Flying stars or life in dance rhythms
What images does cheerleading conjure for you? I can’t help but think of American films in which girls in short skirts perform acrobatic somersaults and pyramids to encourage their team
Zhitkovichi secondary school #3 cheerleading team, coached by Yelena Rekun
“There is nothing difficult in cheerleading,” says Irina Karas, a graduate of secondary school #2, in Zhitkovichi. For the past three years, Ira has been learning how to turn handsprings and perform acrobatic routines, under the direction of Yelena Rekun. Ms. Rekun teaches foreign languages and runs cheerleading classes, having begun by giving lessons in basic acrobatics. The activity grew into a hobby which, in turn, led to more serious sporting events.
School head Anna Druk tells us, “Yelena always calls me to let me know if they’ve had a good journey to a competition, and whether they’ve won any prizes.” Some time ago, Anna decided to introduce some ‘American elements’ into school life, to make it interesting for children, and to help pass the hours in the school holidays. The Ministry of Education suggested developing this direction. Fortunately, Gomel graduate Yelena had decided to return to her home region, and was engaged in cheerleading. She’d become an instructor, and her knowledge and skills were matched with enthusiasm. The group established quickly, partly because of its novelty.
Members of the team regularly worked out in the gym, to build their strength, and took part in their first regional competition in 2013: Pioneer Sparks. They reached the regional stage, then they started to win. Yelena remembers every detail, recalling their first time at the Belarus Cup, in 2014, when the team took third place. The children were thrilled to show that, despite coming from an outlying district, they could outshine others. Initially, their costumes were simple: cut off jean shorts and T-shirts bearing their team logo of Flying Stars. However, Stefan Zweigus, of Milasernasts charity, paid for fabric, which the school’s handicrafts teacher turned into bright costumes.
Yelena Rekun with the most valuable prize
“It’s hard to find a sponsor in our modest district. Nevertheless, the director of local enterprise Saturn-1, who is a friend of the school, has promised support,” Anna Druk says. “Parents have also been enthusiastic, despite having to pay for children to attend competitions. It’s good that pupils aren’t spending so much time online.”
“Two more cheerleading squads have now been created, for children of younger ages: Caramels took second place in the regional competition Pioneer Sparks-2015; and, although the first formers only began training a month ago, they’re already performing splits and somersaults,” underlines Ms. Druk.
Yelena emphasises, “Our younger group is yet to travel to compete but all like jumping. Many are afraid of heights so I advise them to jump from the table to the sofa at home. Actually, it’s good for them to retain a sense of fear, as it tightens the muscles, making it easier to twist in the air. If they’re too relaxed, they may fall. Of course, it’s potentially dangerous. During a celebratory assembly, we performed on asphalt but, thank God, had no casualties.”
Some parents chose not to attend the celebratory assembly, and avoid competitions also, feeling too scared to watch! However, they’re happy to watch recordings afterwards. Ninth-former Misha Karas, who is very tall, lifted his partner on outstretched arms during the national championship this year: an element included among ‘adult exercises’. It requires great strength, and he was the only youngster to achieve the move, which delighted the international judges. Only his coach knows how hard she was praying for him, although she believed he was capable. Naturally, she felt relieved once the exercise had been completed. They were still perfecting the move during last minute rehearsals. Ms. Rekun admits, “We usually set off to competitions in the evening and always train the night before. It’s not enough to perform exercises beautifully; your voice is important too. I remember that I had to practise shouting for the Caramels, running for an hour in the gym while shouting. Senior age children are less inhibited and now have experience from performing.”
In the meantime, the children continue training in the gym, preparing a surprise for September 1st. Sometimes, the senior pupils stage performances independently, which makes their coach very proud. Team captain Vadim Tychina stages duets for little girls, while Ira Karas is an expert in freestyle. All achievements are registered in a special portfolio, for members of the Belarusian Federation of Cheerleading. By showing your experience of training, it opens doors for future work with children.
Naturally, it’s vital to stay in shape, so it’s great that the children have access to the gym at weekends and during holidays. At other times, they train on the horizontal bars. It seems that the only way is up, with the children setting an example of aspirations having no bounds.
The term cheerleading (from ‘cheer’, meaning approving and inviting exclamation, and ‘lead’ meaning to guide) appeared in the USA in the 1870s. The notion became most popular in the mid-20th century, with groups of girls and boys taking to sports grounds during breaks in games to perform short, rousing dance programmes. Often, they’d hold bright pompons and, eventually, these performances became an independent sport, with its own international competition circuit.
Cheerleading combines showmanship with gymnastic exercises and acrobatic elements, with tight moves, fervent shouts and, typically, pyramid formations. It’s a good choice for girls who wish to keep toned and supple. Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Sandra Bullock and Madonna all took part in cheerleading and even some presidents: David Eisenhower, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George Walker Bush. Cheerleading is divided into two basic directions: team competitions following rules; and work with sports clubs to support your team at matches and attract spectators.
By Maria Dronova