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									                                       Nonverbal Communication[Type text] 1

Running Head: Collectivism Displayed Through Nonverbal Communication

                       Cheerleading: Collectivism Displayed

                       Through Nonverbal Communication

                          Laura Pelnar and Kristin Masi

                                Carroll University
        “I'm sexy, I'm cute,I'm popular to boot. I'm bitchin', great hair, The boys all love

to stare, …..Hate us 'cause we're beautiful, Well we don't like you either, We're

cheerleaders, We are cheerleaders.” This popular quote from the 2000 movie hit Bring It

On, was most likely the first Hollywood introduction the mainstream population had with

the Cheerleading culture. The ideas portrayed in the above quote depict cheerleaders to

be self-absorbed, unintelligent beings. But, truth-be-told the cheer culture is all about

common goals, fitting in with the crowd and interdependence. Which illustrates the

strong collectivistic values in the culture.

        Cheerleading dates back to the 1880’s; the first recorded instance being at a

Princeton football game (Bettis, 2006, p.122). Of course, at this point in history

cheerleading was only made up of males, since women weren’t permitted into

universities. Cheerleading was formed with the same core values as it stands by today, to

“raise, lead and maintain school spirit (Bettis, 2006, p.122)”. The whole stereotypical sex

based idea that women are typically cheerleaders was started in the 1940’s when women

began to be accepted into universities and join the squads, this was also during World

War II when many male cheerleaders had to leave campus to serve in the war (Bettis,

2007, p. 122). With the arrival of women “….. cheers began to evolve from simple crowd

chants, various gymnastic moves and acrobatics were added to standard cheers and were

immediate crowd pleasers. Fans in the stands learned to follow along with hand and arm

motions (Bettis, 2006, p.122)”. Then, during the 1970’s professional cheerleading squads

emerged linking themselves to professional athletic teams, such as the Dallas Cowboys

(Bettis, 2006, p.123). Today, cheerleading has evolved into a new deviation of athletics,

the degree to which the members go to get a positive reaction from the crowd is endless.
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Currently, there are a total of 3.8 million cheerleaders nation wide, 97% being female

(Bettis, 2006, p.122). Fifteen of those cheerleaders perform in our very own Van Male

gym. The Carroll Athletics Department notes the purpose of the Pioneer cheerleaders is

to “provide enhancement and entertainment during football and men’s and women’s

basketball home games when school is in session”.

Literature Review

        Cheerleading, although currently dominated by females, was found in one study

to be extremely beneficial for males. The study focused on typical men’s sports such as

football, basketball, and hockey to view woman in a negative manner or even as sex

objects. It explores the experiences of male athletes who use to participate in all male

sports teams who make the transition to co-ed cheerleading in college. Through their co-

ed athletic experiences they start to develop a new respect for woman. Because they stop

viewing women as sex objects and more as teammates with true athletic abilities. One

male cheerleader claimed, “But these women are athletes. They do stuff I’d never do and

I bet there are a lot of sports woman can do better in”(Anderson, 2008, p.271). With this

positive shift in the abilities of women athletes, men start to view women as teammates or

equals who work together. Working towards a common goal in the sport had benefits to

these male athletes who were use to being involved in sports where standing out and

being noticed in a crowd was praised not looked down upon. Being part of the

cheerleading “machine” promotes great teamwork and interdependence skills in these

male (and female) athletes, all factors that contribute to a truly collectivistic nature.
       Another study examined three high schools throughout the Midwest with

cheerleading and dance teams that require tryouts upon admittance to the squad. It

compared and contrasted certain personality characteristics of the girls who were chosen

to be on the squads. Across the board “girls who entered the auditioning process seeking

to become a core member of the school cheerleading or dance team were comparable in

their levels of investment, arousal, positive performance and attention shown in there

classes, the degrees to which they felt various emotions about the process, and about

feeling positive about themselves and their school (Barnett, 2007, p.338)”. This study

helped us to understand the typical cheerleader better and evaluate their similar

personalities. Also, it rated different aspects of personality pre and post admittance to the

squad. After making the squad, there were many positive changes in the girls such as, an

increase in positive emotions, feelings about self, and feelings about their school. Though

this study had no direct relationship with the nonverbal communication practices of the

culture, it gave us a better understanding to what types of personalities make up this

culture and the many positive effects of being apart of this culture.

       The last study examined the true dress and athleticism in college cheerleaders in

comparison to the “Hollywood” artificial professional sports cheerleaders such as the

Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Even the dress the culture wears to identify themselves as

members differs in collegiate athletes and professionals. The dress identifies how

cheerleaders are viewed as “sexual icons” to the mainstream population, professional

cheerleaders are usually wearing small little outfits and fit a certain body image: skinny,

big breasted, tan, long hair, basically a Victoria’s Secret model. While college athletes

have a much more athletic build and are able to physically perform intense workouts, a
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completely different reality in comparison to the cheerleaders on television. Although

there are many misconceptions, the title comes with many benefits. “In the United States,

cheerleading is often perceived as the highest status activity for girls in middle school and

high school, and girls who cheer occupy positions of power, prestige, and privilege

(Bettis, 2007, p.124)”. It goes onto explain how these privileges come with great benefits

not just in peers but in school systems as well. These cheerleaders are often permitted to

bend dress code rules when in uniform, although the uniforms don’t necessarily follow

school dress code rules, they are able to wear them to school to promote school spirit and

to identify them as members of the squad or culture. The traditional cheer dress code is a

great nonverbal indicator of the belonging to the cheer culture.

