Cheerleading as we know it today began as early as 1877 in the United States and even today is very much an American sport, with an estimated 1.5 million participants. Cheerleading is now making its way into other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.K, France and others.
Cheerleading varies from chants to very intense physical routines that generally last between 1 and 3 minutes, with participants undertaking a series of jumps, cheers, dance steps, tumbles and stunts. While the majority of cheerleaders today are female, the first organized cheerleading teams consisted of all males. It wasn’t until 1923 that women were first permitted to participate in the sport, but it took until the early 1940’s for it to be the norm. Due to many young collegiate men being drafted into WWII it left the way open for more women to become cheerleaders.
Professional cheerleading began in the 1950’s and it was at this time that cheerleading began evolving into what it is today. Female cheerleaders were chosen because they were visually more appealing and because they could dance, and because men were the ones being targeted. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ skimpy outfits and sophisticated choreography took cheerleading to a whole new level, with many other national teams following suit and getting their own cheerleading squads. While it was football teams that began getting their own cheerleading squads initially it was not long before other sports such as soccer and basketball followed suit.
In the early 1980’s cheerleading took another huge leap forward when squads began incorporating gymnastic moves and elaborate stunts, becoming extremely strenuous and physically challenging. The level of risk taken by some cheerleaders made it necessary for there to be universal safety standards put in place to prevent the number of serious injuries incurred, and ban dangerous stunts and moves.
Today, as well as cheering their team to victory, cheerleading has become a competitive sport at three levels; high school, college and all-star. Strict guidelines are in place to limit the difficulty and risk of stunts based on each level to prevent injury. Competitive cheerleading is scored on several components, the main ones being the cheer itself, choreography, tumbling, pyramids, and stunting.
Cheerleading outfits have changed considerably over the years also. For many years the traditional cheerleading outfit consisted of a sweater and mid-thigh length pleated skirts. Today’s cheerleaders often opt for uniforms that are made of stretch fabrics that allow flexibility.