Competitive cheerleading has been around for almost 50 years now, and the transformation it has gone through has been truly incredible. When we think of cheerleading now we think of fast-paced, skill packed routines with some of the most amazing dances you’ve ever seen, all pumping to fresh, independent, and unique music. However, cheerleading was not always like this. The cheerleading routine evolved from the American aerobics and early gymnastics movements in the 1970s and early ’80s, into the complex competitive environment it is now.


The Birth of Competitive Cheerleading

The first collegiate cheerleading championships began in the latter part of the ’70s. The routines were long,  performed on a concrete floor or a basketball court, and the tumbling was minimal. Most of the gymnastics skills were limited to handsprings and walk-overs, and if people were throwing skills like a back tuck, it was considered exceptional.  Teams frequently even brought mini trampolines onto the floor to use in assisted tumbling and to tumble over pyramids. Even the stunting was different from what we think of in cheerleading today. Most skills were more closely related to dance lifts than true stunts. The toss chair was around, of course, but sailor tees and bridge lifts were also a big part of the routines. Here’s a routine from the 1978 Collegiate Cheerleading Championships.


1978 National Collegiate Cheerleading Championships 


Cheerleading Finds its Legs

As the 1980s rolled around, cheerleading began to steal more and more from the burgeoning aerobics and acro0-gymnastics movement. Jazzercise elements became a significant part of the cheerleading routine and tumbling got significantly better; back handsprings and back tucks started to be executed on the floor and people were even throwing fulls, double fulls, and even double backs as they were tumbling on mats. The addition of mats not only made the tumbling better, it also allowed for more difficult stunts. Toss skills to extended positions like extensions and liberties became the norm, and pyramids began to become more and more complex. However, rules governing cheerleading had still not been truly formalized, so many of the skills they were performing look very dangerous to us today. Take a look at this performance from the 1984 NCA National Collegiate Cheerleading Championship.


1984 NCA Collegiate Championship 


Cheerleading becomes a National Phenomenon

By the 1990s cheerleading had truly come into its own. The rules have become more standardized, and double flipping skills were made illegal in both basket tosses and tumbling. Similarly, three high pyramids were no longer allowed; all pyramids were limited to a height of two and a half high. Additionally, cheerleading began to expand beyond just a collegiate level for competition. High school cheerleading competitions and all-star competitions began being hosted all over the country. Cheerleading was truly becoming a sport entirely on its own. The first competitive cheerleading dynasties began during this time. When we think of the 1990s we often think of the dominance of the University of Kentucky and Morehead programs in UCA, however there were many other programs producing fantastic cheerleading routines. For example, watch this routine from Alabama:


1995 UCA National Championship


The Modern Cheerleading Routine

After the rulings of the 1990s became a little bit more strict, and catastrophic injuries were less frequent, cheerleading enjoyed a remarkable period of growth. All-Star programs popped up all over the country, and all-star competitive programs became as big or bigger than the collegiate programs. Significant changes were made to the collegiate rules that were implemented in 2005. These rules got rid of the double full as a tumbling skill, limited basket tosses to only two skills, and no longer allowed free flipping skills that did not start from the ground for stunting. These changes became the final big set of rule changes for collegiate cheerleading, and those changes trickled down into all-star as well. In fact since 2005, if athletes wanted to perform double fulls, they had to do it on the all-star level not on the collegiate level. Part of that is because all-star competes on a spring loaded floor, while collegiate cheerleading still happens on a hard mat. Still, look at the difference in timing and intensity of the skills when we look at Navarro’s most recent performance at the NCA Collegiate National Championship:


NCA Nationals Daytona 2022 


How Cheerleading Music has Evolved

The music in cheerleading routines has changed a lot over the course of the years. Notice how in the 1970s routine, the music was a long piece of instrumental music with minimal or no vocals or sound effects, and was only used in a small part of the routine. The rest of the time the cheerleaders cheered while they were doing skills. On the other hand, as it moved into the ’80s, you will see that they began to use edited popular music. These remixes of popular songs were typically only one artist and one track which were then lengthened or shortened for the routine. Sometimes sound effects and voice overs were added, but this was only for the best funded teams that could afford to have a professional music producer do the work. By the 1990s, the JockJams phenomenon had taken over the world. Music made specifically for athletics was the standard, and the advent of combining multiple songs to make “megamixes” became the norm. By the 2000s the transformation of digital music editing resources meant that now almost every cheerleading program had “megamixes” of popular songs, with voiceovers and sound effects. However, this was a violation of US Copyright Law and by the end of the 2000s the use of music which was the intellectual property of the musicians, and artist who originally wrote it, became illegal for cheerleading competitions.


The new rules governing the use of music in competitive cheerleading made it difficult to use popular music. Now most music is a collection of original compositions which were tailored to the needs of the cheerleading industry. Modern cheerleading music is made by music producers like the professionals at who make music specifically for competitive cheerleading. In fact, Navarro’s routine was produced by the exact same producers who make the music at! If you are looking for some of the hottest tracks in the country at a fraction of the price of custom music, has the epic cheer mix that will put your routine over the top!