Dancing To Their Own Beat

A former cheerleader, dancer and model, I somehow wound up with two boys who LOVE football. While I watch them at practice, and pray that neither breaks any bones, I am distracted by cheerleading practice in the distance.

As the girls ages 5 through 15 practice their stunts and cheers, one of them suddenly tumbles from the top of a pyramid onto a matted area, smashes her head and bursts into tears; she is forced to lie still and await medical attention.

In recent years, cheerleading injuries have surpassed football injuries in severity.

The sport begs for more creativity each year--tossing girls higher, building taller pyramids, and designing more intricate details of how to mount and dismount during routines--all of which can lead to increased risk. When considering the maturity level needed to hold someone up during a stunt, one may ask if a young adult even has that capability.

This is not to suggest that cheerleading is not a successful and exhilarating way to remain active, flexible and strong. However, what if there was another sport available to young women that would also benefit them in the future?

Although competitive dance has been offered at the college level for a number of years, it was recently introduced in youth sports, and is picking up steam for two reasons:

• The risk of injury is minimal.

• The benefits are far-reaching.

All The Difference

When I was approached about coaching cheerleading, I offered my resume. The league was thrilled to find an experienced dance teacher because it was adding a dance team. Getting started was difficult because a dance team is a relatively new concept, especially in Tampa, Fla.

On the first day of practice, the team welcomed 12 participants, and drew quite a bit of attention. The music, costumes, dance shoes and heat-friendly uniforms all made the team more appealing. Within two weeks, the team grew to 20 people.

Among some of the differences I recognized from cheerleading:

• No one ever missed a practice or a game (and I mean EVER).

• Young girls started to move their bodies with pride and determination.

• Children were motivated, and could not wait to get to practice.

• Those who were not very good at cheer the previous year suddenly excelled tremendously.

Another benefit I discovered at the end of the season was at the competition level. Since dance is so new to youth sports, there was little competition in our category, which was nice for a team starting out.

At the end of the season, several parents who had not signed their child up for cheering signed them up for dance because there was no “stunting” required. The program has grown to two dance teams, and it is possible we may completely phase out cheerleading.

Interestingly, we had the most crowd participation and player appreciation of all the other teams. During halftime, the girls performed a dance routine; rather than jumping and yelling, and danced on the sidelines; instead of cheers, they had methodical “chants.” The crowd’s excitement and outstanding parental support have given the team confidence and determination, which, at the end of the day, is what youth sports is all about.

Who can argue with giving young adults a better posture, physique, discipline, ability to follow instructions and overall self-esteem? Add this program to your lineup--young women, and maybe even some young men--will thank you.

Kati Trammel is an advertising and public relations specialist in Lakeland, Fla. She can be reached at katitram@yahoo.com.