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Inside the World of Adult Cheerleading

Imagine Bring It On: The Post-College Years and you'd have something like Cheer NY, the pioneering, all-grown-up cheerleading squad. Take a closer look in this photo essay.

November 17, 2010

Words you don't expect to come from a cheerleader's mouth: "I'm a Yale Ph.D., and here I am counting pom-poms." But they're commonplace among the members of Cheer New York; it's as standard as megaphones and backflips: The eight-year-old organization—one of a growing number of post-collegiate cheerleading teams—includes about 50 urban professionals in their twenties and thirties who yell, dance, and tumble not for school spirit but for charity. And, yes, most of these cheerleaders are male, most of them gay. "People think, oh, gay cheerleaders, campiness, just like a Halloween costume," founder and coach Felipe Hernández says. "But we're real cheerleaders." Indeed, the team performs at events all around New York—fund-raising walks, the New York City Marathon, and the Pride parade, to name a few—and they go at it with as much gusto as any cheer squad half their age. "I mean, 13-year-old girls in Kentucky do it," Hernández quips. "It's not that hard." And with only about a quarter of its members female, the group's guys are often the ones flying through the air and balancing atop teammates, a fact that makes Cheer NY a gender pioneer of sorts. "Cheerleading," Hernández says, "is such a sexist sport now. But we're different." Here's a look at a week in the wild, high-flying, wide-smiling world of Cheer NY, from practice to performance to final cheer.

"Some of our members are people who just thought it looked fun, saw the Cheerios on Glee, or saw Bring It On," says Cheer NY's founder and coach, Felipe Hernández. "Those tend to be boys. The elite cheerleaders tend to be girls. You know how it is in the United States. It's seen as a girls' sport, like dancing or ballet."

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