       UCA or Universal Cheerleading Association is one of the most highly respected

cheer associations in the nation. UCA was established in 1974 by Jeff Webb, who wanted

to start an association with the purpose of “high quality educational training for high

school and college cheerleaders (UCA)”. All squads associated with UCA must follow

safety guidelines and regulations. These rules and regulations are particularly important

when competing against other squads in UCA competition. Some of those regulations

being the way the uniform, hair, and overall appearance are presented. All girls are

suppose to look identical when competing and if they fail to do so, points will be

deducted from their overall score (knowledge I have attained over my personal 11 year

cheerleading career). This rule (and many others not discussed) really emphasizes how

fitting is valued over individual expression, a key component of a collectivistic culture.
Through our research we are looking to find, how do cheerleaders develop a collectivistic

culture through nonverbal communication?


       The chosen methodology used in this study was interviews and observations. We

interviewed members of Carroll University’s football and basketball cheer team Jazmyne

Martinez, who has been a cheerleader for seven years, and Erin Klade, who has been a

cheerleader for four years. We also interviewed Cheerleading Captain, Kristen Hoff, who

has been a cheerleader for ten years and Captain of the Carroll squad for 5 consecutive

seasons. After the interviews we were able to sit in and watch a normal cheerleading


        The interviews and observations took place in Carroll University’s Van Male

Gymnasium, where cheerleading practices are conducted. This location was chosen in

order to make the interviewees feel more comfortable in a familiar setting. The interviews

were conducted on the first day of the cheerleader’s basketball season.

       Jazmyne Martinez, Erin Klade, and Kristen Hoff answered questions about the

cheerleading culture, the strengths of their team, how cheerleaders communicate to a

crowd and cheerleading customs. After the interviews took place, we observed practice.

This helped us see the cheerleading squad interact with one another and supported the

answers the interviewees gave to the questions they previously answered.
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       Cheerleaders are able to build a collectivistic environment through nonverbal

communication because of physical appearance, kinesics, and paralanguage. One of the

interview questions was if there were any traditional outfits, accessories, hair or makeup

associated with cheerleading, to which Kristen Hoff responded, “Yes! Glitter, big eyes,

big lips, bows in the hair, the whole skirt and top with big letters with the school name on

it.” Jazmyne Martinez added, “Basically just white cheer shoes and usually a pony tail.”

The interviewees described that looking similar to one another helps the team look as

one, which is important to this culture. The goal is to look like a team rather than stand

out of the bunch. Teamwork is highly valued and it is important to progress as a group.

       Jazmyne Martinez mentioned that the purpose of cheerleading is to “involve the

crowd and get the team motivated to do better and it is easier to do this as a group

opposed to individually.” This response about teamwork and working as a group supports

that physical appearance helps build a collectivistic environment because looking as one

reflects the teamwork that these cheerleaders have built as well as showing the value of

the group. Erin Klade mentioned that teamwork was important because “if one person

isn’t doing the right thing than the whole team isn’t going to work. Most of the stuff we

do is based on team cooperation and if one person is off then the whole team is off, so

everybody has to contribute so we look like we belong together.” Kinesics also helps

build a collectivistic environment because every motion cheerleaders make have to be

exactly the same for everybody on the team, otherwise it does not look right as a whole.
Cheerleaders use kinesics as their biggest communication methods, or more commonly

referred to in the cheer language as stunting, motions, tumbling, or using signs.

        Stunting is when cheerleaders hold, or throw another person in the air. The team

is usually put into stunt groups, or pods. Stunt groups generally consist of four people, a

flyer, the girl that goes in the air, two bases, one on either side of the flyer that hold the

flyer’s feet, and a backspot, which generally holds the flyer’s ankles and help to hold or

throw the flyer in the air. Stunting can also consist of more than four people for more

advanced stunts, such as pyramids where there are numerous stunt groups involved in one

big stunt consisting of multiple flyers being in the air together.

        We asked Kristen Hoff if she agreed that the strongest communication in

cheerleading were the nonverbal aspects and she responded with, “Yes. And when we do

a really cool stunt they obviously cheer, so we know that with that type of thing the

crowd and team are going to get motivated.” We proceeded to ask if the cheerleaders got

more feedback from the big nonverbal aspects such as stunting and dancing, to which

Kristen Hoff also responded by saying, “Yes”. Jazmyne Martinez and Erin Klade were

also asked if they used stunting to get the crowd involved. They responded with,

“Sometimes, because the crowd likes to see the bigger stunts that look dangerous, we use

signs too.”

