering the sport’s advancements in athleticism. Take away what you want from this article, but consider that if we are to break up the stereotypes of cheerleaders being ‘ditzy, hot, dumb, bitchy, and vain’, we should probably ease up on the  Barbie factor at comp.

Cheer on!

-Mina


ICU Worlds Only 3 Days Away!!

Get excited people! As sourced from American Cheerleader Magazine, this year’s World’s Championship will include more than 70 teams!! Many teams are already arriving at the Walt Disney World Resort to get accustomed to local time and to get a chance to practice on the big floor. Lots of first-time teams to look out for, like Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe!! It’s so exciting to watch this amazing sport grow throughout the world! Rumor has it that Russia is ready to rock this year as well. I wish I could be there so bad! But for everyone like me who can’t, I presume that Varsity.com will be doing their usual coverage and taping of all the teams and you’ll be able to watch them online on Varsity TV like they’ve done in the past.

Team USA is training hard at the Great Wolf Lodge in Dallas, Texas, and of course, everyone is excited to see what they’ll bring to the floor this year.

But, let’s be real, as a true Canadian, I’m mostly excited to watch Team Canada!! Anyway, the countdown is on!

Cheer on!

-Mina


OCF Provincials 2011

Yesterday was a rather emotional and very long day! Technically, it was a two-day competition, but luckily for our team we only had to compete Sunday. We competed in the Open 4.2 category. We had two runs, and pushed hard. We got there at 12:30 and had our first run around 3pm. First warm-up didn’t go so well, but luckily we pulled through when we got to the floor. I personally felt really good about that first run, in terms of my own stunts, except for a part in one of our pyramids that I fixed for the second run. I was extremely nervous for the first run, but I think that made me push harder and give it my all. Plus, I felt like throwing up right after, which is a good sign meaning that I did my best.

After the first run we were in second place with a team ahead of us and one behind us. We really, really knew we HAD to bring it all for the second run, because the team that was ahead of us wasn’t beating us by much, and we knew our routine was good enough to win if we gave it all.

Right before warm-up for the second run, we were all so exhausted already, that I wondered how we would bring it all on the floor. We conserved our energy during the second warm-up and only did a few stunts. I was a little bummed out that for our second run our coach decided to take out a few back walkovers (that I was super excited and had practiced a lot for) but in the end, it made sense since they weren’t perfect and were making the routine pretty messy. Guess I’ll just work extra hard to perfect them and hurry up and get my handspring already. (I know, I know, what kind of a cheerleader am I without a handspring is what you’re thinking lol.)

Anyways, despite the grogginess, we pulled through and (I hope) lit up the floor for run number two. Apparently we didn’t light it up enough, because we still ended up placing second, but we gave it our all and in the end of the day, the rest is out of our control. Shout outs to Wolverine Elite from Niagara, who came in first, as well as to Empire Cheer Eagles who came in third and put on a good performance too.

I was so exhausted when I finally got home, that when I fell asleep I had wild dreams of tumbling passes and back handsprings and a crazy fierce competition I was at… yes, cheerleaders really do eat, breathe, and SLEEP cheer. I kept waking up though because my arm was really sore and bruised up. Anyways, now we’re all off to practice for another two weeks so we can kick some French-Canadian  butt in Montreal!!

OH I almost forgot to also give shout outs to CCA’s own Blue, Black and Silver teams who did amazing as well. Black team were Provincial Champs out of 6 other teams, and Silver placed 3rd! HURRAY CCA!

Well, that’s all for now!

Cheer on!

-Mina

PS. Kyleigh and I have officially decided that when we open our own cheer gym one day, our animal mascot will be the Elephants. Or the Hyenas…that would go over pretty well I think. No?