Former Ticats cheerleader: experience so much more than ‘revealing costumes and flailing pom-poms’

After today’s article, I’m left disappointed and heartbroken in the way former teams were represented. While I agree it’s time for a change in how women are represented in sporting arenas, it’s not fair to tear down the hard-work, dedication, and athleticism of women past.

I was a long-standing member of this cheer team, who wore “somewhat-revealing costumes and flailing pom-poms,” but never once did I feel any less empowered in who I am. What this article fails to articulate is the many hours spent choreographing, rehearsing, and maintaining a general health and well being that I chose for myself. This choice stems long before my time with the team and goes back to the years I spent dancing on competitive stages across North America. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats Cheer team was merely an outlet for myself, and like-minded individuals to share our passion for something we love – dance.

As Mr. Afinec notes, “Cheerleading implies a single connotation of choreographed on-field dances,” but from where I stand cheerleading has both historical and contemporary meanings, neither of which is a singular perspective. Histories of various sports teams show the entertainment factor of a cheerleader, one in which women perform synchronized routines to various forms of music based on popularity of the generation. A contemporary version of cheerleading shows both All-Female Power Stunt teams, as well as Co-Ed Power Stunt teams cheering on not only University sports in both Canada and the U.S.A but also competing in world competitions representing local gyms. Many of those women also found joy dancing on the sidelines at Hamilton-Tiger Cats Home games, and was their athleticism any less? In fact, the University of Western Ontario completed a study on the athleticism of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Cheerleading team in 2014.

Milton also writes, “Traditional cheerleading as a general concept has long been accused of objectifying women and the Ticats are distancing themselves from that.” Are they doing this by redesigning their current outfits of “gym attire: running shoes and jogging pants. No pom-poms”? I would argue that over 10 seasons I was in a uniform deemed to be “family friendly and not skin-baring,” to “let’s take an athletic approach with pants, runners and cropped jerseys,” to “keeping up with the rest of the league because sex sells.” to what is now, “athletic performers wearing athletic clothing.” What I saw on Friday night was young women wearing athletic pants, crop topped sweatshirts, long hair and of course “no pom poms.”

Yes, they’ve gone with a more co-ed team then in years past. One single male has officially taken the team out of the realm of being a performance-based team that will not be “accused of objectifying women and the Ticats are distancing themselves from that.” The Hamilton Tiger-Cats Uproar can now be “be viewed through the social- consciousness prism.” Is it the addition of the male gender that has empowered this new group of women? If we are focusing on inclusivity and keeping up with the times of 2018, why are we focusing on only two genders?

Milton also writes that “unlike in the past they’re spending more time with fan interaction.” This is where it gets personal and heartbreaking for myself, former teammates and countless women who dedicated their time over the years. One thing we all took pride on, was our ability to represent ourselves in a professional manner at local, and national events. Over my tenure, the opportunity for community-based appearances became less and less, because the organization was in a position where they were now obligated to pay us.

In my first years with the team, myself and numerous other women completed over 30 promotional events a season, on our own dime, on our own time, and for our love of the team. Some of my fondest memories are meeting young girls at Mac Sick Kids and teaching them the Oskee Wee Wee, and teaching small dance routines and coaching small cheer camps to little girls from all over the city. A sense of pride for myself came when many students I taught at my local dance studio joined the team because of my involvement with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats organization (two of which are current Uproar members). I would argue that any of us, who have spent countless hours in local dance studios weren’t seen as objectified performers of the male gaze, but loved, supported, and appreciated by our students and their parents for sharing our passion that we trained for on the field. Teams past, have given young girls a chance to set goals within their chosen sport of dance! It’s my hope that the current team will continue to do so.

On a personal note, the years I spent working for this organization are highlighted not by the money (or lack thereof), uniforms or pom poms but by the long-lasting relationships I made with my city, the CFL itself and countless men and women across the country who choose to be a member of a “Cheer Team”, “Cheerleading Team”, “Dance Team” or “Performance Team.” Of course, the lifelong best friends I’ve made over my years, on my own team are an added bonus. So to the women of Hamilton Tiger-Cats Cheerleaders past, and the women and men of the “Uproar” performance team, I wish you nothing but the best! Enjoy the experience being part of a uniquely Canadian thing. Cherish the Oskee Wee Wees, the wins and losses, because if you let it, it will be some of the best memories of your life!

• Andrea Bottosso was involved with the Ticats cheerleading squad as a dancer and chereographer for more than a decade.

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