Cheerleading vs Dancing: What’s the Difference?

Many dancers aspire to be professional cheerleaders helping to excite and encourage spectators to actively support their home team by leading them in chants and cheers. But if a dancer can be a cheerleader and a cheerleader a dancer isn’t dancing and cheerleading basically just the same thing?

What’s the difference between cheerleading and dancing? The main difference between cheerleading and dancing is that cheerleading can be classified as a sport whereas dance is an art form.

Cheerleading and dance are similar enough and generally are composed of like movements and choreography so that many people believe that they are interchangeable, and in fact, I would call the cheerleaders you see performing for professional NRL and NBL teams, dancers with pom poms, but ultimately the purpose of both activities is different.

What is the purpose of Cheer Leading?What is the purpose of Dance?
Cheerleaders entertain spectators and boost team spirit by helping to encourage their home sports team through movement, acrobatics stunts, and tumbling mixed with chanting and cheers.Dance is a form of art that is created to tell a story, emotion or is just pure expression of movement and rhythm through the use of the body.

Ok so let’s get this straight – dancing is considered an art form but cheerleading is considered a sport? And for the sake of defining them, most people would agree with these statements. But why?

Well, first we should really take a quick look at each activity independently so when we do compare them later in the article we have some good knowledge about each to base the comparisons on.

If you do wish to just jump to the comparison tables you can click here, although to have a better understanding of their differences we recommend you read through all the info!

Cheerleading: A simple guide!

Cheerleading has changed and metamorphosized into its own sport since it’s humble beginnings where crowds of fans chanted in unison for their favorite sports. Funnily enough, cheerleading began as an all-male endeavor with the first organized cheer team called a “Yell Leader” squad consisting of 6 males in 1898. Basically this squad led the spectators at the University of Minnesota college football game in chants and cheers encouraging their team.

Tumbling and acrobatic stunts weren’t added into cheerleading until sometime during the 1920’s coincidently around the same time females were allowed to participate in the sport (Minnesota, 1923). However, females did not really join cheerleading teams in large numbers until the mid-40s during World War II when men were conscripted to the cause shipped to fight overseas.

Fast forward to the late 1980’s where All-Star Cheerleading was introduced. Cheer squads and teams began competing off the football field in halls, gymnasiums and on stages for the chance to claim the All-Star Title. As competition has intensified over the years so too has the difficulty of the acrobatic stunts, tumbling, patterns, choreography, chants and numbers of participants in the sport. Cheerleading has become more than just rooting for a team. As a cheerleader, you can now become part of a competitive team.

Today, you can join a Cheer Team at school and continue your sport all the way into college. Scholarships are offered to some cheerleaders at colleges with big competitive teams. There are various after-school programs and specialized coaching academies dedicated to cheerleading, in case you don’t make the school team but want to be part of a competitive cheerleading team. Afterschool lessons in cheerleading are now available all over the world and it isn’t uncommon to see teams from Australia, the UK and even China travel to the US to compete in the sport.

Males have also been gravitating back to the sport since their exodus in the 40’s. But unfortunately nowhere near the numbers as in the birth of cheerleading as we today have the gender-biased stereotype of what a cheerleader should look like – just look at the all-women professional NBL and NRL cheerleading squads. The dangerous thought that men and boys play the sport and women and girls should be on the sidelines prevails within our society. Fortunately, because of the role many males take in the stunts and acrobatics of the sport being involved in cheerleading is becoming more and more accepted, helped even more with the portrayal of boys and men in the sport in movies such as ‘Bring it On’

Cheerleading has always had its roots closely connected with American Football. It’s thanks to this sport that cheerleading was able to become what it is today. From starting off as victory cries and chants in support of a football team to a full blown two and a half minute extravaganza of acrobatics, tumbling and chanting.

Types of Cheerleading Teams

Depending on what type of cheerleading team you are part of will determine how similar or different it is to dance – most being a distant cousin.

