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Taking It To The Extreme, Creating Winning All-Star Cheer Routines

By Steve Sucata

Over the past few years the skill level and difficulty of All-Star cheer routines has skyrocketed. In order to keep up with that trend, cheer teams and their choreographers are finding that it is not enough to just have a good All-Star cheer routine, to win at competitions they need to find ways of making their routines more extreme.

In doing so, cautions Angela Rogers, Co-founder of Cheer Athletics in Dallas, Texas, “You need to ensure that all of the skills performed in your cheer routine are executed very well.”

A former collegiate All-American, Rogers has been coaching, choreographing, and judging All-Star cheer routines for the past twelve years and has choreographed numerous National Championship winning All-Star cheer routines.

“Often teams will have as a goal creating the hardest routine out there, but just because a routine has difficulty, if it is not performed well, it will not score well,” said Rogers. A sentiment echoed by Diana Miller, Co-Owner/Choreographer of Pro-Spirit all-Stars in McKinney, Texas.

“The choreography has to be something that the cheerleaders can do and do well. Sometimes choreographers try to put hard material on cheerleaders that cannot perform hard material. Whatever you choose to bolster an All-Star routine, the cheerleaders must be able to nail it. Coming up with new and creative stunts is great, but if they cannot be performed cleanly they will not impress the judges,” said Miller.

Miller — a former collegiate All-American gymnast and cheerleader — has been featured on ESPN and has been coaching, choreographing, and judging All-Star cheer routines for over twenty years and has a number of National Championship winning routines to her credit. “When creating a winning routine you need all the elements,” says Miller. “Choreographers need to look at each competition’s score sheet to see what is expected of a routine. If you are not looking at the score sheet, you are not being a very smart choreographer,” added Miller. “Concentrating on only one or two areas such as stunts and jumps can lead to a low overall score.”

What appeals to judges according to both Miller and Rogers, are routines with well-executed skills and solid choreography. “Movement, transition, and all the elements outside of the basic skill areas need to flow seamlessly,” said Rogers. “You cannot just do one skill section, walk to the next, and start up again. A choreographer needs to create a routine that is solid from beginning to end. A routine where a judge or spectator doesn’t have a chance to take their eyes off it or even catch their breath.”

“A winning routine has to entertain,” adds Miller. “You want the judges to put down their pencils and watch it like they would a Broadway show. The routine should not look rushed and look almost effortless in its execution in addition to being enjoyable for the cheerleaders to perform.”

“Attention to detail in a routine such as crisp high jumps with toes pointed, vivid facial projections, and cheerleader unison are also important elements of winning routines,” says Melissa Scorza, owner of Washington, Pennsylvania’s Extreme Cheer and Dance All- Star Team. “Staying focused and executing each element in the routine is key.”

“Some routines are so choppy they are hard to watch and judge,” says Miller. She suggests choreographing routines in specific sections that focus on a particular area of scoring, but that also flow into each other so that the overall routine is easy to follow and judge. “Special attention needs to be paid to transitions and formation changes, “ added Miller.

So, what can you do to beef up your All-Star cheer routines? Miller suggests starting with music. “You need to come with music that is really outstanding and sticks out in a cheer routine. Often routines in a competition can tend to sound the same,” says Miller. “Find music that shocks the judges and treats them to something they don’t expect.”

In adding extremity and difficulty to an All-Star cheer routine Miller and Rogers both feel that many choreographers have a tendency to only concentrate on a few sections of a routine instead of striving to increase the difficulty of the entire routine.

A pitfall of some choreographers according to Miller is to double or triple up on one particular skill category such as stunting. “That can work well if you have a great stunting team,” says Miller. “But if a team stunts once and earns a good score and then come back with a second stunt section and a cheerleader falls because they are tired, that good score will be negated.”

With the widespread use of “spring floors” in All-Star cheer competitions, Miller and Rogers also see tumbling as an area where All-Star cheer routines will really start to become more extreme.

Although limited in “running” tumbling to single flips and double twists, Rogers feels extreme routines will start to increase the number of tumbling passes like that of a power tumbling event in which each pass will get longer and contain multiple skills such as a front, to whip, to full double. In “standing” tumbling Rogers feels ending a routine with a full twist, double full twist, or adding a standing full (standing back tuck with a full twist) is a great way to make a routine extreme.

With regard to stunting Miller and Rogers feel extremity will be found in more twisting and flipping to get to the top of a stunt.

“Double downs are now considered a necessity to score well,” said Miller. Miller also feels more twisting basket tosses, adding a standing back tuck to combination jumps, and creating really visual and transitional pyramids will be areas in which routines will become more extreme.

With cheerleaders now executing skills one might see at an elite gymnastics meet, look for cheer teams and choreographers to continue to push the envelope with regard to extremity. In the end, when it comes to creating winning All-Star cheer routines the fundamentals still apply; they need to exhibit creativity, variety, and balance and be able to be executed perfectly.