Breaking stereotypes and defying expectations with stunts, acrobatics and dance are the Cambridge Cougars, the University Cheerleading Society.
“There’s an idea of what a cheerleader looks like, but it’s for everyone,” says Lauren Woodman (Natural Sciences (Biology) 2020).
“It’s the image of performing on the sideline of other sports that’s the issue. We want to be seen as a sport in itself, not an accessory for another sport.”
The popular Netflix documentary Cheer helped to grow awareness of a team sport where athleticism and trust are integral.
After a first year at Gonville & Caius disrupted by Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and with a background in dance and gymnastics, Lauren was attracted to the Cougars in her second year by the team ethos and the opportunity to meet students from across collegiate Cambridge.
Cambridge have around 45 cheerleaders of mixed genders, competing in two teams, one at level three and another at level one. Lauren is vice-captain of the level one team.
The two-and-a-half-minute performances are broken up into sections, with: stunts – with ‘flyers’ and bases; jumps – in formation; dance – where uniformity, intensity and aesthetics are judged; and the finale, the pyramid – multiple stunt groups interconnected by flyer formations.
Lauren is a ‘base’ – at the foot of the pyramid – offering strong and steady support. She ensures she is physically fit for routines through interval sprints and regular endurance training.
“The Cheer Netflix documentary was a positive move and that is the sort of thing we do. That made people appreciate the athleticism of the sport,” she adds.
“I’ve never been so physically fit in my life, going from lifting to jumping. It’s the most intense two and a half minutes.”
The unity of the team is forged through training, socials and even a holiday in the summer.
The team is open to mixed genders and people with all physical characteristics. They hold taster sessions at the start and end of the year, plus social swaps with other University sporting clubs.
The Varsity match with Oxford took place last Sunday (March 12), as part of the University Nationals at Derby Arena. The Cambridge and Oxford teams competed in a wider competition, with their scores compared for Light Blue-Dark Blue purposes. Cambridge won the Varsity matches and placed well overall.
“I strongly encourage everyone anyone considering taking up cheerleading to attend the taster sessions and try outs, it one of my fondest memories of my time at Cambridge,” Lauren says.