Middle School, High School and College Cheer Leading
Schools and colleges with sports programs (mainly basketball and football) will have a cheerleading team whose job it is to boost school/college spirit whether it be at games or school events such as pep rallies. There are also events where school and college teams can compete against each other. Prospective cheerleaders try out to get onto the cheerleading team, therefore, you need to show you are willing and able to learn or know how to do acrobatic stunts and tumbling which gets more difficult as you progress from middle school to college.

Youth leagues or Athletic Association Teams
Not all schools provide sports programs, rather they are provided by locally run youth leagues and athletic associations. Some of these also provide cheerleading teams which serve the same purpose as school cheerleading as they are connected to the local football or basketball team.

All Star and Cheerleading Academies
Just like a dance school, there are schools or academies who focus on teaching competitive cheerleading skills as an extra curricular activity. They are run for those who want to just do competitive cheerleading rather than take part in cheering for sports events or pep rallies. These organizations have competitive teams that only their best students get to compete in. The US All Star Federation is an organization created to govern the sport and competition in the USA.

Professional Cheerleading
The professional cheerleading seen at NBL or NRL games is closer to dance than cheerleading. The purpose of the cheerleaders is to cheer on their team holding their pom-poms and leading or being led by the massive crowds in chants during the game and to build the team spirit. But they also have the job of entertaining the spectators during time outs and showcasing the players by looking like showgirls in the background. Ironically it is more likely that you will find a person who has trained as a dancer for most of their life being in the role of a professional cheerleader than one who has actually trained as a cheerleader throughout school and college!

Dance: A simple Guide

Dance has been around for as long as anyone can remember. People have been shaking and grooving since the beginning of time around tribal fires and before they had words to even describe the movements they were doing. Different types and styles of dance developed at different points in time, but people generally categorize them all under the one category of dance, with dance contentiously being described as a form of art.

Ballet
Ballet would be the first and earliest non-partner style of dance to ever be formalized. Ballet was born from the court dancing of noble people and contrary to popular belief, ballet does not trace its origins back to France. History has shown that ballet originated in Italy of all places, during the Italian Renaissance and the reign of the infamous Medici family. France is credited with developing ballet to the form that it is today. Ballet is one of the strictest forms of dance that you will ever come across and one of the most beautiful. Ballet is extremely technical and has little margin for improvisation or error.

Contemporary or Modern Ballet
Also known as modern dance, this style was born from the suffocation felt by various ballet dancers through history of their ability to express themselves more freely through their artform. ironically, Although to dance these styles well a level of proficiency should be achieved in ballet, modern and contemporary dance and ballet strives to break the barriers of it’s predecessor and today many choreographers of the form will tell you the purpose of their performance pieces are created in order to make the audience feel and think and be affected by what they have seen.

Tap
Tap dance encompasses a variety of styles, so it is hard to pinpoint which came into being first. Tap borrows its origins from the Spanish flamenco to the English clog dancing and let’s not forget the Irish jig and African tribal dance. Almost every ethnic group can boast about contributing to the story of tap. Tap requires a dancer to perform dance moves while making rthymical percussive tapping sounds with their feet.

Jazz
The origins of Jazz dance originated from African celebrations and rituals. It was brought over through the Slave Trade and has become an influence on American culture ever since. Certain dances attribute their style to jazz, such as swing dancing, the Charleston and the jitterbug. The moves, music and choreography of these social dances has immalgamated with other styles of dance such as ballet and contemporary over time to produce the popular dance style we know today. Music videos, Broadway dance and competition dance as well as the moves you see in cheerleading heavily rely on the style we know as jazz dancing.

Hip Hop
Hip hop was a social style of dance that immerged within the African American community as music styles changed with rap and street and break dancing in the late 70’s and 80’s. It ranges from breaking to locking and popping to being funky and grooving to that distinct hip hop beat. There seems to be a new dance craze sweeping the nation every year from the style such as the Soldier Boy, Cat Daddy, and recently Drake’s dance challenge. Today you can see hip hop inspired movement in nearly any style of mainstream dance such as the previously mentioned tap, ballet, and jazz. Even pep rallie cheerleaders use hip hop moves to encourage everyone to move and clap their h create team spirit

How Are Cheerleading and Dance Similar

Cheerleading and dance are similar in alot of ways. The following is a comprehensive list of how they are similar!

