19 oct. 2014


In 1964, long before he became the 43rd president of the United States (2001-2009), George W. Bush (photo below) was a cheerleader at Phillips Academy, a boarding school (then all-male) in Andover, Massachusetts.  Ironically, we like to think that Bush was a cheerleader all his life.  Once the owner of the Texas Rangers, a major league baseball team, he certainly cheered for his club.  And even as a USA president, he must have been a kind of cheerleader in chief to lead his powerful country.  

If, in the mid-sixties, the pom pom girls tradition was already well established, it was not the case when cheer leading began at the end of the 19th century, up until the second World War (1939-45).  Women joined this kind of activities only in 1923, and no pompons were involved, since they were not invented then.  Before that it was essentially an all-man discipline performed by students, first at Princeton, as early as 1877, and, after, at the University of Minnesota.  The very first cheerleader was Johnny Campbell, who, in 1898 (November 2), directed a crowd in cheering «Rah, Rah, Rah ! Ski-u-mah, Hoo-Rah ! Hoo-Rah ! Varsity ! Varsity ! Minn-e-so-Tah !».  The key word here is "directed", because it means that Campbell planned his initiative, unlike the boys before him, who were more "yell leaders" than cheerleaders, from the stands where they operated...  Yes, in these times, those who stimulated crowds were not on the players field, like today's cheerleaders.

Fighting on the battle fields, or engaged in war duties, in the first half the 1940s, American men were replaced by women to cheer for sports teams.  Today, 97% of all modern cheerleading participants overall are female, except at the collegiate level, where girls and boys are equally represented.  After the war, cheerleading progressed a lot by incorporing gymnastics, tumbling and megaphones.  Cheerleading became very popular.  Local and national competitions were organized in many places.  In 1965, Fred Gastoff invented the vinyl pompon.

Of course, through the decades, cheerleaders uniforms have dramatically changed to reflect the changes in American culture and fashion trends.  This evolution also followed the development of cheerleading itself.  From the 1920s to the end of the war, as long as the female cheerleaders did not move a lot to perform, they wore long wool skirts and collared shirts that were not a lot different from the bathing suits of their times.

Lafayette cheerleaders in 1922
Thanks to old films dating back to the First World War (1914-18), we know that French Men, among others, were still swimming in the nude, like they always did, along the coasts of their country.  By far (very far), it was not the same for their ladies !  On the beaches, they were completely covered by heavy suits of wool and cotton.  In these times, getting a tan was not fashionable.  Back then, to be beautiful, a woman had to have a white skin.  The wither, the better !  At the beginning of the 20th century, seeing even the slightest bit of a woman skin, or a body part like an ankle, would have sent men into a tizzy !  Women were so much afraid that their bathing dresses would float in the water that they had weights sewn into the lining !  How times have changed now that, in some parts of the world, we can see women wearing a monokini on public beaches !

It could be argued that we have come full circle when we consider bathing suits and cheerleaders outfits.  In our first article, last month, we mentioned that active women in ancient Greece wore a kind of bikini when they were practicing sports.  For them, it was simply natural to do so because athletics activities required to move freely, without being restricted or bothered by too much clothes.  Breast bands and briefs allowed them to move more easily.  The same thing applied gradually, through the years, for female cheerleaders, when their routines became more and more complex and required uniforms more adapted to their gymnastic or dance moves.

We say that we have come full circle, because we also know that in the Middle Ages, the kind of breasts bands and briefs wore by Greek women 1 400 BC, continued to be used as undergarments.  Now, all these historic features are present in the modern cheerleaders wardrobes !  On the sports fields or on the playing surfaces, their uniforms has become very light, very short, very...minimal !  More than that, in the photo shootings for their team calendar, the pom pom girls appear in bikinis and even in lingerie (photos above and below) !

A Houston Rockets cheerleader being photographed for the team calendar in 2011

Of course, tissues have changed.  From cotton and leather, in the ancient Roman-Greek era, we have passed to more refined or high tech fabrics like lace, spandex, polyester, etc.  And yes, without a doubt, cheerleaders wearing these short outfits are a lot more sexy than George W. Bush, even when he was a young at Phillips Academy !

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