When one thinks of cheerleading, a group of beautiful young women in tight outfits, performing stunts, jumps, and dance moves, may come to mind. However, an all-male cheerleading squad from Pu’er University in Southwest China’s Yunnan province is set to challenge this stereotype. The young, bouncy, and suntanned men are impressing audiences with their mechanically precise choreography, energetic tumbling, and sophisticated routines, showcasing that cheerleading can be an athletic sport rather than just cheering for others.
Since its initiation in 2017, the squad has won several medals at various competitions, including the National Cheerleading Championships, Asia-Pacific Cup Cheerleading Open, and the International Cheer Union World Cheerleading Championships. Their accomplishments have sparked an explosion of interest in cheerleading among younger students across Pu’er city, becoming a common practice in primary and middle schools as an important exercise for students during recess.
The popularity of cheerleading in Pu’er can be attributed to Li Dong, a teacher at Pu’er University, who ran the squad from scratch and developed a reputation for organizing intensive trainings day after day. Li’s passion for cheerleading began when he entered Yunnan Arts University, where he founded a club and became obsessed with the sport. He loved its many forms and the freedom it allowed participants to be innovative in designing routines. “I also like to collaborate with others,” Li says.
After completing his postgraduate program from Yunnan Normal University, Li became a teacher at Pu’er University in his hometown, where he began selecting students from the university’s school of physical education to be cheerleaders in 2017. “Basically, our squad members don’t have the athleticism as outstanding as those from the country’s top sport universities, so we have to train harder,” Li says. He also found that a squad should form its own unique style to catch the eyes of judges at different competitions. He decided to form an all-male squad that could show moves that required more physical strength and endurance. He also integrated kung fu and other elements of traditional Chinese culture into the squad’s routines, telling the stories of historical figures such as the Ming Dynasty scholar and calligrapher Tang Bohu and the legendary martial artist Huang Feihong.
Yunnan is home to more than 20 ethnic groups, and Li has sought to enlarge the population that practices cheerleading in the province by designing routines that involve cultural elements of different ethnic groups. “For instance, when we planned to promote cheerleading in schools in Mojiang Hani autonomous county, Pu’er, we first worked out a routine based on the traditional style of singing and dancing of the Hani people. That would be better accepted by people there,” he explains.
Li’s motivation for cultivating talent for competitive cheerleading stems from his eagerness to help more students open new vistas in life. Many students in the university come from remote mountainous areas in the province, where they help with farm work at home during holidays and lack the chance to see the outside world. “I hope their participation in the sport (cheerleading) brings them more opportunities to see with their own eyes different life possibilities in the outside world and empowers them to tap into their potential,” Li says.
Li’s efforts have inspired Zhang Haomeng, a 22-year-old member of the university’s cheerleading squad, to pursue bigger goals. Zhang used to be shy and did not talk much, but after the squad’s entry to the year’s China (Nanjing) Cheerleading Open, he traveled to Nanjing, Jiangsu province, for the first time. There, he met over 2,000 domestic and international cheerleaders and watched their performances in various styles.
Zhang, a student from Pu’er University in Yunnan province, is the leader of his university’s cheerleading squad. He and his teammates have competed with outstanding cheerleaders from both China and abroad, which inspired him to train harder and boost his self-confidence. In addition, he and his teammates have been invited to perform in talent shows such as Campus and Gold 100 Seconds, giving them opportunities to travel to different cities across the country, including Beijing, Shenzhen, and Haikou.
Zhang is now preparing to apply for a postgraduate program at Beijing Sport University. Unlike many of his schoolmates who tend to stay in Yunnan after graduation, he wants to study at the country’s top-class sport university to pursue a better future. As a leader of the cheerleading squad, Zhang has learned to communicate efficiently with his teammates, organize collective activities with passion and dedication, and become more talkative and open-minded.
Li, the coach of the cheerleading squad at Pu’er University, has been promoting cheerleading in primary and middle schools in Yunnan province, creating better career prospects for physical education majors at the university. Schools in the city’s downtown area have their own cheerleading squads, and competitions are held every year, leading to the recruitment of new PE teachers who are good at cheerleading.
Shen, a former member of Li’s cheerleading squad, graduated from Pu’er University last year and became a PE teacher at a local primary school. Shen grew up as a “left-behind” child in a mountainous village in Zhaotong, Yunnan. Upon entering Pu’er University, he became addicted to mobile games and didn’t have a plan for his future. However, joining Li’s squad in the second semester of his freshman year helped him figure out what he wanted to do in the future.
According to Shen, Li’s enthusiasm for the sport of cheerleading infected him, and the cohesion of their squad enabled him to become a more responsible person. As a teacher, Shen gets up at 6:30 am on weekdays to lead his students in morning exercises and cheerleading routines. He hopes to follow in Li’s footsteps and bring his own students to the international stage, where they can broaden their vision and gain recognition.
In summary, the experience of competing with outstanding cheerleaders, the opportunities to perform in talent shows, and the promotion of cheerleading in primary and middle schools by Li have opened up new career prospects for physical education majors in Yunnan province. Zhang and Shen’s stories demonstrate how cheerleading has inspired and motivated students to pursue their dreams and become more responsible individuals.