  • Both rely on routines, and both rarely are freestyled.
  • Cheerleaders and dancers are taught or coached how how to complete the moves and then must mimic it.
  • Routines are usually set to some kind of beat, sound or rhythm. Neither activity is generally done in complete silence because you must be able to time and count steps.
  • Competition is common with both dance and cheerleading. Both dancers and cheerleaders travel around the country competing for various honors and accolades, whether it is for a school or for a company.
  • They take dedication, energy, and time to master. You must practice both cheerleading and dance to create muscle memory and stay in shape. If you’re not willing to put in the work, then neither are for you.
  • Both are all-inclusive. There aren’t male or female only divisions for dance or cheerleading. If you can put in the work, have rhythm, and buy the uniforms and equipment needed, then you are welcomed.
  • They are performing activities. You don’t practice for hours and hours in either so that you can just dance or cheer in front of the mirror. The routines that you create or learn are meant to be seen and enjoyed by an audience.
All my friends who ask me am I a dancer or a cheerleader need to read this so they learn the difference and stop asking me LOL! #cheerleading #dance #danceteam

How are Cheerleading and Dance Different?

Cheerleading and dance both involve moving rhythmically and in synchronicity when moving in groups. Cheerleading uses dance moves as a transition between tricks, stunts and tumbling, but the dance style used is usually drill dance in style.

What is the difference between the Drill Team and the Cheerleaders?

Having two teams at a school who perform similar duties is why many people are continuously confused between the differences between cheerleading and dance. The most common confusion being between the School Dance/Drill Team and the cheerleaders because both teams perform at school pep rallies and at sporting events, but the Drill team generally performs during half time or time outs for the crowd’s entertainment rather than to get them excited about their team or the football or basketball players like cheerleaders do.

Drill teams work on precision, unison, and patterns of dance movement which look spectacular and effective with larger numbers of dancers. There are all kinds of drill team styles ranging from military, jazz, kick, pom (using pompons), prop, lyrical, and novelty-character. Not all drill teams call themselves drill teams either, especially if their specialty is Jazz or lyrical which is most likely performed by a school Pom Team.

Drill team routines are rich in dance choreography with leaps, turns and a lot of movement rather than stunts, tumbling, acrobatics, cheering and chanting. Generally sharp, dynamic actions are used (unless the routine is lyrical in style) with many robotic type arm and leg movements performed in perfect unison or with some sort of domino effect amongst the dancers.

What is the difference between the Dance Crew/Team and the Cheerleaders?

More recently hip hop drill has been introduced which is generally performed by a school or community dance crew or team. A dance team or crew are a group of dancers creating unique interesting choreography, patterns, and movement to entertain and impress an audience. Dancing in unison is extremely important as is spacing and patterns, between performers and developing new creative choreography. Dance teams and crews do use acrobatics and stunts, but not all performers need to be able to complete them and they are generally added sporadically for the wow factor they give to a performance. Whereas all participants in a cheerleading team are required to perform stunts, acrobatics and tumbling which are the focus of their routine. Chanting and cheering is not necessary for a dance crew routine but doing innovative precision hip hop moves that include wow or ‘can’t believe they just did that’ moments, definitely are!

The Fundamental Differences Between Cheerleading and Dance in a Table!

