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How to judge the UAAP Cheerdance Competition: An InterAKTV Visual Guide

InterAKTV/Markku Seguerra

First rule: rank your alma mater in top place; then, for the rest of the standings, may the pointers in the following help.

There is no doubt that school loyalty can easily cloud one’s judgment in a competition that may be deemed as subjective as the UAAP Cheerdance Competition. There are neither balls to shoot nor a record time to beat. During the competition itself, there is no running tally of how the competitors stack up against each other, and so by the time the winners are announced, some fans may find themselves bewildered by the result.

However, the UAAP CDC, happening Saturday, September 22, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena, is not as subjective as it appears. There are other things to look out for in a routine than a team’s props, costumes, or theme.

The trend started in 2009, when instead of traditionally having all eight UAAP schools represented in the board of judges, the league appointed officials from gymnastics, cheerleading, and dance organizations based in the country and outside. Last year, there were two Singaporean representatives from the Internal Cheer Union; a Filipino and Japanese judge from the International Federation of Cheerleading; and the artistic director of Ballet Philippines.

The result: technical merits have weighed heavier than artistic ones. Last year’s criteria had a total of 45 points fully devoted to the routine’s level of difficulty and cheerleading stunts, such as lifts, pyramids, and tumbling skills; while the remaining 45 points could be categorized under either technical or artistic values, i.e., “synchronization” and “formations.” The remaining 10 points was credited to “overall effectiveness.”

For some reason, the criteria changes each year — and more logically, so do the set of judges — so take note of who the judges and what the criteria are. (They are normally announced at the start of the competition.)

So what are the technical skills that one should look out for? From last year’s criteria, lifts and stunts; degree of difficulty; and pyramids were allotted 10 points each, so let’s start with those.

The big guns

Lifts and stunts, in this case, refer to the partner or group stunts performed by a squad. (In normal cheerleading terms, a “stunt” is a catchall word for pyramids, tumbling skills, and tosses, but in the UAAP CDC, they are all categorized separately.)

The UP Pep Squad, for example, opened its 2011 routine with an unprecedented four sets of double cupies — one person (the base) balanced two flyers, each “cupped” on one hand. Note, however, that the base was assisted by two other pep squad members — an unassisted double cupie would have merited a higher difficulty score — but still, the stunt is nothing to sniff at. (In the same year, the DLSU Animo Squad attempted the same stunt with assistants, but failed.)

UP Pep Squad's double cupie. InterAKTV/Markku Seguerra.

No UAAP team has done an unassisted double cupie in the competition — even an unassisted cupie (one flyer, one base) is hard to execute — so that’s one thing to look out for this Saturday. Aside from the Fighting Maroons, watch out for the DLSU Animo Squad and Ateneo Blue Babble Battalion, who have all introduced unassisted partner stunts in the last few years.

DLSU Animo Squad's unassisted stunt. InterAKTV/Markku Seguerra

A pyramid is a grouping of multiple stunts. As with partner stunts, one must watch out for the ratio between the base and the flyers. Is the base crowded with assistants? How many persons does it take to support one flyer? Are the assistants supporting the foot, the leg, or knee of the flyer? (Ideally, they should not go beyond the ankle.)

For all this effort, how many middle/top flyers are in fact, up there? The pyramid to beat is UP’s 4-4-5 pyramid (four bases, four middle and five top flyers). We’ll see if this year, any of the schools would manage to squeeze in a sixth top flyer in its pyramid.

The pyramid to beat: UP's 4-4-5 with toss mounting. GIF from video of YouTube user Starsmash70

Aside from the number of flyers, base, and assistants, one should also consider how the flyers were mounted for both partner or group stunts and pyramids. Were they tossed from the ground? Or did another flyer help her partner crawl to the top? How many counts did it take for the team to complete the pyramid?

A toss mount is in itself already difficult but it can be even more complex with a full-up, where a flyer rotates 360-degrees sideways, or a rewind, where a flyer back-flips. UP and the FEU Cheering Squad have done those feats in its pyramid and stunts in the last two years. It will be more exciting if we see them or other teams do a double full-up (two-cycle rotation) or unassisted rewinds on Saturday.

UP's three assisted rewinds with double full dismount. GIF from video of YouTube user Starsmash70

All things being equal — meaning there are the same number of flyers and base — you’ll look at the pyramid or partner stunts’ stability and the flyers’ final pose: a wobbly or unsustained formation would earn deduction, while flyers who form a scorpion, bow and arrow, or even a handstand get more points than those who are “merely” up there.

The height isn’t much of a factor as most schools do a 2.5-high pyramid anyway — anything higher is considered illegal for safety reasons.

FEU executes a bow and arrow. InterAKTV/Markku Seguerra

Once the partner stunt /pyramid is formed, check out the flyer’s dismount. At this point, some flyers would still show off their skills — for good reasons — performing a full-, double-, up to a triple-down for extra impact.

Unclean landings, wherein body parts hit the floor (other than what the stunt called for), would however, earn deductions. The job of the assistants and spotters would also be crucial at this point—they need to make sure the flyers are caught safely.

UP's cartwheel dismount. GIF from video of YouTube user Starsmash70

Other technical factors

Jumps, tumbling skills, and tosses were allotted five points each in last year’s criteria. They may look minor, but when accrued, it can give a huge boost to a squad, as in DLSU’s case, which featured a variety of well-executed full-twist tosses and tumbling passes, and which helped them clinch second place last year.

For tosses, you’ll look at the height. The NU Cheer Squadron showed many variations of tosses in last year’s competition but the flyers didn’t end up long enough in the air for them to execute their stunts gracefully — that’s something for the Bulldogs to improve on as they are in their strongest shape yet to barge into the Top 3.

Tumbling seems to be the bane of most squads’ routines — it’s not unusual to see cheerleaders make the sign of the cross immediately before executing their passes, hoping to at least land safely afterward. Common errors include losing balance after the flip and using their hand or bum to prop them back up.

Most dancers also land way off the mark, particularly in a standing back tuck, wherein a cheerleader is supposed to flip backwards (with knees “tucked” toward their abdomen) in place and without the use of his/her hands. FEU has been the most impressive UAAP team in this regard — the Tamaraws have fielded as much as five full twisters last year. Almost of all of them could also do a running and standing back tuck.

Almost the entire FEU squad executes a running back tuck. GIF from video of YouTube user OnnyBengan

Overall, technical judges would also check how much percentage of a squad is performing these skills (and in how many variations) to determine the difficulty level of a team’s routine.

A school’s theme, while not categorically included in the criteria, does help set the artistic direction of the routine, including its choreography, cohesiveness, and visual impact. Fast-paced music, pleasing sound effects, and positive facial expression should highlight what should be an energetic performance from start to end.

Jason Doplito writes about pop culture in his blog J.walking. Follow him on Twitter for more discussion on this year’s UAAP Cheerdance Competition.

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