Photo: Christopher Humphries
Cheerleading is one of the fastest-growing sports in the UK, and Oxford’s own squad, the Oxford Sirens, has certainly been doing its bit. This Sunday sees Oxford colleges going head to head in Cheerleading Cuppers, and the Oxford Sirens’ President Jennifer Spruce was kind enough to talk to me about the demands of the sport, the perils of Oxford athletics, and the pains of early morning training.
Could you tell us a bit about Cheerleading Cuppers?
We’re holding it on Sunday the 15th of May, at 3:30 at Iffley. We’ve got a wide variety of colleges joining in, a lot of people trying the sport for the first time, which is great to see. People from Sirens recruit people from their college, to come and bring them to training, so we train them for just two weeks. We have to make up a one and a half minute routine, to a set music piece. It needs to consist of tumbling, stunts, dance, and jumps – that’s what they get points for. We’ve got a judge, who’s our old Sirens coach, Katt Walton, who’s competed in [US cheerleading championship] Worlds. She’s been in involved in cheer for most of her life. So she’ll be giving points on the difficulty of the stunts, the jumps, the dance, the tumbles, and we’re also going to factor in how many new people in the team – obviously those who’ve only been doing it two weeks are at a disadvantage, so we’re going to make it fairer that way.
Is there much interest in Cuppers?
There’s more involvement, definitely, this year. In previous years there were less than five teams competing, and now there are quite a lot more. I think the standard is a lot higher now, and that seems to have occurred across the country. Going to competitions now, the standard has increased compared to what it was three years ago. I’m not sure why that is – I guess people look at YouTube videos of the big competitions in America, and there’s interest through social media, so more people are trying it for the first time.
You’ve been involved in the Sirens for a couple of years – what attracted you to it in the first place?
My first year at uni I wasn’t involved in cheerleading. Then in second year I signed up at freshers’ fair, went to a taster session, and I just thoroughly enjoyed it. I come from a dance background, and most people on the Sirens have got some dance background, or gymnastics, they’ve not necessarily done cheerleading before. There’s very few people with cheerleading experience. It’s a lot more difficult than it seems, it’s quite demanding, and that actually made me want to do it more. It is a proper sport, and people recognise, especially when they come to do Cuppers, how hard it is, and appreciate that you have to be an athlete to do it. It involves strength, stamina, flexibility, it’s really technically demanding.
What does a typical cheerleading routine involve?
Most people focus on the stunts. In each stunt you need a flier (a person who’s thrown in the air, normally a small, flexible person). Then we have two bases, and then a back, normally someone who’s a bit taller. The moves consist of lifts, preps, extensions, cradles, baskets – there’s a huge variety, and you combine them all together. The background you come from also affects things. If you’ve got a gymnastics background, you can tumble, you’ll be in the tumble sections. If you’re a dancer, we’ll put you at the front, if you’re flexible you’ll be a flier, if you’ve done more strength-based sports, they’re normally great people to do basing. It requires a range of people, and there’s a role for every type of person.
What’s your favourite part of being involved in the Sirens?
I think it is just being part of a team, and you do form great connections with everyone. You have to rely on other people a lot more than in other sports. I’ve made so many friends from it. It’s not an individual sport, like swimming, where you’re all trying to be the fastest and the best. Everyone is helping each other to make the team improve as a whole. It’s so much more difficult than I ever thought it would be, and I really enjoy that. I enjoy pushing myself.
How would you persuade someone to get involved?
I’d say come to Cuppers, it’ll be a great chance for you to see what people can achieve in just two weeks. It is just really, really fun. Every practice and rehearsal I’ve been to I’ve enjoyed, and it makes it worth going to those 7am training sessions, and I’m sure everyone in Sirens would agree.