        A group goal described by Jazmyne Martinez was, “to grow as a group because it

takes four people to make a stunt work, and more than four for pyramid stunts. If one pod

doesn’t work, it all won’t work.” Cheerleaders also use motions to communicate to the

crowd. Motions are the movements used during cheers. While observing Carroll

University’s cheer practice, we noticed that every word to a cheer had a specific motion
                                             Nonverbal Communication[Type text] 9

to go along with it. Some of the more common motions used in cheerleading are high

V’s, low V’s, goal posts, right and left punch, and daggers all aiding in communicating

with the crowd.

       One of the questions asked was to describe why motions are used as opposed to

just saying the cheers. Kristen Hoff explained, “not everybody can hear the words to the

cheer all the time, but, for the most part, they can see the cheerleaders doing motions. At

least then they know that something is going on and they recognize that we are cheering.

The crowd usually tries to get into the cheers with us regardless if they know the words

or not, they’ll get loud and pump up the team”. The way Kristen explained that the use of

motions shows that the nonverbal communication of motions, or kinesics, helps

communicate to the crowd nonverbally. And if the whole team is performing the same

motion, it is more effective and catches the crowd’s attention. Kristen also mentioned,

“The effect of all the members of the squad doing the motions in unison is the most

effective way to involve the crowd”. Therefore, being collectivistic helps the crowd get


       Tumbling is another form of kinesics used in cheerleading. Tumbling which is

more commonly known as gymnastics, is another way of getting the crowd enthused.

Usually when cheerleaders have a tumbling pass, which is when there is more than one

person tumbling at once, in their routine, it is very important for the timing to be the same

for everybody. It looks best when everybody involved in the tumbling pass lands at the

same time. Therefore, much like motions, it is important for everyone’s body movements

to be on point with the others to look as one.
       Paralanguage also helps to build a collectivistic culture for cheerleaders. This is

because in cheerleading, cheerleaders do not just say words as anyone else would in a

normal conversation; they have to use big, deeper voices than the norm. Kristen Hoff

described this as, “using your outside voice. You have to use big voices in order for

everybody to hear you. But it’s also important to emphasize your words and make sure

everybody is together with the same general tone of voice to make the whole team sound

as one. We also make sure we talk or cheer or chat or whatever you’d like to call it, at a

slower rate than we would normally because it helps with the emphasizing words and

making them loud and clear for everybody to hear”.

         In addition, Kristen Hoff added, “Not only do we use a whole different tone of

voice, and style of talking, which is actually more of a chant, we have a whole different

language than what those outside of the cheerleading culture are unaware. We literally

have a cheer language.” When asked to elaborate, Hoff responded with, “I actually found

a book that has an entire dictionary of cheerleading words. In no other sport do you have

that. For example, we have such things as a liberty, arabesque, scorpions, and some other

stuff like that. To everyone else when they thing of these kinds of words they think of

something completely different than what the cheerleading culture thinks. So there are

definitely words and phrases that are specifically for cheerleading.”

       Therefore, not only does paralanguage, such as the rate and tone of voice, help

this micro culture build a collectivistic environment but they also have their own

cheerleading language. Having this language makes this culture stick out from other

micro cultures. It is a specific language that others may not understand unless they

become part of the cheerleading culture or decide to learn about it either through
                                             Nonverbal Communication[Type text]

observation or talking to someone that is a part of the culture. This language is universal

to cheerleaders all over the world; it brings cheerleaders from all over together and

relatable to one another.

       To conclude, the cheerleading culture roots itself into collectivistic values through

nonverbal communication. They display these values through nonverbal communication

in dress, kinesics, and paralanguage. When interacting with this culture, don’t assume

them to be like the cheerleaders you have seen in movies, and don’t criticize or argue that

they are not a sport until you have observed what they are all about. In the future, it

would be interesting to take a look at other squads around the country to see if these same

root values are important. It would also be helpful to observe a practice further into the

season. Another study that may be interesting is to interview people outside of the culture

and get their input on what they believe values of the cheer culture to be and if they feel

cheerleaders’ communication is more effective nonverbally. Through physical

appearance, kinesics, and paralanguage cheerleaders have formed a collectivistic culture.

Anderson, E. (2008, June). “I Used to Think Women Were Weak”: Orthodox
      Masculinity, Gender Segregation, and Sport. Sociological Forum, 23(2), 257-
      280. Retrieved September 25, 2009, doi:10.1111/j.1573-7861.2008.00058.x

Barnett, L. (2007, 2007 2nd Quarter). Winners and Losers: The Effects of Being
      Allowed or Denied Entry into Competitive Extracurricular Activities. Journal
      of Leisure Research, 39(2), 316-344. Retrieved September 25, 2009, from
      Academic Search Premier database.

Bettis, P., & Adams, N. (2006, May). Short skirts and breast juts: Cheerleading,
        eroticism and schools. Sex Education, 6(2), 121-133. Retrieved September
        25, 2009, doi:10.1080/14681810600578800

Carroll University Athletic Department. "Cheerleading | Carroll University Pioneers."
       Home | Official Athletics Site | Carroll University Pioneers. 2 Oct. 2009

Universal Cheerleaders Association : History And Philosophy. Universal
      Cheerleaders Association - Where America Cheers:: Home. 2 Oct. 2009

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