Glossary of Cheerleading Terminology
Glossary of Cheerleading Terminology
FAST Area Studies Website
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere, Finland

  • Arch: A position in which the back is curved.
  • Base: The bottom person in the stunt who remains in contact with the floor, supporting the mounter in a stunt.
  • Basket-toss: Toss of a flyer into the air involving 3-4 tossers, 2 of which have their hands interlocked.
  • Calisthenics: A series of exercises used to develop strength, power and balance.
  • Chant: A short repetitive yell performed continually throughout a game. short routines with words sometimes involving the crowd.
  • Cheer: A longer spirited yell performed only during official breaks of a game. Sometimes using motions and stunts.
  • Cradle Catch: Occurs when the catcher(s) catch a mounter/flyer by holding her around the back and under the thighs.
  • Dismount: A method used to return to a floor position following a stunt.
  • Extended Stunt: One in which the supporting arms(s) of the base)s) is fully extended above the head. Stunts such as chairs, Russian lifts and T-lifts are extended stunts.
  • Extension: A stunt in which the arms of each base are fully extended above the head, supporting the mounter/flyer standing in the palms of the base(s).
  • Flash cards: Cards that show which words the spectators should shout back.
  • Flyer: The person that is elevated into the air by her base(s) to perform a mount.
  • Gymnastics Cheer: A cheer involving any use of gymnastics.
  • Hand Spring: A spring from a standing position to the hands, and back to a standing position.
  • Jump: A spring into the air with both feet off the ground to a given position with landing on one or both feet; any move where both feet leave the ground. Examples of jumps are toe-touches, side hurdlers, front hundlers, pikes, around-the-worlds, and double nines.
  • Layout: A straight or arched position.
  • Leap: A moving spring position in the air from one foot to the other.
  • Mount: Any skill in which one or more persons is supported in the air. Another word used is stunt.
  • Mounter (flyer): The person in a stunt, who is supported by one or more persons. (Also called a flyer)
  • Partner Stunts: Referred to as double stunts; a maneuver in which at least one mounter is supported by one base.
  • Pike: A position in which the body is bent at the hips and legs are straight out in ninety degree angle.
  • Pirouette: A turn in standing position on one leg to a different direction.
  • Pom Pom Routine: A dance routine performed with pom poms.
  • Pyramid: A stunt involving one or more [multiple] mounters/flyers supported by one or more bases and linked together.
  • Routines: A choreographed combination of dance steps. A sequence of moves.
  • Split: A movement or sitting position in which the legs are spread apart in alignment or sideways one in front of the other.
  • Spotter: A person who is in direct contact with the performing surface and may help control the building of, or dismounting from, a mount. This person may not provide primary support, meaning the mount or pyramid would remain stable without the spotter. The primary responsibility of the spotter is to watch for safety hazards.
  • Straddle: A position where the legs are straight out and apart.
  • Stag: A leap or pose in which one leg is bent and the other is straight.
  • Stunt: Any maneuver or 'set piece' including tumbling, mounting, a pyramid or a toss.
  • Toss: A throwing motion by the base(s) to increase the height of the top person with the top person becoming free of contact with the base(s).
  • Traditional Cheerleading: Organized group yell leaders characterized by the use of motions & stunt performance.
  • Transitional Stunts: Involves a top person moving from one stunt to another. The transtional stunt may involve changing bases.
  • Tuck: A position in which the body is bent at the hips and the knees are held tightly up to the chest.
  • Tumbling: Forward or backward rolls, inverted skills and flips.
  • Vault: A stunt in which the hands of the top person are used to assist in clearing a base(s) or prop(s)

Cheerleading Terminology in Context

Cheerleaders have a terminology specific to their sport. When cheerleaders perform routines and build what are commonly referred to as "pyramids", every move is given its own name. Understanding the terminology may help one gain a better knowledge of the sport.

The most basic terms of cheerleading include "mounting", "climbing", and "stunting." All of these are used to describe what are known as forming "pyramids." The components of a pyramid include the "base" and "climber." Just like on any sports team, each "player" holds a certain position. Bases are the individuals who hold or support the stunts. These cheerleaders must have a lot of strength and coordination. Climbers are the individuals who go up in the stunt, the people on top. Climbers require a lot of balance and flexibility as well as coordination.

Bases and climbers are dependent on each other. Without one, the other does not exist. It is highly important that both individuals trust in each other's abilities as well as in their own, because having confidence can be the difference between a stunt working or failing. When a stunt fails, severe injuries can occur. For example, at a high school in New Jersey a young girl fell from the top of a mount and was killed due to the head injury she sustained. Of course, different stunts require higher levels of skill and some have higher degrees of difficulty.

