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BY CHARLES BATTERSBY | Everyone loves a parade — but marching in a parade is much more fun than watching one. I perform with a team of LGBT cheerleaders called Cheer New York, and every year the squad marches in New York’s Pride parades. Cheer New York doesn’t cheer for a sports team; we cheer for charity. Most of our time is spent at walkathons, fundraisers for LGBT organizations, and performing on stage at events. But the annual shotgun of parades in June is what it’s all leading up to. Three weeks ago, on the morning of Queens Pride, 40 cheerleaders were taking our first synchronized steps of Pride Month. On June 24, we’ll march across the finish line at Manhattan’s Pride Parade — tired and sunburned, but full of cheer, and proud.
Technically, Pride season began a month before our first parade, at the Staten Island Pride Fest. It was an outdoor event, and there was a downpour that day. A tent had been set up backstage, and 19 soggy cheerleaders huddled together for two hours as we practiced our choreography out of the audience’s sight.
Pride was off to a humbling start for us: a day of wet socks, runny noses, and rain-slicked stages. Despite the rain, there was a still crowd. We maintained our energy, greeted the audience with smiles, and posed for photo ops with toddlers and local politicians. Then we trudged back to the ferry, rain dripping from our pom-poms.
The Queens Pride parade was upon us before we knew it, and some of us were still struggling with this year’s new dance routine. We chant the name of the borough we’re in, then yell, “Show! Us! Your Pride!” before launching into elaborate choreography.
It was the fifth event the team did that week, but everyone was taking it particularly seriously. People showed up early, hairstyles were more elaborate, and the girly girls had huge false eyelashes and extravagant makeup. Even the tomboyish girls had bright red lipstick and shimmering highlights on their cheekbones. I wasn’t surprised to catch one of the boys applying mascara.
The morning of Queens Pride was cold for June, and we did our warm-up in the middle of the street, stretching on cold concrete. One of our coaches admonished us because we “look cold.” This is his way of telling us that no matter how tired, sore, or cold we are, our joy has to shine through.There are 40 cheerleaders in full uniform in the middle of a residential street, and people have come out of their houses to watch us. It’s a parade, and everyone needs to see that we’re happy to be here.
Parades might seem like well-orchestrated operations, but our staging area was changed at the last minute. When it was time to march, we were out of the proper order, and had to rush past other groups. We ran to 37th Ave. and dashed around the corner, smiling, waving, and scrambling into our marching order. It took an hour to march the length of the route, and along the way, there were a few hiccups. I even missed the first couple of steps in the big dance number, slightly out of step as we yelled, “Show! Us! Your Pride!”
Queens Pride follows the parade with a daylong festival, and we spent hours doing cheers and stunts for the crowd before ending the day with our special “Thank You Queens Pride” cheer. It was an exhausting day, but it’s the shortest of the three parades the team is doing this month.
Brooklyn Pride was only six days away and, at our next practice, everyone was extra determined. One stunt group was so enthusiastic that they threw a petite blonde so high she touched the ceiling of the gym.
Brooklyn Pride Fest has their parade at night, but the festival starts in the morning. Eight hours before we stepped onto the parade route, we were at Cheer New York’s booth, performing. Nothing was rushed that day. We had hours to prepare — and by the time we began warming up for the parade, we were already worn out.
This parade began on a somber note, a moment of silence for the members of the LGBT community who died over the last year. My cheer team had the honor of doing a routine shortly after the moment of silence.
Soon the seriousness faded away; it’s a party atmosphere in the staging area, quite different from parades that begin in the morning. The crowd has been “festive” all day, and the audience is now drunk and wired. We’re running on adrenaline, but we performed along with other groups in the parade. A drum corps thumped a beat for us as we danced, and a stranger draped purple beads around my neck. We scrambled aside as antique cars rolled by, followed by floats and double decker buses full of drag queens. Finally, it was our turn to march. My coach reminded me to look up every now and then. Sure enough, I saw people waving from apartment windows above the street, and I cheered to them, “Show! Us! Your Pride!”
It turns out that we won an award at the Queens parade, and now we’re more confident. We know we’re ready for Manhattan Pride. We don’t actually carry pom-poms in the parades because we need our hands free for stunts. But we’re always in uniform: red, white and blue, even star-spangled. The All-American look isn’t a coincidence — we’re an LGBT team, and there are people sifting though footage of the parades looking for negative stereotypes. “Behold the gay agenda,” the pundits will proclaim. Our agenda is working hard, and keeping a smile on our faces no matter what. And making the crowd show us their Pride.
This article is not endorsed by Cheer New York and expresses solely the author’s experiences, opinions, and points of view while on the team from August 24, 2017 to present. Charles Battersby does not act as a representative or spokesperson for the 501(c)(3) certified nonprofit, Cheer New York. Visit cheernewyork.org, facebook.com/CheerNewYork, twitter.com/CheerNewYork, and instagram.com/cheernewyork.