pop goes the world: have you hugged your kids today?

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  26 January 2012, Thursday

Have You Hugged Your Kids Today?

Last Saturday was an interesting time for our family as we went to support our youngest in her first cheerdance ever.

Erika is a high school freshman at Colegio de Santa Rosa-Makati, and she’d been waiting for this moment since she was in elementary school. My eldest, Alexandra, who graduated from the same school several years ago, was as intense about the annual experience as her sister.

Apparently it’s a big deal to kids nowadays, this cheerdance thing. It pits year levels (“batches”) against each other in about ten to fifteen minutes of competition, featuring new cheers authored by the batch incorporated into dance routines that blend jazz/funk/modern dance styles with gymnastics. The batch that has dancers and gymnasts has an edge in the competition.

We didn’t have this during our time, so I asked my kids, “It’s an event that brings batches together in unity and camaraderie while honing skills in friendly competition against the students of other years to build school spirit and sisterhood, right?”

They looked at each other and frowned at me. “No, Mama. Cheerdance is war.”

CSR Freshmen do their routine in the 2011 Cheerdance Competition. The dancers are in front, the pep squad in the back. An iPhone 4S image.

At CSR-Makati, elementary students perform simple dance/exercise routines called “field demonstrations”. The children wear costumes and dance to music in line with a theme for that year. Last year, when Ik was in sixth grade, they swung to 70s and 80s music while dressed in bellbottom jeans and platform shoes and let me tell you, the parents were dancing along with their daughters on the CSR field. It was that fun.

But field demos are for babies. Cheerdance is a whole ‘nother level, and it’s only for the high school. Students in each batch join one of three groups, according to skill and inclination – dancers, pep squad, and propsmen.

The “props” take care of physical requirements such as banners, boxes covered with glitter, cardboard motorbikes, and other accessories that the batch requires in its routine.

The pep squad comprises most of the students in a batch and they are backup dancers. The dancers are the stars of the show, and are chosen via auditions held by the choreographer hired for that year.

Yes, these competitions are serious enough to require the services of professional dance and cheerdance choreographers, who are often members of cheerdance squads in universities and colleges.

Each high school batch at CSR comes out on the field dressed in the colors assigned to that year level – freshmen green, sophomores yellow, juniors red, seniors blue. The propsmen and pep squad members wear jogging pants and batch t-shirts specially designed and printed for the occasion, often with the batch name. The dancers wear more elaborate costumes in keeping with the chosen theme or music. The parents and connections come wearing shirts in the colors of their daughters’ year levels.

 Cheerdance Competition 2012 at Colegio de Sta. Rosa-Makati. The batches assemble on the field to await the results of the contest. An iPhone 4S image.

Because it’s a contest, watching a cheerdance is more suspenseful and tense than watching a field demo. Parents crowd to be in the front, or stake out seats on the second floor of the school building and set up camera tripods. There’s play-by-play commentary from bystanders, more often than not school alumni who come to support their younger sisters, who have been preparing for this day through rigorous daily practice over a couple of months, and by watching videos of performances of previous years.

Originality of choreography, cheers, and costume; level of difficulty; energy level; and number of lifts, human pyramids, and tumbling runs are among the criteria used to judge the winners. Because they are older and bigger, first and second place usually go to either the juniors or seniors. This is something accepted by the freshmen and sophomores; they’re content with just not coming in last.

This year’s cheerdance winner at CSR turned out to be the Juniors, who rocked an exotic Bollywood theme with the dancers dressed in “Princess Jasmine”-inspired bodices and sheer headdresses. Their advantage was that they had a former UP Pep Squad member as their coach.

The University of the Philippines Varsity Pep Squad is perhaps the most famous university cheerdance group today. They have won seven UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) Cheerdance Competitions, the most recent in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. The UP Pep Squad led Team Philippines in the 6th Cheerleading Worlds held last November 2011 in Hongkong, placing third in the Cheer Mixed category.

UP Pep Squad winning the 2011 UAAP Cheerdance. Image here.

Cheerdance combines the athleticism of gymnastics with the aesthetics of dance, and it’s also an enjoyable exercise for teaching the values of teamwork and harmony. I hope other schools that don’t have this yet will consider it for their students. Government and non-government organizations could look into this for their youth programs. What better way for kids to spend the afternoon than tumbling with each other in the grass, rather than being stuck indoors playing video games?

This entire cheerdance thing also reminds me of a couple of things. The first – a bumper sticker that my former father-in-law, a veterinarian and racehorse trainer, used to have on his old car – “Have you hugged your horse today?”

The second – the way my father showed his affection for my sister and me. When he’d come home in the late afternoon, he’d greet us by planting sniff-kisses on our heads and saying, “Olor del sol!” And off we’d go for our evening baths.

Our children are special. Let them know. Gather them in the circle of your arms right now, kiss them on the top of their heads that smell like our tropical sun, and share the warmth of your love for and pride in them.

* * * * *

The National Youth Commission announced the opening of applications to the 9th Parliament of Youth Leaders.

The parliament, which was started in 1996, gathers young people from around the country to brainstorm policy recommendations for youth issues. The recommendations are sent to government leaders to be considered as proposed bills and administrative policies.

This year’s theme is “Revolutionizing Youth Development”. The event hopes to expose young people to how political and organizational procedures and mechanisms may be used to effect positive changes in society.

Scheduled for the first week of May 2012, the parliament is expected to have over 200 youth leaders 15-30 years old as participants. Learn about the qualifications and download application forms at http://www.nyc.gov.ph or email nyp9@nyc.gov.ph. The deadline for applications is February 29.

* * * * *

The Carlos Palanca Foundation is accepting entries to its Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature from February 1 to April 30. Contest rules and forms will soon be released at its website, http://www.palancaawards.com.ph.  * * *

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