America's pompom girls go radical!

Behold the latest chapter in cheerleading's media makeover.

Published January 19, 2006 8:06PM (EST)

Is it just me, or has the cheerleading industry undergone a total P.R. makeover in the past few weeks? Last Thursday, Broadsheet's Lynn Harris pointed readers toward a huge feature in the Boston Globe that named cheerleading "the most dangerous women's sport," because of the frequency of major injuries including head and spinal cord trauma. A flurry of worried segments on the morning TV circuit, including the "Today" show, soon followed.

Now, if there was any lingering doubt that America's pompom girls are powder puffs, a short profile in this week's Time Out New York should put it to rest. The article introduces Jen Nedbalsky, 26, a member of NYC Radical Cheerleaders, the local arm of a national group dedicated to "activism with pom poms and middle fingers extended." Nedbalsky, as it turns out, "was an actual pom-pom girl during her high-school years on Long Island," but now "she and fellow squad members bring their genial anarchy and short skirts to street actions and protests ... shaking and dancing while they shout slogans supporting reproductive rights and opposing the war in Iraq."

Feel like breaking out your old uniform for a good cause? The Radical Cheerleaders' Web site features an awesome selection of unorthodox cheers, written by members and arranged by category. There are enough girl-positive cheers, queer- and sex-positive cheers, environmental cheers and antiauthority cheers to satisfy any athletic anarchist. In these New Year's diet-crazed days, we took particular pleasure in this original:

Riot don't diet / Get up get out and try it / Riot don't diet/ Get up get out and try it / Hey girl (clap clap clap) / Get yer face out of that magazine / You are more than a beauty machine / You've got anger soul and more / Take to the street and let it roar!

So for everyone who didn't make the cut in high school, here's a second chance. As it says on the group's home page, "To be a Radical Cheerleader, you don't need to be an actor, a singer or a dancer -- you just have to want to yell!

By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit and Signs and Wonders.

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