When the docuseries Cheer made its debut on Netflix in 2020, the cheerleading world, though already popular among young girls in America, imploded in notoriety within the athletic realm.
In every team, there are also different roles with different physical activities in competitive cheerleading. There are flyers, bases, tumblers, and backspots.
- Bases make the foundation of every stunt. They do most of the heavy lifting and have to be extremely sturdy. In all-girls cheer teams, bases work in pairs, which means they have to learn how to communicate with each other and constantly keep each other in check to hold the flyer steady.
- Backspots are similar to bases but differ in placement during the stunt. They are situated at the back of the stunt, holding the flyers’ thighs or ankles, and are in charge of stabilizing the stunt. When a flyer falls or dismounts, they are their first point of contact. This role is typically assigned to the tallest girls on the team.
- Flyers are usually the lightest and smallest girls on the team, though it varies depending on experience and fit. The role of the flyer is to be lifted or tossed into the air, which means flyers have to be comfortable with heights and the prospect of falling. (It’s the most exciting role for a reason!) Flyers are known for their stage presence, and because they’re the ones with all eyes on them while stunting, they have to know how to entertain. Ironically, a huge factor of flying is the falling part, which means that you have to learn how to trust your team to catch you.
In my all-girl cheer team, a stunt group consisted of two bases, a backspot, and a flyer. Before I watched the docuseries or joined my university’s competitive cheer team, I had no idea what the sport was about. I knew nothing about the competitive aspect of cheer, nor the high-stakes elements that make it so exciting to watch.
Cheerleading is a team-based high-energy sport that involves stunting, tumbling, jumps and dance components all fused into a two-and-a-half-minute routine set to upbeat, polyphonic music. Cheerleading combines skills from dance and gymnastics, but its high-level stunts are what sets it apart from other sports. It does not involve pom-poms (which is a different type of cheer dance typically performed on the sidelines called Pom) and is not confined to the sidelines.
When it first started, American cheerleading was an all-male sport that occurred only on the sidelines during football games. Since then, it has evolved into an intensely competitive co-ed sport. Cheerleaders perform on a sprung floor stage-like area with an audience and a panel of judges scoring them on their routine.
There are six levels of skill proficiency in cheer, with 1 being the least advanced and 6 being the most advanced. Different levels require different skills in successive difficulties.
I joined my university’s level 1 cheer team at the beginning of my third year, and despite it being the lowest level, I was still pushed to my limits and worked so hard that I woke up sore each day. It was the best feeling I’ve ever had.
In my cheer team, all of us doubled as stunters and tumblers, since we could both stunt and tumble. However, there are some exceptions where some cheerleaders only take on one role. Tumblers may perform a tumbling routine while the rest of the team is in main stunts.
The cheer dance routine is timed to sets of eight counts, with a cue on each count such that it keeps the team in sync. If the music stops suddenly halfway through the routine, cheer teams will not stop on account of technical difficulties. The team will have trained to know what to do based on the counts that they would be screaming out loud in synchrony, anyway.
The routine consists of these sections: an opening act, main stunts, standing tumbling, jumps, the pyramid, running tumbles, and a dance segment.
- Main stunts involve stunt groups performing a series of stunt skills individually. This might be the most energy-expending part of the routine for the bases, as they have to keep the flyers in the air for an extended period of time.
- Standing tumbling simply means tumbling starting backwards. (For example, starting with a back-walkover.) While running tumbling means tumbling in the forward direction.
- Jumps include a set of toe-touches and hurkeys.
- The dance segment happens in the last part of the routine, and is the last push for performance points. While it is not the most physically demanding, by the time the dance segment rolls around, the team is exhausted beyond repair.
Still, we keep smiling and smiling and smiling. That’s the motto we live by.