Last Sunday, Haru participated in her second cheerleading festival. The first one took place last year around this time. The cheerleading routine that she had practiced with her teammates for the last several months was much more complicated than it had been at previous events, and included two complicated tumbling moves: a cartwheel, and a one-handed cartwheel (something Haru had mastered only recently). This routine, as it turned out, was more longer and more complicated than some of the routines performed by cheerleaders on other teams who are nearly twice Haru’s age.
Haru had initially struggled with learning the new routine. They had been practicing it for nearly 3 months and at almost every practice. My wife had videoed one of her practices so that she that could watch the routine and practice at home. Two weeks prior to the performance at CheerFest, Haru would practice at home every night, but seemed to not get the routine down, making mistakes with her timing and direction.
Her mid-routine acrobatics where not consistent either. At best, she would nail the one-handed cartwheel only 80% of the time. The other 20% resulted in landing on her knees, or her side, or not being able to do the move at all. So I took her to the gym an hour early prior to every Saturday gymnastics class to make her practice her acrobatics. As we got closer to Cheer Fest day, she made some steady improvements, but still lacked consistency.
On the last cheerleading practice prior to the big event, the day when Haru should have the entire down pat and should not be making any mistakes, she blundered big time. Apparently, she did a front roll instead of doing a cartwheel. This frustrated my wife, and concerns grew over whether or not Haru would be able to pull this off without any mishap.
So pretty much every night from the last night of practice to Cheer Fest Day, we made Haru practice her routine. When she messed up (which was still way too frequent considering the time she had left to get it perfected) we made her start from the beginning. Sometimes she would have to repeat the same move 7 or 8 times or more. As her unofficial gymnastics coach, I was stickler getting her acrobatics looking perfect. However, at this point she had more serious issues with staying in time with the music. She would often move much faster than the timing of the music, which was VERY noticeable in the practice video. She looked out of step, and out of tune with the rest of the team, as if she was doing a different routine entirely, or listening to different music with a different tempo. So, rather than focusing on whether or not her legs are perfectly straight when doing her cartwheels, or if she raised her arms properly after she finished, my wife and Iconcentrated on slowing down her tempo and get her to actually listen to the music and dance to the beat.
It was difficult. It seemed that she lacked the fundamental concept of rhythm and was pretty much beating to her own drum (almost literally). But when we clapped or counted the steps while she danced, she was able to keep the beat. Of course, when she actually does the routine, no one is going to be there counting or clapping for her, so we told her that its okay if she counts out loud even on stage, since no one will hear or notice her doing it. After several attempts, she was able to stay on beat when she counted out loud.
On the morning of Cheer Fest, we made Haru go through her routine one last time. Despite her counting out loud, she was still too fast and stepping out of beat. Ugh…no more time left to practice and she is still not getting it. I sat her down and I told her to just relax and not to worry, and that this was not a competition but just a show. I also told her not to worry about making mistakes and just to smile a lot and have fun. I suspected that perhaps she was too nervous and stressed from the pressure, and that she just needs to relax and get into her zone. She is usually very good on stage so perhaps, she’ll do better once she is on the stage with rest of her team….one could only hope.
We arrived in Kawasaki early in the hopes that we could be close to the stage. I was still struggling with getting my new zoom lens to take good pictures, and I was still getting blurriness, so I wanted to get as close as possible so that I can get good clean shots. The rules for the spectators were a bit stricter than the previous year. Last year, basically it was first come first serve. But apparently this allowed for the people in the front of the line to go in, block off, and save several seats for friends and family members who would arrive much later. So what looked like rows of empty seats, were in reality rows of saved seats for people who would come in an hour or two later, stay for a few minutes to watch their friend or family member perform, then leave -leaving the seats unoccupied once again. This year, the rules state that there would be no seat saving. If you want a seat, you need to be in line or risk not having a seat if you arrive much later. But at the same time, you would be seated in the order you were in line. So, it wasn’t truly free seating, but more like priority seating, with the priority given to those who lined up first. This all sounded great on paper, but in practice, it turned out to be a complete disaster.
