Dusidorf · Cheerleading has a clichéd reputation: short skirts, lots of make-up, frenetic cheering. Cheerleaders from Bonn-Duisdorf explain why what was once considered a sexist break-filler is now a real competitive sport.
In its origins, "leading the cheer", as cheerleading translates, was an all-male affair. Today, however, there are only two men in the 26-strong Warriors team of cheerleaders from the Duisdorfer Turn- und Kraftsportverein (TKSV). "It's difficult with the boys," says coach Lena Lütt (26). "They usually only come to us in their early to mid-20s." Then they have the self-confidence to say, I'm a cheerleader and I don't care what you say. It's different with 16- or 17-year-olds. They are usually still teased at school about dancing with pom poms.
Physiotherapist Yannic Ecker (26) has been with the Duisdorf cheerleaders for a year. "I came from football and got in touch with cheerleading through a patient." Now he is enthusiastic about it, even though he has already sustained minor injuries such as bruises, overstretching or capsule injuries several times. "Something always happens," says his sports buddy Nele Brabender (18), who already performed as a Funkenmariechen at the Oberkassel carnival club "Nixen vom Märchensee" in her primary school days and has preferred the sporting challenges of cheerleading for about four years now.
"The dance girls want to entertain their audience"
"The Tanzmariechen want to entertain their audience," says Ecker, "while we want to compete against other teams." With his statement, it is clear that cheerleading today has largely moved away from the rather sexist preconceptions of consisting only of "fluffy wags and bottom wiggles“.
At the latest when the basketball players of Alba Berlin said goodbye to their cheerleaders in 2019 and expressed the opinion "that the appearance of young women as attractive intermission fillers at sporting events no longer fits our times", the focus was directed to cheerleading as a competitive sport with regional to international championships. Dancing and cheering as a break filler in skimpy clothing has been under discussion ever since. "Even with us, the ladies won't be belly-baring for long," says Ecker. Whereas the TKSV competition teams of the Unicorns (6 to 12 years) and the Heroes (11 to 16 years) have not been allowed on the mat belly-free by the club for a long time.
Merger between Warriors and Waves
Since last year, the TKSV Warriors (17 years and older) have been training and competing together with the Remagen Waves as "W United". Their training goal is to practise a sequence of stunts called a three-minute routine up to four times a week to such perfection that they qualify for the German Championships via regional eliminations and state championships, which the now united Waves and Warriors did not manage to do this year, however.
"For me, the most important thing is always that the athletes feel comfortable with what they have shown. Many of them also say that team cohesion is more important to them than participating in the championships," the coach admits. Lütt got into cheerleading when she was eleven. "After watching the American animated series Kim Possible, I also really wanted to become a cheerleader," she recalls. However, due to an injury, the studied sports manager could no longer actively practice her sport and has been a coach since 2015.
"I started relatively old school," she laughs. She still knows the origins of cheerleading, when she cheered on the audience of an American football team in a pleated skirt during games in Cuxhaven. "Elements from that time can still be found at the championships today," says Lütt.
Pre-programme is a distinction from acrobatics
The championships would still start with a "cheer". Before the often acrobatic stunts with flickflacks, somersaults and pyramids are presented to the jury on the fourteen-by-fourteen-metre jumping floor, the aim would be to cut a good figure in about 30 seconds with pom poms, shouts and dancing. "Very old school," laughs Lütt.
He says the idea is to distinguish this "preliminary programme" from floor gymnastics and sports acrobatics. "I think it's good," she says, "that we show where cheerleading comes from." She says it is important to make athletic feats look easy. Besides, "showmanship" is also a judging criterion at the championships, she adds. As in the past, the goal is still to "tear down the hall". It still has to be loud and colourful. "And yet the girls want to put on pretty make-up and have a fancy pigtail." That's not the most important thing, she says, but it's part of cheerleading. "No matter how strong they are, the eye shadow has to be right," Lütt laughs. She says it has nothing to do with sexism, as was the case with the commercial cheerleaders who once danced for Alba Berlin in the Basketball Bundesliga. The women would have worn "extremely little". "Our association is now also trying to coin the term cheer sport more," says Lütt.
Original text: Stefan Hermes
Translation: Mareike Graepel