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In defence of cheerleaders

Why a bunch of dancing girls will not erode traditional values

A cheerleader for the Bangalore Royal Challengers performs during a preview at the Chinnaswamy stadium, Bangalore, April 13, 2009
Not the end of the world; merely a girl in a short skirt, with pom poms © AFP

Okay, it's official. Everyone here thinks I'm mad for watching cricket on holiday. It's a valid point. After all, who would want to sit in front of the smallest television in the world when you could be on the beach, or drinking watermelon juice in a shack, or playing in the waves? "It's my job," I say, and then proceed to get ribbed for being the only guest allowed the privilege of a television in her room. I've reconciled myself to the fact that the next five days are going to be hard: balanced between keeping up with a suntan and the cricket scores, between being social and solitary. I'll have to be the last to bed and the first to rise so I can watch the highlights and trudge to the Wi-Fi tent first thing in the morning to file. And that's fine.

Yesterday proved especially difficult, though. I was invited, along with my other housemates, to a dinner party at Wendell Rodricks's house. Wendell is one of Goa's most famous sons, known for his wonderful designs and equally wonderful parties, so obviously I wasn't going to say no. The only problem was that dinner was at 8, just when the match was meant to begin, and I couldn't very well say, "Hi Wendell, nice to see you, so where's the TV in this joint?" (Incidentally, he has a beautiful house filled with art and dogs and plants; there must have been a TV in it somewhere, but I didn't see it).

I'm guessing there are going to be more occasions over the next five weeks when I'm otherwise occupied at 8 pm. And unless I want to give up my social life entirely (I don't), I'm going to have to come up with a back-up plan, to divert from the game and talk about something else. So today, it's going to be cheerleaders.

I bring up cheerleaders only because last year they created so much controversy and this year there seems to be a continuation of that complaint. Personally, I don't get what the big deal is. They're dancers who come out every once in a while to do a little jig. Okay, and they're cute and comely and wear skimpy tops and short skirts. Is this exploitation or objectification of women? I hardly think so. Are they necessary? Probably not. But then again, do we really need film stars waving flags at sporting events? Do we need rugby players talking about cricket. Or dancer-poets for that matter?

The idea is inclusion. And the IPL has shown from the beginning, that their format of the game is going to embrace the previously non-embraceable. How wonderful, really, to see Anil Kumble leap into Kevin Pietersen's arms. How amazing to hear Warney shout something to Graeme Smith that's not a sledge. If you're going to be so "we-are-the world", why not include America as well? And if that means having a squad of girls to try and rah-rah up the already glam glamour quotient, then I say go for it.

Last year there were issues about the cheerleaders being "distractions". There was talk of cricket being a gentleman's game, and of cheerleading eroding Indian family values. In response to that, I'd say, this isn't a five-day Test match at Lord's. There would be no place for cheerleaders there, because the poor things would probably be bored out of their brains with their heads on their pom-poms waiting for their chance to run out and jump. And as far as Indian family values go, that's the lamest excuse in the book. Everyone knows that at any given moment on Indian television there are probably about 10 channels wholly devoted to song-and-dance routines, where excessive declarations of love and lust are made in a series of choreographed moves that involve gyrating hips, thrust-out chests, and a rain sequence for full effect. If that's not erosion of culture or giving a somewhat misguided idea about how things really work in the world, then I don't know what is.

And finally, feminist groups. Ladies, really, there are so many other things to be concerned about. Have these cheerleaders been dragged from villages, made to wear clothes they normally wouldn't, and made to do things they normally wouldn't do? Absolutely not. These women have had aspirations to be cheerleaders, just as others have wanted to be chefs or flight attendants or doctors. Who is to say that one is better than the other? The point is, the choice is made by the woman herself, and there can be no offence to the dignity of a woman if the choice has been her own.

Now, are these cheerleaders any good at what they do? That's a question for another day.

Tishani Doshi is a writer and dancer based in Chennai

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