Cheers to the Cheerdancers: The UAAP Cheerdance in retrospect

Gerry Plaza on Nov 14, 2019 07:01 AM
The UAAP Cheerdance in retrospect
The UAAP Cheerdance Competition shows a different kind of athleticism in college sports—teamwork, agility, grace, and determination all in a difficult display of perfect physical harmony and orchestration.

The air in the stadium is heated and intense.

Two quarters pass and everyone remains excited and befuddled, depending on which side you are on, on what transpired. But then suddenly, you hear drums playing that familiar beat and a group of men and women in outfits that spring our senses up with school colors make that grand entrance in unison.

You all stand up and shout to the top of your lungs.

They yell, scream and gyrate to the beat of the fabled school cheer—and all who share the same colors just blissfully follow. That indeed is the magic of the cheering squad, one important winning element in college basketball very much emphasized in the last 25 seasons of the UAAP. Those two decades when the cheering squad itself became the focal point of all the action—and, quite deservingly, being cheered on to victory by their appreciative schoolmates and followers.

The UAAP Cheerdance Competition shows a different kind of athleticism in college sports—teamwork, agility, grace, and determination all in a difficult display of perfect physical harmony and orchestration.

Let's take a look back at the past editions of the most-watched single day event in the UAAP's calendar. 


Recognizing this important ingredient to boosting the school spirit, the UAAP first introduced the cheerdance as a separate competition. Called the “Jollibee Chi-Cheer Kayo Challenge,” the UST Salinggawi Dance Troupe became the first champion in 1994, and took home the title in the next two years for its first three-peat. The DLSU Pep Squad would land in second spot in 1994 and 1995, while UP, represented by the UP Filipiniana Dance Troupe, became runner-up in 1996.


The UAAP skipped the cheerdance wars in 1997 but continued hostilities the next year with the title “Nestlé Crunch Ice Cream Cheering Competition.” Defending champions UST decided not to join the tournament, with the FEU Pep Squad clinching its first title. DLSU Pep Squad finished second, while UP, now bannered by its Varsity Pep Squad, ended up at third.


In 1999, UST marked its return to the Cheerdance Competition hoping to reclaim its lost glory. But, it had to contend with the new dominant force, the UP Pep Squad. The Diliman-based cheerleaders waylaid UST for two straight years, and eventually scored a three-peat in 2001 with Adamson University as runners-up.


Faced with humiliating losses in the previous three seasons, UST decided that enough was enough. It had to blazingly scorch the court with impressive, never-before- seen moves to really bring the title back to Espana. And true enough, UST rose from its hibernation and wrestled the title back from UP, pushing their cheerdance rivals to third place. UE, in its first moment of glory, soared to second place.


In the midst of its five-year hold of the Cheerdance Competition championship, UST by introducing the awe-inspiring, stunning routine that changed the course of the yearly tilt. The buwis-buhay “Helicopter” stunt truly took the nation by storm, and became truly indicative of how the school lorded over the pack. It then copped its second three-peat over UP and FEU. UST would then emerge as champions for the next two seasons to complete the first and only five-peat.


Attempting what could have been a six-peat, hosts UST would have achieved a dynasty difficult to bring down. But guess who came to topple it over, age-old rivals UP. With Samsung taking over as sponsor, the Cheerdance Competition in 2007 belonged to the UP Pep Squad as it dealt the Salinggawi a heartbreaking loss. The UP Pep Squad would then repeat next year as back-to-back titlists again fending off their Espana rivals.


After a decade of having rivals UP and UST each having their own respective runs at the Cheerdance Competition title, it was time that FEU broke that duopoly. While it last held the title in 1998, without UST in contention, FEU now had the guts and glory in facing the cheering giants and slayed them with an impeccable routine—the Sarimanok, which left all in an utter visual daze. Ateneo's Blue Babble Battalion, for the first time, landed on the podium at second with its “Moonwalk” routine, and UP at third.


The next year saw the UP Pep Squad emerge as champions once more over familiar opponents FEU (Second) and UST (Third). But in 2011, UP performed what became its most memorable routine still deeply etched in cheerdance enthusiasts' minds. Its “Blonde Ambition” number paid tribute to Queen of Pop Madonna, all with impressive dance moves depicting the ageless entertainer complete with everyone in the Pep Squad, yes, donning blonde hair. The routine gave the Diliman cheerleaders a back-to-back title anew. DLSU's Pep Squad returned to the podium after 13 years at second place, and FEU, third.


After the Blonde Ambition routine, UP Pep Squad thought of something radical and revolutionary that would have them achieve their second three-peat. While it did achieve memorably visual with all the members shaving off their heads, what truly made their routine remarkable and unforgettable was having role shifts emphasizing gender equality. It was the women cheerleaders who were lifting their male counterparts in a spine-tingling number that gave Diliman their well-deserved three-peat.


With UST, UP, FEU dominating two decades of the Cheerdance Competition, another school emerged as a giant. Athletically bolstered National University now became the force to reckon with, not only in the main sports competitions like basketball and volleyball, but in the much ballyhooed cheerdance wars. With an “Arabian Nights” routine, the NU Pep Squad emphatically noted the changing of the guards in 2013 by winning the championship for the first time over the UP Pep Squad.

NU would then repeat in 2014 with a Native American routine also over UP, while bagging their third-straight title, with a risky, stone-age-inspired routine, in a controversy-marred competition over UST in 2015. However in 2016, NU showed how much they deserved their reign as the competition’s astounding titlists in the three years prior with a near-flawless “futuristic” performance that gave the Sampaloc-based squad its historic four-peat, over second placers FEU. 


But in 2017, a new giant emerged and blew the competition to bits with its rousing, catchy, and groovy throwback number that brought us back to the Pinoy disco era of the 1970s. It was the Pep Squad from Adamson University, which soared and denied NU, the dominant cheerdance force in the past few years, a rare five-peat.  The Adamson Pep Squad’s first-ever championship was after they surprised everyone with a third-place podium finish in 2016, its first in 15 years. UST Salinggawi Dance Troupe ended roaring at second place, while the UE Pep Squad was third.


NU’s dismal fifth place finish in the previous season, apart from failing to cop its five-peat was difficult to bear. And in 2018, they knew they had to regain the respect and glory they had so endearingly treasured when their title run started in 2013. They indeed rose from the dead with their Mexican Day of the Dead-themed routine, presenting cheerdancers in skull makeup wearing sombreros and floral outfits, gripping the audience from start to finish with its breathtaking pyramids and awe-inspiring synchronized dance moves tumbles, and  once more to reclaim the coveted Cheerdance title, its fifth in six years. FEU showed its promise with another second place finish in two years while defending champions Adamson took third place honors. 

Will the NU Pep Squad again lord it over in Season 82 for its second-straight championship and sixth title overall or will another team emerge and pull a surprise this year or maybe one of our past champions take the title once more? Let’s all find out in the 2019 UAAP Cheerdance Competition on November 17 at the Mall of Asia Arena. Catch it live on ABS-CBN S+A Channel 23, ABS-CBN S+A HD Channel 166, LIGA SkyCable Channel 86, LIGA HD SkyCable Channel 183, iWant, and livestream.



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