Adam Levine's nipples were not the only surprise of the last Super Bowl. For the first time, two dancers have joined a team of cheerleaders. And this, not to achieve litters but to interpret the same choreography. The moment is historic, the news ignites the American media as French. Homophobic comments flock everywhere on social networks. Is not cheerleading supposed to be a "sport" of a woman, preferably in undress? It's less known but the first cheerleader in the story was … a man.
It was then in 1898, during a football match between the University of Princeton and Minnesota, which is in trouble. In the stands, students scream loudly to cheer on their players. One of them, Johnny Campbell, seizes a megaphone to guide the songs of the fans. In the following games, they are a small group, on the edge of the field, to encourage the crowd. Cheerleading is born.
The history of cheerleading in pictures
The iconic girls of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders
The discipline develops little by little: to songs are added acrobatics and placards. The cheerleaders are then confined to the edge of the stadiums, where they warm the crowd to support their team. It was not until 1928 that women were allowed to participate, still at the University of Minnesota. The number of female followers is growing rapidly, but the second chapter of cheerleading is still written by a man: Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimmer. He is the creator of the famous pompons, the most iconic jump of the activity and especially the National Cheerleaders Association in 1961. At the time, teams exist throughout the country.
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If men are at the origin of the art of the pompom, women weigh more and more heavy on the grounds, in particular the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (DCC) which go down in history. The dancers perform at the Super Bowl in 1972, then in 1976. Their second passage is scandalous: the young women are filmed closely by the cameras of the CBS, enough for viewers to see perfectly the charming wink that a athlete address to the camera. The club is then bombarded with outraged calls, proof of the power of television and the growing audience of sporting events.
The turning point of the sexual revolution
The president of the Dallas Cowboys wants to ride the wave. Exit, the seductive dolls confined to the edges of the field, he decides to make them full athletes. Suzanne Mitchell, her assistant, is appointed conductor. She doubles the number of dancers, changes their costumes, hires a choreographer and has them pose for a pin-up poster. In the field, the figures are more and more perilous, the choreographies, more and more demanding. The CCD uniform, which has been on display since February 2018 at the National Museum of American History, is provoking harsh criticism from various groups, both religious and feminist. Young women, they, almost worship their dress, and intend to use the interest of a majority male audience to attract attention.
At the beginning of the sexual revolution and the legalization of abortion, these athletes look almost feminist activists. The rules are clear: they must be major, educated, employed full-time or married. Suzanne Mitchell helps some of them, victims of domestic violence. At the same time, it imposes a drastic control of their weight and their appearance in public, forbids them love relationships with football players. The image of the club is at stake, and apparently counts more than their freedom. Not entirely feminist or conservative, the CCD is a reflection of their era, in transition. Their story fascinates journalists, historians and a director, Dana Adam Shapiro, author in 2018 of the documentary Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
Normalization, small steps
Because they dance in undress and smile with all their teeth, cheerleaders drag the image of fickle girls and offered. These professional athletes, often from ballet or gymnastics, are also subjected to sexual violence. "Performing at sports events is only a small part of their job description," wrote a reporter from New York Times in April 2018. They are also asked to provide an unpleasant aspect of the job: interacting with fans during games and promotional events, where petting and sexual harassment are commonplace. "
Violence in which clubs do not react, according to the testimonials of cheerleaders collected by the American newspaper. All denounce a lack of training and a law of silence omnipresent, maintained by the fear of losing his position. But, little by little, as in other professional sectors, speech is free. More and more cheerleaders denounce the violence they suffer and the role of sexual object to which they feel confined.
Last spring, a poll polled Americans about their perception of cheerleaders. O, surprise: the majority of men do not find their uniforms "too provocative". They also want them to be free to pose "provocatively" on their personal social networks, after the dismissal of a cheerleader guilty of posting a photo deemed daring on his personal Instagram account. It seems that cheerleaders can show skin, but only when asked.