Generally, cheerleaders learn stunting at the high school level, unless they only begin to cheer in college. The "full elevator" and "half elevator" are two of the first stunts that will be taught. The half elevator consists of four cheerleaders. Two bases hold the feet of one climber and the last base supports her ankles. This stunt remains at the shoulder level. The bases do not extend their arms. In a full elevator, the setup is consistent with the half elevator, with the exception that the bases extend their arms and the climber stands an arm's length above their heads. The elevators are an extremely important part of cheering building because other stunts develop from them. A squad, or cheering team, must first perfect these stunts before they can try more difficult ones.

When a squad is ready to advance, they may attempt several other stunts. Logically, the next stunt is the "free liberty." In this stunt once again the climber is an arm's length above the heads of three bases. Instead of being in a standing position, all her weight is balanced on one leg and the other is bent at a ninety degree angle. The main base holds the foot directly, while one supports the base's wrists and the other has one hand on the climber's ankle and the other on the arch of her foot. This stunt requires a lot of concentration and balance.

The next level of difficulty is the "heel stretch." This stunt is exactly like the free liberty with the exception that once the climber feels steady she grabs the arch of her foot and extends her leg. Although the bases have to be very steady, the stunt is basically left in the hands of the climber. Not only must the climber be very flexible, she must have a high degree of balance. Sometimes a cheerleader can perform these things on the ground, but standing on solid ground is much different than standing on two hands in the air.

The next level of difficulty would probably include an "arabesque." An arabesque consists of the same number of cheerleaders doing the same things, but now the climber extends her leg out to her back and leans forward. To keep her balance the cheerleader will lift her torso and make an attempt not to point her toe. When a climber points her toe all of her weight is shifted from her heel to the front of her body, generally causing a fall. However, if a climber places her weight on her heel, bases can support her ankle and heel more easily, maintaining better balance in the stunt. Balance is one of the most important aspects of cheering. It is easy to say that a squad advances only as its ability to balance progresses.

One of the most difficult stunts to balance is the "scorpion." The name probably comes from the desert insect, because the shape of the body resembles a scorpion when it is about to attack. No matter how much balance a climber has, she may not be able to do a scorpion because of the high degree of flexibility needed in her lower back and spine. In this stunt, the climber takes her leg and bends it back to bring it over her head. Sound difficult? A scorpion is both difficult to perform and to hold. This stunt puts a great deal of stress on the bases. The climber is constantly shaking and moving, trying to gain and maintain her balance, and it is the responsibility of the bases to stay steady.

These are just a few of the vast number of stunts performed by cheerleaders daily. One may wonder how cheerleaders can do them in the first place. Basically, most squads use the "sponge" technique. "Sponging up", as it is called, is going straight from the ground up using a bouncing and swinging technique to gain momentum. Once the climber gets up in the air, bystanders may often hear the spotter saying something about "sticking it." This just means that the climber has not quite gained her balance and the spotter is telling her to hold it, which is usually accomplished by tightening up muscles throughout the body.

Now, as anyone knows, what goes up must eventually come down. The question is "how?" This is accomplished by "flicking", "sweeping", or "folding down." The first two terms have the same meaning. One base will count (either 1,2 or 2,3) and then the bases simultaneously throw the climber's legs out in front of her and the climber lands in their arms in a piked position. A "pop flick" is very similar, with the only difference being that the bases bend their knees and throw the climber up before she lands in their arms. This flick is a little more appealing to the eye and is also slightly more difficult because it puts a harder task on the climber. "Folding down" is also referred to as twisting. Basically, this is exactly what is sounds like. The climber twists is the air before coming down. Why all the different ways? Cheerleading attempts to excite the spectators and get them psyched for the game. Generally, the more difficult the stunts, the bigger reaction received from the audience.

One of the biggest crowd-pleasing stunts a cheering squad can do is called the "basket toss." In this stunt the climber is called the "flyer" because that is exactly what she does. Four bases take individual positions in a diamond shape and the flyer is thrown into the air and attempts to "ride it" until she feels the end of her flight. This means that the flyer extends her arms and arches her back to go as high as she can. Once she knows she isn't going any higher, generally, she hits a strattle or a toe touch. However, there are also other tricks she can try, such as a back tuck (a back flip).

Cheerleading is a self-improving sport and there is always something else to attempt. The better squads are constantly attempting new things, which will in turn result in new terminology.

('Cheerleading Terminology in Context' was originally edited (2001) from 'Cheerleading Jargon Exists!' by Kimberly Oats)

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Last Updated 25 April 2010