Differences BetweenCheerleadingDancing
PurposeCheerleaders entertain spectators and boost team spirit by helping to encourage their home sports team through movement, acrobatics stunts, and tumbling mixed with chanting and cheers.Dance is a form of art that is created to tell a story, emotion or is just pure expression of movement and rhythm through the use of the body.
OriginsCheerleading began with a group of males who organized crowds at the football game to follow in chants and cheers to encourage their team to win.Dance has been around since the beginning of time when caveman danced around fires but formalized training began first with the court and social dancing of royalty before ballet became entertainment for the court in Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries.
TypesCheerleading is fundamentally the same however and where ever it is done. It can be further broken down by skill level and whether being done for recreational, scholastic, All-Star (competitive) or professional purposes where the cheerleading style may differ slightly.There are many different types and styles of dance not limited to the following: Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Hip Hop, Contemporary, Modern Ballet, Musical Theatre, Broadway, Funk, Popping and Break & Street Dancing. There is also Ballroom and social dancing which has many types and styles such as Tango, Cha Cha, Waltz, Quickstep, Jive and Samba to name a few. Almost every country also has their own unique style of dance such as Irish Dancing, Belly Dancing, Bharatanatyam, Nihon Buyo, Yang Ge, Hula and many more. Today more and more styles are being born such as shuffling and waacking.
Style of MovementIn cheerleading, movement is drill style. Precision movements are performed in unison or domino-style for maximum effect.Dance is graceful and when mastered looks effortless. It’s all about ebb and flow and the artistry of the dancer. Dance is about being seen more than being heard and the movements used.
Team or IndividualCheerleading is performed as a group and in competition, most rules generally state that teams must have between 5-32 members.Dance can be done individually called a solo, with a partner called a duo or pas de deux, as a trio or within a troupe or group where there is generally no limit on numbers as long as everyone fits safely in the performance area.
InclusivityCheerleading is for everyone males and females. Most competitions, however, state that co-ed teams need a 2/3 ratio of males to females. This is generally to ensure fairness. The more males on a team the better the ability a team have to produce stunts and tricks that rack up their points.Dance is for everyone male and female.
ShoesWhite cheerleading sneakers or trainers.There are different shoes required dependent on the style being danced. They are generally named after the style of dance for example ballet slippers, jazz or tap shoes, lyrical turners, acro shoe, dance sneakers and character shoes.
Training ClothingIf not in their uniform most cheerleaders today wear activewear to train in or shorts and a t-shirt or sweats. Some teams have official warm-up gear in their school or team colors and logo.A leotard is probably the most well-known piece of clothing a female dancer could own. Other stereotypical attire would be the tutu for the ballet dancer, a unitard for the contemporary dancer, bike shorts and a crop top for the jazz dancer. Male dancers generally wear white t-shirts with shorts, leggings or tights.
UniformsCheerleaders wear a pleated or A-line skirt and top combination whose color represent whatever team they are rooting for. There is no individuality with the uniform they are wearing. Many female cheerleaders wear their hair in a high ponytail decorated with a large team-colored bow. Male cheerleaders wear pants and team top combination. White socks and white sneakers are worn by all.Some dance schools ask their students to wear a set uniform consisting of school training clothing and a tracksuit with the school logo.
CostumesCheerleaders wear uniforms not costumes.For performances dancers wear costumes generally made from lycra or spandex with sequins, rhinestones, tulle, and chiffon to embellish them. They wear stage makeup and do their hair in special styles that keep their hair out of their face.
StuntsA stunt is when cheerleaders lift other cheerleaders who perform skills whilst suspended in the air. Some of these include Cheerleaders learn to do various stunts such as the Pyramid, Prep, Split Lift, Thigh Stand, Shoulder Stand, Shoulder Sit and many more.Dance very rarely includes stunts. Some examples will be seen in acrobatic dance, during Pas de Deux or in a troupe dance for a special effect.
TumblingAn important component in cheerleading is tumbling. Tumbling can be seen in gymnastics and consists of a combination of round offs, handsprings, backflips, walkovers, and somersaults or twisting in the air. You can have both running or standing tumbling which means the tumbling is completed over a short distance on in the same spot. It is effective when many cheerleaders pull these off in unison, have great height and speed in their tumbling combination or perform hard tricks that only one or two cheerleaders can pull off.Dancers are generally not trained to tumble. Walkovers, handsprings, backflips and back saults are used in acrobatic dance and by dancers who also train as gymnasts or even cheerleaders, otherwise, they are not used.
JumpsCheerleaders perform specific types of jumps in their routines and as they cheer such as the tuck, straight, spread eagle, pike, toe touch and front hurdler.Dancers also perform many types of jumps most specifically, jetes, tour jetes, sautes, temp leves, assemble, tilt leaps, cabriole, heel clicks and more.
Key Movements/TerminologySome of the key movements you will see cheerleaders do are the high-v, T-Motion, clasp, touchdown and cone.Ballet: Plie, jete, saute, pirouette, pas de bouree, pas de chat, positions of the arms and feet
Jazz: spirit fingers, parallel turns, step ball change, split leap/jete, stag leap, round kick
Tap: Shuffle, time step, heel drops, ball change
Hip Hop: running man, dabbing, whipping, Nae Nae
Contemporary: death drop, contraction, parallel, inversion, levels
Muscle StrengthCheerleaders need good upper body and arm strength to be able to lift each other and to take the weight of their own bodies during tumbling. Good upper leg strength is needed for landing from lifts and tumbling as well.A dancers core needs to be stronger than any of their other muscles to be able to lift their legs and arms above their heads without straining and causing injury. Ankles and feet must also be strong for all the pointing or pointe work, tap work and dancing on releve (balls of the feet) that they do.
Chanting and CheeringCheerleading involves the obvious, cheering. Not only do you have to nail routines, but you must be cheering on whatever sports team that you are representing. It’s not a silent activity and requires energy and breathing techniques so that you can move and shout at the same time.Dancers don’t cheer or chant whilst they dance.
VersatilityWhen you specialize in cheerleading, you cheerlead.Dancing is the more versatile of the two. There are a variety of dances that you can learn. It does not just have to be ballet, but you can also learn tap and jazz along with it so that you can branch off into many areas of dance.
MusicCheerleading isn’t always performed with music, but rather to chanting performed by a leader or the whole group.Dancing is rarely performed without music. Music, rhythm and beat are generally the inspiration of dance.
CompetitionsAll-Star cheerleading is all about preparing to compete and have your team judge on their ability against other teams. School and college cheer teams also compete against each other for titles, trophies, and accolades for their school.Dancing competitions come in many forms because there are so many styles of dance. Some competitions are all about titles and trophies whilst others are for scholarships and entry into prestigious dance programs.

