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If you have not accepted the light of cheerleading shows into your heart, I FEEL SORRY FOR YOU. Because they are EVERYTHING.

The two I am specifically thinking of are Cheer on Netflix and Dare Me on USA. They are very different, but they work in perfect harmony with one another; one is a docu-series that is full of all the feels, while the other is fictional and just plain bonkers in the best possible way. (On next week’s episode of Dare Me, someone apparently dies. HERE FOR IT.) I personally feel they need to be watched in tandem, because while Cheer hits your right in the gut by delving into the kids’ backstories (which are, for the most part, pretty adversity-based // JERRY, MORGAN, LA’DARIUS OH MY GOD), Dare Me is over-the-top bananas, and it keeps things “buoyant” (if you consider affairs and deceit and violence and etc. “light”, so long as they stay in the fictional realm, which I do). A very well-rounded emotional balance can be achieved without leaving the cheer universe. 

Should I feel weird as a 32-year-old human that this is my reality? That I am emotionally invested in two separate productions all about cheerleading? I mean, maybe…but also, I think we have all underestimated the athleticism of cheer for too long. It’s easy to dismiss it since stereotypes about cheerleaders run so deep in American (and, I guess, global) culture, but holy shit. Both Cheer and Dare Me demonstrate (even though both operate at different ends of the reality spectrum) how seriously cheerleaders take their sport (concussions, bloody noses, etc. up the wazoo), and like…maybe we should all start taking it seriously, too? Gravity…potentially even death…THEY DEFY IT ALL! We witness the insanity of pyramid practice in a very real way in Cheer (they just drop like flies), and in Dare Me we seen half of somebody’s goddamn teeth get clean knocked out (and face kind of ruined permanently) from a single misstep, which the coach justifies as something along the lines of “We’re sending them flying through the air; we kind of have to assume there’ll be some casualties along the way.” I mean, 100% fair.

And yes, there is absolutely a part of you (MANY parts of you, actually) going, “What in the actual fuck? Why do people even do this?!” Because it doesn’t make any goddamn sense! This isn’t something which offers one long-term options to compete at the professional level. Can you coach when your career wraps? Sure, but most athletes want to go pro with their sport after college, and that’s just not something that exists in the world of cheer. Why would you invest so much of your life in something that, ultimately, isn’t offering you much past the point of college, if that? What is the draw?

I don’t know that I’ll ever understand it, but it’s clear that this is something that (regardless of how it’s portrayed on screen) is very real and very serious for a subset of the population, and as a result I’m listening. And if you haven’t started listening yet, please just trust me that YA GOTTA, ASAP. Because I can attest that my relationship with cheerleading shows across fiction and reality the last few months has given me LIFE, and (should you choose to get on board this crazy train) I think you’ll feel the same.