Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cheerleading Gains Popularity with Russian Girls...and Boys 

Posted by James at 7:10 AM ET

From Russia Today

The Russian basketball season is about to start and for fans of CSKA it's not just a chance to watch their favourite players, but also the country's most popular cheerleading team.

The CSKA dance team are two-time winners of Russia's Cheerleaders of the Year competition.

But behind the performance is a world of gruelling practice sessions, complicated relationships…and bizarre nicknames.

CSKA  Dance Team

Like many on the team, Irina, or Patrick to her teammates, trained as a gymnast as a child. She was once an all-Russia champion, but when her professional career came to a halt at 18, cheerleading was the natural next step. Six days a week she goes to a two-hour practice session.

American audiences may struggle to recognise the Russian interpretation of cheerleading. The CSKA girls do not chant or use pompoms, but perform a series of professionally choreographed dances, each with its own costume.

“I love to dance. It's good for me as it keeps me in shape, and it supports the team. Everyone wins,” believes cheerleader Darya.

Anna Burkina, a former CSKA girl herself, is no drill sergeant and life as coach and choreographer is challenging.

“I’m a soft person but sometimes I have to be tough: I shout at the girls, I throw them out of the gym. CSKA requires professionalism, perfect training and the best girls,” Anna says.

Russian tabloids love to paint the team as man-eaters, for whom cheerleading is a short-cut to having affairs with players.

CSKA  Dance Team
Head Coach Anna Burkina

“It depends on your brain. If you understand, then you understand. Some girls don't understand that it's inappropriate, but those don't stay with us long,” Anna stresses.

Established just five years ago, CSKA Basketball Girls are not Russia's first cheerleading team, but they have definitely done the most to popularise the sport. Now, almost every city in the country has its own cheerleading school.

Online home of the CSKA Basketball Dance Team here.

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