Cheerlebrities — teen cheerleaders with hundreds of thousands of fans on Instagram — are known on social media for their sky-high blonde ponytails and spray-tanned abs. But these girls are spending way more hours in the gym these days than they are taking selfies, all in preparation for World Championships this weekend in Orlando, Florida.
still pushing— Carly Manning (@carlygonewild) April 24, 2014
For flyer Ashley Wilson, a 15-year-old who commands more than 326,000 Instagram followers, Worlds are the Olympics. She's been working on her team's two-and-a-half minute competition routine since last summer. "We practice every single day the last week [before] Worlds," Wilson tells The Wire. "Sometimes we will practice as much as six to eight hours a day." On top of that, Wilson commutes three hours to her gym, Cheer Athletics, in Plano, Texas. (It's a good gym.) Cheer Twitter has been abuzz this week with encouragements to "push" (work hard) in order to "hit" (perform a perfect routine) this weekend.
homework during worlds week is such an inconvenience— Jamie Andries (@CAjamieandries) April 24, 2014
Only the highest level teams get "bids" to compete at Worlds, and yes, there are some international teams. Wilson's co-ed team, the Cheer Athletics Cheetahs, is one of the best in its division. They came second at Worlds last year, and after coming second this year at NCA Nationals, they're gunning for a championship ring. "Our biggest competitors are Top Gun Large Coed and Cheer Extreme Coed Elite," Wilson explains. Top Gun took gold last year.
Instagram's popular page this weekend will likely be full of photos and videos of the two-day competition, and the entire thing will air on ESPN after it's over. If you want to watch like a cheerleader, realize this now: it's not high-school, sideline pom-pom routines. "All-star cheerleading is so much different than school cheerleading that most people know about," Wilson explains. "The routine is filled with quickly executed elite stunts, one-man partner stunts, pyramids, jumps, standing tumbling, running tumbling and a high-energy dance to music." There are no actual cheers, because there's no football team. The crowd cheers for the cheerleaders.
The Cheetahs will stunt and tumble throughout almost the entire routine — the high-energy, slightly robotic-looking dance usually comes at the end, when they're already exhausted from throwing each other in the air. There are two basic types of stunts: an extension, where the flyer hits a position while a base or bases hold her up, and a basket toss, where the flyer hits a position in the air. When multiple flyers hit stunts next to each other at different levels, that's a pyramid. Teams usually lose points for the pyramid or during long stunting sequences, because it's difficult to make all the stunts hit at the same time. Sometimes people fall.
To raise the level of difficulty, teams add tick-tocks (where the flyer changes her footing mid-stunt), and double-ups (where the flyer spins on her way up) to basic extensions. At right, Wilson demos tumbling into a one-man, another way to add difficulty.
Often, teams will debut completely new stunts at Worlds — back in 2010, cheerlebrity Maddie Gardner became the first cheerleader to hit a ball-up 360 tick-tock in any competition. Tick-tocks are now par for the course. Here's that now-legendary stunt, performed with Gardner's old team, Cheer Extreme Senior Elite:
Not only does she change her stunting leg, she completes a 360 while doing so.
Some flyers, like Wilson's cheerleb friend Carly Manning, are especially famous for their basket tosses. Manning can do a perfect kick-double, which looks like this:
"Cheerleading stunts seem to evolve every year. They seem to get harder and harder, so I expect to see some amazing things this year!" Wilson says. Of course, really selling it is the best way to nail any stunt.
The Social Media Competition
Cheerlebrities know who they're up against when they get on the mat — they've seen their competitors' skills on their iPhones already. "I think that social media is a huge part of ... all-star cheerleading," Wilson says. "We are constantly watching the other teams' videos on Youtube as well as looking at pics on Instagram and tweets." She makes a point to note that everyone is friendly IRL, for the most part. "We may be on different teams that compete against each other, but we are still the best of friends," she says. "We talk on the phone, text, and Facetime each other almost every single day from miles away. Worlds is the one time we get to spend an entire week together doing what we love."
It's also the perfect time to shill for T-shirt and bow companies. Just like Olympic athletes, cheerlebrities have sponsors. Wilson has recently promoted Blender's Eyewear, Chasse cheer clothing, and Southern Crystal — a custom crystal embellishment company — on her Instagram. Wilson's teammate Jamie Andries also reps Chasse. Manning has a deal with the "PumpUp" app. With all eyes on these girls during Worlds weekend, companies are eager to have them send out tweets and Instagrams promoting their products.
First and foremost, cheerlebs are excited just to compete. "The most exciting thing in the world to me is to be on stage with my team, nail our stunts, and tumble across the blue mat as we hear the crowd scream!" Wilson says. Oh, and be tan. Cheerleaders really like to be tan for Worlds.
"Cheetah girls are especially known for really big hair and tans," Wilson admits.
The U.S. trials start Saturday, and you can watch a livestream here, or catch it on ESPN in a couple weeks.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.