I’m no fan of university varsity sports, be it as University of the Philippines alumnus, or as Ateneo de Manila University teacher in the past.
I was so bad at being sports-supportive in fact, that I’d have classes while some huge game would be ongoing, no matter that students would be barely paying attention to their crazy teacher demanding their attention in the midst of overwhelming school spirit.
But the UAAP Cheerdance Competition (CDC) was always different. Might be because I had a literature batchmate who was a part (later team captain) of the UP Pep Squad, and who was brilliant in class, and absolutely hilarious, too – not at all what the stereotypical “cheerleader” is (hello, Michelle Corpus!). Or it could be that two of my more memorable freshman students in Ateneo were these two bright girls who were balancing learning about and writing the English essay in my class, while being part of the Ateneo Blue Babble Battalion (hello Ana Mascenon and Blu Aquino!). At some point in their freshman year one of them would come to class with a sprained ankle, laughing at herself for having done something wrong during training.
This year’s CDC has become even more interesting than usual, mainly because of UP’s cheerdance level-up.
Social media degenerates
Most probably because my Facebook and Twitter are filled with University of the Philippines (UP) alumni (unbeknownst to me), but after this year’s winners were announced it became difficult to even look at my social media feeds, dominated as it was with the losing university’s coping mechanism.
Sourgraping and pikon-talo seem fine when everyone’s doing it, yes? It’s even easier because the Pinoy social media bandwagon is one that is rarely questioned, much less critiqued.
And yes, some of it is funny, but much of it is mean and nasty, if not the absolutely discriminatory of NU’s status as a University, relative to the State U.
Certainly sad to see how far we can go without thinking.
The Pep Squad that thinks
It is even sadder that the discourse is like this because watching the UP Pep Squad’s Pantay-Pantay routine, one realizes that a lot of thinking went into that performance. Certainly all the other teams had a theme; UP just decided to do a level-up on thematic choice.
And then they ran with it.
Because they’ve done the shaved head before – something that stood for freedom and equality in 2012’s CDC – this year all squad members had their hair at chin length, tied back. Their costumes were in a shiny black with rainbow accents, the same colors as their pompoms and flags.
They danced and moved like one entity, no one girl doing some sexy dancing, no boys doing it more macho than anyone else. There was no girl looking into the camera and blowing the imagined audience a kiss, or waiting her turn to tumble by throwing in some . This year the Pep Squad did not look like a group with individual members. They looked and represented a collective taking a stand via performance.
The greatness of this can only be premised on the particular concept of equality that the Pep Squad wanted to speak of this year. Certainly it could have used the same images and words in its performance, without having to go so far as to make it a point. Instead it seemed the Pep Squad knew that this stand in itself demanded a self-reflexivity, a critical stance about cheerdancing itself, and the roles it creates for male and female and LGBTQ.
Which is to say that when the male squad members were lifted on the shoulders of the females, it was a surprise because it was so utterly beyond our sense of what is normal for the competition. When they removed their ponytails and revealed a sameness still, when they danced with more femininity or with military-like precision, it was clear that the Pep Squad was shifting from one imagination to the next of what equality looks like, what performing it is about.
This was and could only be a call for justice. That this was a discussion the UP Pep Squad wanted to have with its audience, is what makes this performance relevant and important.
It’s the rules
That this did not mean a win for the UP Pep Squad at this year’s CDC is the competition’s own undoing. This is about what exactly is in that tally sheet that’s used by judges for the competition. Deductions and penalties are subtracted from the total score of each team for tumbling, stunts, tosses, pyramids, and dance respectively. Granted that NU might have had the technical skills for getting high scores on that tally sheet; that same tally sheet had nothing at all that would’ve given UP scores for concept and execution and overall impact.
There obviously needs to be some criteria for judging performance as a whole. For there might be wonderful death-defying stunts, perfect pyramids, fantastic dancing in cheerdancing but if these are held together by concepts that are cliché, if not are mere whimsy, then what of relevance in performance?
One looks at the UP Pep Squad’s 2014 performance, and one can’t help but feel sad
that the UAAP CDC did not know how to judge it.
That’s what happens when a performance is ahead of its time.