Since I was still not quite used to my snazzy new zoom lens, and I wanted to get a seat relatively close to the stage, I did what any other diligent spectator who wanted good seats would do; I lined up early -two hours early to be exact. There were already about 20 people in line ahead of us, so at this rate, we were pretty much guaranteed an unobstructed front row view of the event, or so I thought. Because of the silly new “no seat saving” rule that the event coordinators had put in place, people resorted to cheating the rules, and families would select one person to stand in place for them in line. There may have been a “no seat saving” rule in place, but there was no “no place saving” rule in place. So what looked like only 20 people ahead of us, was in reality 20 “families and friends” ahead of us. As the the event neared, we were gradually pushed back further and further in line, as friends and family members who could not be bothered to stand in line like diligent people like me. Every few minutes it would be “excuse me, my family is up front and we need to join them”. It eventually got so bad that people like me, who had arrived early fore the sole purpose of securing a good seat, were pushed back to about the fifth or sixth row, which was still not so bad, but aggravating none the less. But eventually, the line coordinators caught wind of the injustice, and started blocking late arrivers from rendezvousing with their “place savers”. Any late arrivers was automatically pushed back to the end of the line, which at this point consisted of at least a thousand or more people ahead of them.
The doors finally opened at around 12:30PM. We were siphoned in a very orderly fashion in an effort to keep the ordering the same, so that no one complains that they were separated from the rest of their family. The coordinators where pretty serious about maintaining the order of the line, otherwise people would try to cut ahead and try to get better seats. We calculated that we would be in the fifth row toward the right of the theater, which was perfect since Haru was (stage left) or “theater talk” for the right side of the theater. However, of course things like this never goes according to plan. There would always people who “didn’t know about or hear about the new rules” or for one reason or another, didn’t want to be where they were being seated. The people in front of us where precisely those type of people, and complained and put up a big fuss to the ushers that about how they didn’t like where they were being placed. Since the ushers were trying to siphon in 1000+ people in a single file line (which is insane to begin with) these people where causing a serious delay in seating, because until they accepted their seating arrangements and sat down, no one else could be seated. There were hundred of people standing in the aisles waiting for this one family to sit down, and it was getting very frustrating.
Eventually the inevitable happened. The family that effectively and single handedly caused a 10-15 minute gridlock and delay in an otherwise very structured and orderly seating process, where given the seating arrangements that they wined and moaned about to the ushers and event coordinators. This was bad..VERY bad, because it set off a huge chain reaction of people wanting the same treatment. The grandmas, grandpas, and other friends and family members who didn’t quite make it before the line coordinators started putting late arrivers to the back of the very long line, started
requesting demanding that they also be allowed to sit with their family members in the front rows, despite having stood in line for only a few minutes, compared to the 2+ hours we stood in line in the attempt to secure seats in the same general area. At this point, my blood pressure was at about about to explode. I was mad, and I wasn’t the only one. The people sitting next to and behind us started yelling out loud at the ushers. What was the point of standing in that stupid line if you are just going to let anyone sit any where they want? They screamed. I was sympathetic; I was more than sympathetic! I was so much in agreement with them that I joined the protest, as people who were obviously not in line with us, hence much further back in line, began sitting in seats in front of us obstructing my view of the stage.
A few minutes later, the event coordinators made it very obvious that they had completely lost control of the seating process by announcing over the PA system that the seating was now completely free, and people could basically sit wherever the wanted. The event soon went into complete chaos mode, as people vigorously rushed to change seats to be united with family members or be closer to the stage. Ironically, this opened up the seats in front of us because apparently “stage left” was not very hot real estate in terms of seating at this particular event. But it was really good for us. Now we have a relatively unobstructed view of the stage.
