A Retrospective On All Things Cheerleading, Reality TV's New Darling

We take a cheerleading retrospective to see what the fuss is about.

Cheerleading is having its pop culture moment, but the sport has actually been around for ages. So, how'd we get here? Below, a brief history of cheerleading and our must-watch recommendations if you're keen to dip your toe in the zeitgeist.

Cheerleading, as the name suggests, originated way back when on the idea that having designated groups of people cheering before the crowd at sporting events would entice them to get in on the action. This increased cheering would in turn spur the home team, boost team spirit, and therefore increase team performance.

But since the early days, cheerleading has evolved into a proper sport in its own right. National school and university competitions are held across the globe, and there are an estimated 3.5 million cheerleaders in the US alone. Cheerleading is now a cultural phenomenon, the huge rise in cheer-related shows like Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders tells us as much. Let's look back at where it all began, shall we?

The first cheers

The roots of cheerleading stem as far back as the 19th century, but the credit for the first cheer is commonly cited to a University of Minnesota student named Johnny Campbell, who got the crowd to cheer “Rah, rah, rah! Sku-u-mar, Hoo-rah! Hoo-rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-so-ta!” in the 1898 season. Eventually, a squad of six “yell-leaders” made up entirely of male students was organised.

Move over lads

For the first few decades of its existence, cheerleading was an all-male activity, but that began to change in the 1920s. Now more than 90% of the US’s cheerleaders are female.

The “grandfather of modern cheerleading”

In 1949, Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer, himself a cheerleader, formed the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA). He began holding national cheerleading clinics where he’d teach many moves still used today, including the “Herckie” which was named after him. He also patented the pompom, a staple of cheerleading.

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

Although pro football teams begun implementing cheerleaders on matchdays since the ‘60s, it’s the Dallas Cowboys who really put cheerleaders on the map. Debuting in the 1972 season, they gained national attention for their fun outfits and intricate routines.

In 1977, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders make the cover of Esquire, with the cover line: “The Dallas Cowgirls (The Best Thing About the Dallas Cowboys).”

The nationals

In 1980, the first National High School Cheerleading Championship is held at SeaWorld, of all places. ESPN begins broadcasting the annual event three years later.

Bring it on

Kirsten Dunst stars in the 2000 movie Bring It On, based on the Universal Cheerleaders Association high school competition. Nineties kids everywhere fawned.

Snap back to reality

In 2006, two cheerleading reality shows debut. Cheerleader Nation, about Dunbar High School cheerleaders in Kentucky and their journey to the nationals, and Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, which follows Cowboys cheerleader hopefuls through tryouts.

Cheerleading today

Today, 116 nations belong to The International Cheer Union (ICU), with an estimated 7.5 million participants worldwide. The sport is still most popular in the US, but popularity is growing here in Aus, as well as Japan, France, UK, Germany, and China, to name a few.

The sport’s growing popularity has spawned countless fictional and reality shows. Of course, there was the recent Netflix megahit Cheer, too­. But you can look as far back as 2006, to shows like Cheerleader Nation, that gives an in-depth behind the scenes look at a multi award winning team as they prepare to head to nationals. And then there’s scripted shows like Hellcats, Dare Me, and Hit the Floor.

But if you really want a tried and true full-on behind the scenes look at what it’s like at the top of the cheerleading game, look no further than Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, which is now in its 15th season, and follows each stage in the gruelling audition process prospective Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders have to overcome if they want to make the team.

The show sees the hopefuls go through bootcamps, fitness tests, media interview simulations, dance training, and even written tests. By the end of every season of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, only 36 cheerleaders remain.

You can watch the latest season of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team on the Spike channel on Fetch, or download seasons on AppleTV.

Main Image Credit: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

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