Three cheers for Glasgow

Rebecca Day dusts off her pom poms to train with the GU cheerleaders

It is hard to ignore the stereotype entrenched in the mind when someone mentions the word ‘cheerleader’. It has almost become a by-word for blond, tanned and sparkly-toothed American Girls pushing past the high school geeks with one flick of the pompom. So I was curious to see what Glasgow University Cheerleading Squad had to offer. Before I went to see the girls in action, I was told the team were fresh from the success of coming first in the senior open dance category in the British university cheerleading competition Futurecheer, and were already in training for the upcoming nationals in March.

The training session commenced with an intense 15-minute warm-up, in which the squad marched, stretched and jumped in unison aided by the sounds of 80s electro-pop. The team were then given a briefing of their performance in the competition by Captain Justice Reilly, a fourth year medical student who trains and leads the squad. She read from the judge’s reports and they were unanimously glowing, with one praising the “great energy” of the team.

Justice was ecstatic with the result, stating:

“I’m very proud as the whole team participated in the dance. Usually it is only an elite group of about ten people that take part, so it was great that everybody got involved, and of course that we went on to win.”

After the briefing, the training session continued in full swing. The atmosphere in the exercise suite was charged with positivity, the girls were laughing and joking yet simultaneously focused on the task at hand. The girls stood in rows of five and carried out a slick routine in perfect synchrony. Justice observed each routine, highlighting minute areas of improvement — errors invisible to the untrained eye of a casual observer.

The girls then arranged themselves into groups of five, and it was in total amazement that I watched as one team lifted the centre girl, the ‘flyer’, above their shoulders, totally unfazed, before she twirled in the air and fell into the arms of her teammates. In a sport where glory can be the matter of millimeters, the levels of trust amongst the girls is staggering. On one occasion one ‘flyer’ unceremoniously topples to the floor yet is almost instantly back in the air getting tossed about.

After witnessing the extraordinary skills and techniques of the team members, I spoke to Justice about the previous experience of the squad as a whole She explained that the cheerleading group consists of girls with different levels of ability and experience.

“Most people have danced before, but we also have people in the squad who have never had dancing lessons and just fancied trying something new.”

After seeing the Cheerleading squad in action, I realised that modern day media has completely warped my view on ‘cheering’ and it is this somewhat negative stereotype that Justice and her team are out to change. The students dedicate hours of practice to perfect complex routines in order to compete in national sporting competitions. Evidently the results have paid off, with Glasgow’s Cheerleading Squad now ranking amongst the highest University teams in Britain.


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