There were 14 teams participating this year. There were some familiar names like the Kawasaki Angels, which was home turf for them. And of course the unforgettable Funky A’s and the Atsugi All Stars who are in a league of their own. The Hearties Junior were number eight on the event roster, so it would be another hour or two before Haru’s team made their appearance.
It seemed as if most of the teams have stepped up their game. Even the kindergarten level teams were using complex routines and acrobatics, which they didn’t do last year. It seemed as if this event is slowly but surely becoming an unofficial competition of who looked more awesome. Of course there were still teams who just stuck with the basics, but I noticed that they were not getting too much attention from the spectators, as many were using the time as an opportunity to take a restroom break.
Haru’s team appeared about two hours later. They were one of the first teams to appear with a stepped up routine. Last year when Haru’s team participated, they had a fairly simple and short routine -simple music, no acrobatics…and you could hear some people in the audience say “how cute” because they were the youngest participating team. This year was different, there were a lot of wow’s and gasps of amazement as the cheerleaders incorporated much more gymnastics and dance moves, instead of just the pom pom waving, and cheer chants.
I was a bit nervous. I was already expecting mistakes. Getting the rhythm wrong was a given, but I also saw many cheerleaders stumble, fall, completely miss ques, etc. on the other teams. I even saw one girl miss her cartwheel, and burst into tears as she left the stage with her team. At this point, I was just hoping Haru wouldn’t fall and hurt herself like this girl did. Knowing Haru, something like that would be an absolute travesty to her. It would be a career ending event for her. I could already hear her saying that she never wants to cheer again.
Haru appeared on stage with a big smile on her face. She was already taking my advice to not worry and to just have fun, and that was exactly what she was doing. I zoomed in with my camera to see how she would execute the part that she constantly messed up during practice and at home. I counted out loud as she did the move. Up one, up two, up three, and up four…down one, down two, down three, and down four…she did it with perfect timing…no mistakes so far! Next it was the regular cartwheels…executed perfectly. Next came the heel (a move where she would straightened leg towards her head while trying to maintain balance) -a little hop but her leg was perfectly straight compared to the other girls who had bent their knees a bit. Next the came one handed cartwheel. I couldn’t bare to look! An ever so slight kink in her leading leg, but nearly perfectly done! It was like watching and Olympic figure skating or gymnastics event in that you know if all of the complicated stuff is done, you’re home free. She completed the routine with very little mishap. If I hadn’t watched the practice video and know where her weak points I would have never have noticed the very tiny and insignificant errors that she did make. She did so much better on stage than she did in practice, which is the way it should be.
Shortly after the presentation by the Hearties Juniors, came the much anticipated Funky A’s. Last year, they made a presentation that was no less than amazing. There were small team of maybe about 4 or 5 junior high school to high school aged girls, but their aerobatic presentation set them apart from the other teams by light years. However, this year they were a bit disappointing. I don’t what it was, but they seemed unimpressive compared to the team I saw last year. Perhaps it’s because the other teams had stepped up their routines and aerobatics so much that they pretty much matched what the Funky A’s were doing.
There was one team that kept ahead of the pack -far ahead of the pack, and that was the Atsugi All Stars. They were really good last year, but this year, they really out did themselves. The performance by their top tier team was near professional grade, almost something you would see in a cheerleading competition or a professional sporting event. I think the main difference between the All Stars and the other teams is that the members of the All Stars a far more dedicated to cheerleading than the others. For example, the Hearties meet only once or sometimes twice a week at best to practice for shows done 4 or 5 times a year. The All Stars most likely meet everyday and not only perform at more shows, but also compete, so they tend to be more competition grade cheerleaders.
Haru will move up from the “Peach Team” to the “Clover Team” starting next month which means that she will need to step up as well. There will probably be more pressure to work harder and perfect her moves. Hopefully she is ready for it because, I think the Clover team will be much more competitive than they have been from the looks of it.
Hearties Junior video
Fast Tube by Casper
Atsugi All Stars video
Fast Tube by Casper