Sideline entertainment a different sport

RUGBY CROWD: The squad have swords, shields and eye-catching costumes.
RUGBY CROWD: The squad have swords, shields and eye-catching costumes.

When the Maidens take to the field before a Crusaders home game, are they being objectified or performing as dancers?

A Fairfax article yesterday branded cheerleading sexist, asking the question: "They may be hot, but do we really need to see this at the footie?"

The article attracted hundreds of comments and divided readers on the merits of sideline entertainment.

Otago University sociology lecturer Lesley Procter said cheerleading is "just another form of objectification of women's bodies". Although a recognised sport, with its own technicalities, "it's secondary to the main event".

"Plus we don't have male cheerleaders at women's netball or rugby games," Procter said.

"Maybe they should consider that. They'd get better ratings."

The Maidens, however, do not consider themselves cheerleaders, choreographer Ali Rossiter said. Their outfits are "striking and demure, and are in no way designed to sexualise women".

Performing in perilous Christchurch weather, on slippery turf and with metal swords makes acrobatic cheerleading "highly dangerous and unpredictable".

With limited opportunities for paid dance employment in Christchurch, opportunities such as that with the Maidens is seized upon, Rossiter said.

The Crusaders dancers come from a range of backgrounds and include scientists, nurses, mothers, teachers and artists.

"To have the opportunity to perform in front of a stadium of 17,000 people is something most dancers will never get the chance to do."

New Zealand Cheerleading Association president Kimberley Ramsay was quick to point out theirs is a very different sport.

"What they're talking about is pompom cheerleading.

"We've been to the World Champs the last five years, and the last three we have placed second."

Next year the competition will be held in Florida and Ramsay said they are aiming for first place.

In the meantime, the national competition is on this weekend on the North Shore in Auckland, with more than 1000 cheerleaders and 40 teams taking place.

Although the NZCA "doesn't do rugby games" Ramsay does appreciate the other form of cheerleading.

"I think they're very talented dancers, and they provide entertainment but it's completely different."

Last month cheerleading was accepted into SportAccord, an international body of sports federations.

The Press