Cheerleading as a practice emerged from the ‘yell leading’ traditions practiced by fans at varsity football games in the USA during the 1860s. College teams began to recognize the entertainment and encouragement benefits of having dedicated yell leaders that amped up the crowd and geared up the sportspeople. Cheerleading was initially a very male concern – mirroring the highly masculine world of Victorian college football participation. During the Second World War, women became more involved in the practice. Today, around 85 percent of all cheer participants are female. Female cheerleaders evolved the practice to include gymnastic and choreographic displays. Today, cheerleading is as competitive as the football it was initially developed to support. Here is some of the essential gear used by cheerleaders around the USA today. Most college cheer teams will provide some of the equipment, or at least recommend the equipment that participants need to purchase themselves.
Most cheerleading squads require cheer participants to purchase and wear custom cheer shorts when competing or cheering at a football game. These shorts – or skorts – come in a variety of different designs. Most modern squads use tight fitting shorts made of a breathable stretchy fabric. This allows for the maximum amount of movement during complex routines.
Pom poms are perhaps the most recognizable piece of cheerleading kit. These bright, feathered gloves are used to accentuate the arm and hand movements of cheerleaders and create an almost firework like display when used effectively. Pom Poms were first used by cheerleaders as early as the 1930s. The first vinyl pom poms – the kind commonly used today – were introduced in 1965. They were invented by Fred Gastoff and almost immediately put into use by top cheerleading squads around the country.
Cheerleading teams don’t just dance – they cheer! Cheering is still a huge part of the practice, and teams regularly make use of megaphones in order to make their voices heard over the raucous atmosphere of a football match. Cheering using a megaphone while completing a complex acrobatic maneuver is no mean feat.
Almost all cheer teams wear customized tops when performing or competing. Cheer tops are characterized by bright colors, breathable fabric and prominent team insignia. Cheer teams are often dressed in a way that reflects the football team they are linked with. Recently, cheer teams that are separate from football teams have developed uniforms that express their own team identity.
Modern cheerleading involves some incredibly impressive aerial moves. These can look effortless on the football pitch, but there is usually a great many spills and falls during practice while a team learns how to put together a good athletic display. Landing mats are essential pieces of cheerleading training equipment. They allow cheer participants to safely fall during practice so that they can develop complex maneuvers. Some of the most ambitious cheer teams practice swan dives – aerial moves in which a cheerleader is caught when in a prone position. These stunts would be incredibly dangerous to practice without a set of landing mats.
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