A girls’ team performing at the Florida Cheer and Dance Championships.
A high school cheerleading squad entertaining the pink-clad home crowd at a football game.
Two cheerleaders celebrating a victory together with players of the football team which they are cheering for.
Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders running onto the Vikings’ football stadium on game day.
Stretching is part of a cheerleader’s basic work out.
Members of the NFL team Arizona Cardinals’ cheerleading squad signing autographs and having friendly conversations with American soldiers and their families.
Cleveland Cavaliers cheerleaders entertaining the audience during a break in a baskeball game in the NBA.
A group of cheerleaders at a cheer and dance competition.
Cheerladers resting their heads on their pompoms in the grass.
Long Beach City College cheerleaders standing around and waiting for an appropriate time to enthuse the spectators.
Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ show group show off their special dance skills on stage.
Two girls nervously waiting for the judges’ verdict in their cheerleading competition.
Howard University Cheerleaders of Washington D.C. taking a group photo.
Two male cheerleaders fulfilling the role, which they often have, of carrying female cheerleaders.

Cheerleaders, as the name suggests, lead the cheering activities at sports games. They do so by chanting, dancing and waving their pom-poms at the crowd to enthuse and to show support for their teams during games. When there is a break in a game, for example at half-time, cheerleaders also perform. Then their human pyramids, elaborate dance choreographies and happy smiles serve to keep the audience engaged and amused until the game starts up again.

Striving for perfection

In addition to cheering at scholastic and professional sporting events, there is competitive cheerleading. Competitive cheerleading teams perform in front of judges, and their routines focus more on tumbling and pyramid stunts than the classical dancing and cheering. In this discipline, perfection is of vital importance and even children’s teams may be drilled very hard. Consequently, with single wobbles possibly costing teams dearly and with children being involved, strong emotions and even tears are common among participants who forget some part of the choreography or accidentally fall in pyramid stunts. However, in competitive cheerleading, the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment of nailing difficult routines can evoke equally strong positive emotions, making the struggle worth it for most participants.

Friendship and social status

In both competitive and scholastic cheerleading, the majority of participants are girls or women. Males, certainly, can also become cheerleaders, but many more girls or women practically always show up to cheerleading try-outs. A possible reason for this is that girls, perhaps more than boys, are attracted not only by the cheering itself but also often by a hope of getting a band of sisters to bond and hang out with. Moreover, once accepted onto a cheerleading squad, females can usually count on being able to enjoy several major perks that male cheerleaders typically don’t get to enjoy as much. These perks have to do with improved social status, and include better chances of being elected school ambassador, more dating opportunities and an increased likelihood of having a successful professional career.

The many cheerleader advantages, quite understandably, sometimes cause envy, which is why it’s important to note that a cheerleader’s good reputation is earned, not automatically given. To stand a chance in the competitive sport — or after-school activity — one has to practice physical fitness, gymnastics, building stunts and dance choreographies several times per week. Furthermore, in high school and, especially, at university level, it is expected that you manage your cheering as well as your studies and your personal conduct exemplarily. If you neglect any of these matters, you risk getting cut from the squad.

Cheering in the NFL

Just like in university, the risk of being removed from a team is ever-present for women belonging to cheerleading squads of professional football or basketball teams in the NFL or the NBA, which is usually the next step up from representing a university squad. However, since only women who dance extremely well, are exceptionally beautiful and have impeccable manners reach this level, people tend to focus more on the difficulty of getting on an NFL or NBA cheerleading team than on the risk of being cut from them. Furthermore, for the few women who make it onto one of these teams, pressure to cut calories and embrace your sex appeal is inevitably going to be high, but the opportunity and excitement of performing in front of TV cameras at sold-out sport stadiums is just as high. Perhaps surprisingly, even at this level, the pay is often low.