Gimme an A!

Anarchists in Lake Worth have spread their subversive good cheer from Seattle to Québec City and beyond

"I was floored," Cara remembers. "I was like, We didn't even know them!"

Radical cheerleading had by then seeped into Canadian activism. Kate MacLean, who works at the Womyn's Center at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, first learned about radical cheerleading from an out-of-town friend of a friend. Enamored of the idea, the 23-year-old helped form an 18-member community squad for Access 2000, a Canadian national students' strike in protest of high tuition fees. After another action, at the fall 2000 March of Women in Ottawa, MacLean was invigorated. "I was like, "I want to meet everyone who does this. Let's have a conference!'"

Radical cheerleaders (clockwise from left) Adee, Cara Jennings, and Aimee Jennings perform the crowd-pleasing "Shoot the Rapist"
Colby Katz
Radical cheerleaders (clockwise from left) Adee, Cara Jennings, and Aimee Jennings perform the crowd-pleasing "Shoot the Rapist"


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Her Web-posted conference notice garnered responses from all over the world, including queries from would-be radical cheerleaders in Germany and the Philippines, who, MacLean notes, have since started squads. She invited the New York City radical cheerleaders, a close-knit and active troop, but one of them said she wouldn't feel comfortable attending unless the Jennings sisters were there.

MacLean agreed, obtained the sisters' e-mail address, and offered to fly them to Ottawa.

"They said, "We're tickled pink!'" MacLean recalls with a chuckle. "You know how cute they are."

About 100 people attended the conference in March 2001 at Carleton University. Meanwhile in Florida, many activists were still oblivious to radical cheerleading's origins. When the Eve Chapter, a newly formed women's group based in Boca Raton, was setting up Femme Fest, its first annual women's celebration held at Florida Atlantic University in March, organizers were hoping to find some radical cheerleaders to perform.

"We were hoping to fly some in," says Justina Hook, one of the event's coordinators. Hook says she was surprised when an out-of-state radical cheerleader informed her that the movement had started just a few miles away.

The disconnect is far from arbitrary. Though the Jennings sisters see radical cheerleading as a collective phenomenon and assert no ownership of the concept, the success of radical cheerleading is due in part to the sisters' charisma. They know a lot of activists, and they make sure the activists know the cheers, which speak for themselves.

"It's genius," says Hollywood activist Ali Bateretz. "Not many people these days pay attention to protesters, but with radical cheerleading it's performance."

Bateretz, who is 30 years old and uses a wheelchair because of a nervous-system disorder, is hoping to start a Miami-Dade/Broward county squad including cheerleaders who, like herself, have disabilities.

Bateretz also admires the way radical cheerleading inverts gender stereotypes. Many radical cheerleaders would not be found on a traditional cheer squad. Some are fat, some have hairy legs and armpits, some are male, some are transgender: "You're taking something that's not exactly a feminist thing, and you're making it into something so powerful and feminist and nonhierarchical."

But it's not wholly or intentionally satire, though some squads, much to the Jennings sisters' chagrin, read it that way. When they see such ironists, Cara and Aimee give them dirty looks. While the protests are supposed to be fun, the cheerleading is no joke.

"I was a junior-high cheerleader," Aimee exclaims, proudly throwing her arms into a stiff V for emphasis. "I'm like, "I'm glad you asked. I did make the squad.'"

"I was rejected," Cara says with a sideways smirk at her sister.

Aimee is not the only former cheerleader to turn radical. Narrowing her eyes in mock scrutiny, Cara says the sisters can usually spot a squad member with previous experience: "It's like, Hey, where'd you get those moves?"

Both say they're inspired by the skill and athleticism of conventional cheerleading, and it motivates them to perfect their moves. In fact, Aimee says, the aggressive sexuality of modern cheerleading inverts the demure moves of old-fashioned pompon girls: "There are some stomps and some grinding the hips that I don't think cheerleading ever intended," she says, arching an eyebrow.

Aimee cheers every day, repeating her favorites like a mantra and busting out the steps to boost her mood. It bothers her, for example, that the squad's most daring stunts are so-called "cheater pyramids" -- not the legit, stacked formations of the top teams.

"I'm constantly practicing," she says. "If I pass by a full-length mirror, I'm like, "Tighten it up!'"

Even though it conflicts with their goal of inclusiveness, the Jennings sisters admit they can't help but cringe at the sight of limp, sloppy moves. They want their cheers loud, their moves tight, and their routines synced. Aimee dreams of elevating radical cheerleading to its sporting-world equivalent: "I'm all watching ESPN and saying, "We can do a basket toss!'"

The cheerleaders strutted their subversive stuff at Fort Lauderdale's Museum of Art last December as part of a program by their friend, Miami artist Naomi Fisher, who designed the squad's posters. While preparing for that show, Cara had to keep her natural perfectionism in check. She wanted the squad's performance to be impressive, but "you know we're antiauthoritarian, so we can't be that tough!"

The national media is also beginning to catch the spirit. Cara says Seventeen magazine contacted the New York City radical cheerleaders, hoping to accompany them to anti-FTAA rallies in Québec City, but the squad ultimately said no.

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