RELATED QUESTIONS

Is Acrobatic Dance the Same as Cheerleading?

No Acrobatic Dance is not the same as cheerleading. Acrobatic dance includes tumbling and gymnastic like actions that cheerleaders also perform but that is where the similarities finish. Cheer leaders, cheer and chant for their team then do a back flip to get the crowd to applaud. Acrobatic dance is about mixing the artistry of dance with tricks for their entertainment and wow value. Acrobatic dance featured heavily in the reality TV show Dance Moms.

Is being a majorette like being a cheerleader?

No, being a Majorette is not the same as being a cheerleader. A Majorette used to be only known as the girl marching out in front of the marching band, twirling the batons, throwing them up in the air and catching them and doing various other tricks. Sometimes there would be a full troupe of Majorettes performing synchronized drill routines in unison or canon as they marched onto a football field or in a parade.

Today being a majorette can mean you are part of a dance team that battles against other dance teams – with no batons insight. Dance battles and being a Majorette have become increasingly popular due to the reality tv show ‘Bring It’ which follows the rehearsals and battles of the teen troupe The Dancing Dolls of Jackson coached by Dianna Williams.

About the Author

Samantha Bellerose

Samantha is a wife and mother of four kids aged 1-9. She danced and acted from the age of 5 and performed in film clips, on television, and in musical theatre professionally. She also taught dance, but after leaving the profession to backpack through Europe, Canada and the USA with her husband for three years, she then completed an Education Degree and taught within primary schools in Australia. Today she is a business owner with her husband and the creator and writer for Dance Parent 101 where she hopes her previous experience as a dancer, current experience as a dance parent and the research and writing skills she gained completing her education degree will help enlighten parents on their journey with their child through the world of dance.