By Catharina de Waal
Cheerleaders and dancers from across Canada came to Halifax this past weekend to partake in the CheerExpo National Championships, the only event of its kind in the world.
“It’s a conference and it’s a competition,” says Laura Mar, the president of CheerExpo Cheerleading and Dance Events Inc. “Nobody else does this. This is the only event in the world that does the classes with the competition.”
“There are some that do classes after the competition, but that requires people to stay an extra day and spend extra money. It’s just not affordable for teams to do it, so they don’t take advantage of it,” says Mar. “With this one, they are already here.”
The classes are aimed at teaching cheerleaders safety, new techniques, and better ways to do moves, says Mar. In addition, coaches also learn how to run, expand and advertise their own cheer program.
CheerExpo a driving force
Mar says that CheerExpo has been a driving force behind the recent expansion of cheerleading in Canada.
“People can come out and learn what it is and realize that it is not just pompoms and cheers. It’s a lot more than that. It’s a sport,” says Mar. “More kids want to join cheerleading now. Coaches are more responsible and more knowledgeable.”
“Cheer is definitely something that has expanded. A lot of the teams are getting their own facilities, like their own gyms, and buying their own spring floors and equipment. Some of the coaches now host their own events after they come and see how I’m doing stuff,” says Mar.
CheerExpo was founded in Halifax in 2001 and Mar has also hosted CheerExpo in Montreal. Mar says she starts planning CheerExpo a year in advance and she hires judges and instructors from all over North America.
Any cheer and dance team in Canada can enter the competition. Mar says that roughly 20 per cent of the teams competing this year are from Halifax, but teams came from Ontario. One of the Ontario teams is Niagara Cheerleading Famous.
Sarah Macgillivray, 14, who has been on Niagara Cheerleading Famous for two years now, says, “Cheerleading has expanded a lot. In the U.S.A. it’s huge and in Canada it’s not really that big. In the last few years that I have been cheerleading there has been a huge increase.”
Teams at CheerExpo compete for bids to go to the cheerleading world championships in Disney World. This year was the first time that Niagara Cheerleading Famous competed for a bid to go to the world championships and also the first time the team attended CheerExpo. The team won their bid and will be competing at Disney World at the end of April.
“I love being on the team. Our team is like a family. We always stick together. It has been a really good experience over all,” says Macgillivray. “There are obviously times when it is stressful. Sometimes you doubt yourself, but it’s overall one of the best things in the world to do.”
Alison Fitzpatrick, one of the many cheer/dance wear vendors from across Canada who comes to CheerExpo, has also seen a huge increase in the cheer culture.
“My perception of cheer from about four years ago was you would see them in the parade with their pompoms walking and cheering or whatever. Not like this,” says Fitzpatrick. “These guys are athletes. They train and they do stuff that is dangerous. They could die if somebody dropped them.”