Cheerleading is growing in popularity in the UAE Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: When was the last time your eyes were drawn to a group of cheerleaders on the sidelines of a cricket or football field? As the girls in glitter broke into a dance with pompoms in their hands, chances are you thought they made for a pretty picture. But there’s more to their presence than just that.

“Cheerleading is a sport in itself. Cheerleaders come together as athletes to support a team, cheer them on and lead the crowds to participate in the event,” says the Abu Dhabi-based Kerry Mesmer, programme director of Emirates Cheer League (ECL) which provides coaching in cheerleading in the UAE. An American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators-certified coach with over 10 years experience, Mesmer, originally from New York, says, “The aim of ECL is to provide participants with an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of cheerleading in a positive and safe environment.”

She says cheerleading is growing in popularity in the UAE. “We are seeing a lot of interest these days as the youth here are getting the exposure.”

Two categories

Mesmer says cheerleading is pursued under two categories – recreational and competitive. ECL, which currently focuses on recreational programmes in the UAE, supports the Emirates American Football League, besides cheerleading programmes in two schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Open to anyone aged seven and up, the recreational sessions are conducted twice a week across different venues in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. “We evaluate the potential ability of students and train them at different levels.”

 We are seeing a lot of interest in cheerleading in the UAE as the youth are getting the exposure.”

 - Kerry Mesmer, Emirates Cheer League

Far from being a random act, cheerleading involves a set of highly defined movements. “We have the tumbling component which is the gymnastics side of cheerleading. It requires athletes to use their bodies to flip, twist, roll and jump. They learn how to do forward walks, round offs etc and get assessed at various levels,” explains Mesmer.

Stunting is another key element of cheerleading. As Mermer points out, this is what thrills the crowd. The stunts range from basic extensions and pyramids to high flying basket passes. Each stunt comes with variations and levels, with each level increasing the difficulty of the stunt.

“Dance is the third element of cheerleading while cheer is the fourth component. Part of your score in competitive cheerleading is based on your sense of cheer and your ability to encourage the team, connect with the crowd and make them participate in the event.”

Excited lot

Students are an excited lot. Emma Sophia Fehrman, 13, says, “I like cheerleading because it’s a really fun way to exercise, support the football team and get to know other people. I have two favourite parts, tumbling and chants! Chants are great fun to learn and round offs are super fun to do. I joined ECL because I’ve been cheering on and off since first grade and I’ve always found it exciting.”

The sense of cheer that cheerleaders can generate is a key component of the sport, along with tumbling, stunting and dance.

Aphrodite Theodosiou, 11, says, “I love stunting and attending the games. When you stunt you feel so relaxed and free. When you’re in the air it’s just an unexplainable experience. When you attend the games you feel like you’re part of a team and you get to see what an actual American football game is.”

As Mesmer strives to build a cheerleading community in the UAE, she says it is important that cheerleaders doing stunts follow proper technique and execution, which is where formal training is necessary. “We are currently an all-girl squad but we are open to co-education. My goal is to have competitive teams representing the different emirates.”