A UP Pep Squad routine is never just entertaining.
This was what I had in mind when I trooped to the SMART-Araneta Coliseum knowing that UP is doing a Madonna-themed routine for the 2011 UAAP Cheerdance Competition. For the past three years, the squad performed competition pieces that celebrated Filipino and state university culture, with Tagalog cheers and mostly OPM soundtrack. This year, its athletes colored their hair blond. What does UP have anything to do with Madonna?
“Our squad has a reputation for having masculine male cheerleaders,” said Karla Gumabay of DLSU’s Animo Squad in an interview for U Magazine, which debunked cheerleading myths. She was particularly referring to the myth that “male cheerleaders are gay,” and the photo for which featured the UP Pep Squad holding sunflowers as part of its 2010 routine that celebrated Pinoy fiestas. (The photo appeared on FHM’s website, which reposted the article.)
And so what of the other cheering squads’ reputation? The article preceded her quote by saying, “On one end of the spectrum, you have Far Eastern University’s butterfly brothers, and on the other, DLSU’s manly lineup.”
FEU’s reputation was never that it has an effeminate squad; to cheerleading aficionados, their reputation is that they are one of the best in the country. And using that photo of the UP Pep squad in a derogatory context is not only an insult to an internationally-recognized cheerleading team, but also to Filipino culture, part of which marks flower festivals.
What exactly are “masculine male” cheerleaders? Judging by DLSU’s team, we surmise that they probably don’t do much dancing, much less work on their “spirit fingers.” They are probably into strong and macho stuff, like serving as base in pyramids or lifting ladies with one or two hands.
But female UP Pep Squad cheerleaders do that. (See middle partner stunt.)
UP Pep Squad’s Madonna routine is postmodernist in that it exposes gender stereotypes; it criticizes people’s tendency to sharply and narrow-mindedly classify male from female, or in this case, gay from straight. Note that this postmodernism has been ongoing for years: since 2007, female UP Pep Squad team members have been cutting their hair short. Last year’s was the most drastic, and one of the most heard comments from their styling and uniform then was that “it was hard to tell which one is male and which one is female.”
What is with this obsession to rigidly assign specific roles down to cheerleading? Why must females have long hair, or why can’t guys split nor do pirouettes? And how come we’ve never heard other squads proudly declare that their female cheerleaders are “feminine”?
Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy
This year, everyone in the UP Pep Squad colored their hair blond. The guys specifically, were also instructed to shave their armpit hair. As they entered the floor to compete in their tight-fitting sleeveless shirts and shiny black pants, the men looked nothing like what traditionalists would describe as “masculine.”
Five seconds into the routine, they were performing the UAAP’s first-ever double cupie: lifting two fliers—one on each hand—and four sets at that.
So were they “masculine” not before they entered the floor, but only after the routine’s first five seconds? If they were not performing double cupies, will they also be described as “butterfly brothers”?
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading
– “What It Feels Like for a Girl,” Madonna
While previous UP Pep Squad routines emancipated us from female-male stereotyping, this year’s Madonna routine exposes our straight-gay biases. It was almost hostile (to conservatives, at least) in its reproach: as the men were pouting their lips and fluffing their hair, they were lifting and tossing the fliers in a show of stability and strength.
Contextual analysis aside, the entire routine was, most definitely, a display of the UP Pep Squad’s power. In the partner stunts, note how the men would lift the ladies if not with two hands (in some cases, unassisted), then with one hand (assisted). Even if assisted, only one other pep squad member would stabilize the flier.
The ladies were just as strong; in the routine’s first pyramid (0:47), four mid-fliers balanced five top fliers on their thighs, shoulders and arms. You can also just imagine the strain this placed on the four bases below. The way this pyramid was mounted—the third set of fliers were merely thrown to the top—made this an extremely difficult stunt.
The team launched into full-on assault mode beginning at the 3:26 mark with six scorpions (3:31) to arabesque (3:37) with full-down dismount. Four fliers performed a double back handspring to cradle position (3:44) and then from an extended level, they were tossed to a single-base extension (3:47), dismounting with a bird-front. The craziness continued as they did four rewinds (3:57) finishing with a double full-down dismount. At 4:23, two fliers did a double full twist, the team’s most complicated tosses for this piece.
Eschewing stereotype, a male cheerleader took the role of the flier at 4:11 to become the center of the routine’s last pyramid, before UP ended the routine itself with an homage to the woman who, like the UP student, espouses independent thinking and freedom of expression. In its open-mindedness, the UP Pep Squad was able to do what other squads may have limited themselves from doing.