ICU WORLDS: CHEER & CULTURE
As I sit here waiting for my very first WORLDS experience to begin, I am surrounded by crowds chanting for their country. This is a completely different experience from any other all-star cheerleading competition I have ever been to. It’s not about egos, it’s not about cheerlebrities, it’s not about gyms. It’s about country pride and showing the best we can be as a nation. The atmosphere is intoxicating, expectations running high, the vibe is unique: we’re together at this moment to watch and support what we love. CHEER.
Before I break into a verse of ‘Cumbaya’ - join me on my journey of cheer culture around the world, with the teams that struck me the most for their unique style of performance.
In alphabetical order:
AUSTRALIA - We always know to expect great things from Australia, and these girls did not disappoint. Australia always shows great technique, control and timing. This year they had an impeccable switch-up in their routine and they really sexed up the pyramid with some strong choreography. Overall, very nice form and a well deserved 3rd place ladies!
You have not heard a crowd cheer until you’ve seem Team Canada step onto the mat. Forget Justin Bieber. Forget Beyonce. Forget Gaga - Team Canada could fill a stadium and blow the roof off. The cheers during the tumble sequence were so piercing for one moment it frightened me. If Mexico is the HAPPIEST team, Canada
is by far the friendliest - no wonder they have their own team of dedicated ‘Little Monsters.’ Regardless of the performance, the crowds forgive the bobbles and slightly weaker execution that they have shown us in previous years. Both Canadian teams were clearly very good but we just would love to see them hit their routines with no deductions next year.. just to experience the cheering volume when they announce Canada getting gold!
When Team Chile comes out it’s the start of the 2015 ICU World Championships but it feels like the Superbowl. I’ve been to many Nationals and experienced top teams coming onto the mat before, but there is something about having pride in your country that trumps all others. No-one represents this as much as Team Chile. All you can hear is the chant "CHICHICHI - LE LE LE" echoing in the arena as a team of beaming athletes look like they have just won the lottery. Their routine is flawless, timing is impeccable, their pride is beaming. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a clean routine in my life, so strong. It ends and I think my heart is going to explode. Chile has completely stolen my heart.
TEAM CHINESE TAIPEI
Chinese Taipei seem to have one insecurity: they never seem to think there are enough flyers in their pyramid!! Their pyramids went like this: "Throw two flyers up. And another two. And another. What the heck, let’s chuck a few more up there for good measure.” Despite having much less tornado-like choreography than Team Thailand (and probably far less deduction points) Chinese Taipei crept ahead to Gold by showcasing some incredibly difficult and creative stunt loads and entries (make sure you look out for that tumble into a 2-2-1 pyramid) - solid execution and that all important “oooooooh” factor.
If Cheer were a fairytale, Team Denmark would be the mermaids. They lure you in with their beauty and then strike you with their execution. The entire team seems to have been selected by a coach who also manages an elite modelling agency, selecting girls of similar heights, builds, looks and convinces them to spend the next three months training while feeding them and grooming them to look precisely the same. The result? A deadly-gorgeous team of clones with impeccable timing, execution and clean throughout. I dare think 'what will happen once they build their difficulty level?' I cannot wait to see if they will creep their way into the top three next year.
These girls have some serious energy, it seems that overall Latin America is really bringing their A-Game. The routine is creative, the girls are strong and they are really pushing for execution. It’s a shame to see some bobbles and falls in the pyramid, but it’s clear these girls are really pushing their skills. I can’t wait to see how they perform next year once they have consolidated some of the difficulty points. A definite team to watch!!
England dazzles us with some stunningly creative choreography. The style is very 'All-star' and there is so much flipping and things happening at the same time you can’t blink for the fear of missing something. The co-ed team had a big risk in their routine: a very tough pyramid right at the end (instead of the dance) and unfortunately they seemed too tired to get through it. Tough call and such a shame, but we love that they took a risk to be different. Apart from one other bobble here and there, overall they had a very well executed routine. The girls team, however - had a much better run and their routine was absolutely stunning from start to finish. We look forward to seeing what Team England will be back with next year!
Finnish girls don’t mess around. For one thing, they are the only team in the entire competition without a bow - for most cheerleaders may see this as blasphemy but to them, it’s clear: bows and glitter get in the way. There is one word that defines team Finland, and that is MUSCLE. Every single tumble, stunt, pyramid is executed to perfection and there is no wavering. Ever. These girls had their spinach for breakfast and are made of steel. It’s great to see a nation that puts in as much effort in physical preparation of their bodies as they do in their technique. It’s noticeable and the skills speak for themselves: A silver medal in the toughest division of the day. NORWAY was very similar in terms of style, solidity and execution - however they did grace us with bows, coming in third behind Finland.
If there was one country where the execution of the routine reflected the personality of their country, it would be Germany. Tight. Strong. Efficient. No messing around, marching their way from one corner of the mat to execute an impeccably-timed pyramid. You can almost hear them saying: “We are going to do zis stunt. Zen ve are going to do zat stunt.” Their baskets are vertiginous in height, their partner stunts are rock solid. The men are packed and the girls are small bundles of muscle too. It is a small team but in true German fashion, everybody counts. So solid, so German! We would love to see them creep up to the medals in the years to come by adding some more skills in their routine, because their execution is absolutely on point!
Japan is a very peppy team: clean, with excellent technique. The most obvious thing to notice is that all the girls are trained, selected and groomed to look exactly the same - in appearance but also in skill. There is military precision to Japan, and almost a copy-paste like effect which is very impressive! The only shame here was to see a routine that appeared far too easy for the athletes. It was not just a question of delivering a clean routine, it was clear that those girls could have coped with far more difficulty.
Mexicans are one of the happiest people on earth. Give them cheerleading and you have created a hybrid of athletic Enthusiastic Parkers from FRIENDS (from The One in Massapequa) - but without the cringe factor. They are just extremely happy and you cannot help but beam with them. You throw in excellent technique, strength, a clean routine with lots of visual effect and difficulty and you have yourself a cocktail of cheer perfection. An ICU gold medal in coed was no surprise!
New Zealand opens with the Haka. Before you look up ‘Haka cheer stunt’ on Youtube, let me stop you and warn you this is the traditional Maori War ‘challenge’ dance. There’s no doubt about it, Team NZ stomp their way onto the mat and it’s WAR. Once they break into their routine, you notice that their style is very 'All-Star’ as opposed to some other national teams. Everything shows strength, control - the tumbling is very strong. This year it was the all-girls team that stole the show, winning Gold in their division. A high level of execution, timing so impeccable they managed to pull off a very impressive lib ripple - overall, these girls were hugely impressive and won a well-deserved gold.
What is most memorable to the Philippines is their very positive but aggressive energy. They are on the mat to win it and you can see the hunger in their eyes. The female athletes are stunning: tiny bundles of graceful muscle tumbling and flipping their way into beautiful arabesques and ending their stunt sequence with a toe touch cradle from arabesque. Very unusual and captivating. They are so comfortable in their stunts and pyramids they look like they could be juggling or making you a cup of coffee while they’re in the air.
What to say about Thailand? They are my personal favorite so I will of course be biased. From afar Team Thailand looks like manga characters dressed in shiny gold sweet wrappers: you can’t missed them if you tried. Gravity does not seem to apply to this team, and with all the horizontal, backwards and upwards flipping I wonder if they train their athletes in a centrifuge to become resistant to the G force. Circque-du-Soleil pyramids aside, you haven’t seen a dance until you've watched Thailand. Let’s just say that if you had to bottle up Team Thailand, you would get enough energy to light up an entire city.
It was such a shame that the Coed team had some bobbles this year, as they are always the ones I look forward to. Still, it demonstrated solid technique and strength that inspire high levels of difficulty and execution. But if you saw USA’s All-Girl team you will surely remember the goosebumps they gave you. First of all, the music and energy of their routine makes you want to stand on your chair and go “Americaaaaaa YEEEEEEAAAAH.” Despite the high level of difficulty, through the entire routineTeam USA girls were so solid they looked like they could have easily cooked a plate of lasagna. Gravity does not seem to apply to the USA girls, perhaps they have secured a deal with NASA (quick - someone check their shoes for suspected anti-gravity tampering!).
ICU CHEER WORLDS: CONCLUSION
If you’ve never experienced ICU, I can truly recommend it. It is by far the best cheer experiences I have ever had, especially in the second part (Premier division aka L6). The diversity of the skills, styles and looks really give you an around-the world team that you cannot replicate anywhere else. As much as USASF Worlds is dazzling and all the teams we know and love wow us every year, being in the arena with the entire world of cheer was illuminating.
The national pride and energy in the arena was something I can only compare to the finals of the FIFA World Cup (or for our American Cousins, the Superbowl). I know I will be back for more, and I highly recommend that if you are in Orlando for Worlds in the years to come, you spare some of your Friday afternoon to experience this marvel of cheer for yourselves.
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