When cheerleaders wear their bright uniforms for the big game, people don't realize the hours spent in the practice cheer uniforms perfecting those difficult cheerleading stunts. Here's the down-low of what to wear when you're not in front of the crowd.
Think Comfort and Movement
Regardless of whether you're doing a simple hello cheer or a complicated flying routine, cheerleaders are all expected to move. Practice is designed to ingrain the choreography into both your mind and body, so that muscle memory will reinforce your spirited smile.
You don't want your practice clothes to get in the way. Good practice cheer uniforms give a wide range of movement without binding the limbs. This may mean that they are loose and soft, or they may be skin-tight and flexible. Either way, when you're picking them out, make sure you try moves like big arm swings, high kicks, and maybe even some tumbling moves to make sure they don't bind up.
Protection Isn't Bad, Either
Unless you are the world's most gifted cheerleader, you are probably going to have some spills, stumbles, falls, or even complete crash-and-burn moments while you're learning new routines or difficult stunts. When that happens, it's nice if there is some cloth between you and whatever surface you're practicing on - even practice mats can give you a nasty knee burn if you land on them wrong. While there are many high-tech fabrics like gore-tex and poly-knit outfits, often the easiest is just plain old-fashioned cotton. It wicks moisture away from your skin, breathes well, and is usually cheap enough that when the inevitable rip happens, you can replace it easily. Best of all, cotton is easy to wash.
Something Like the Real Thing
Another important aspect of your practice cheer uniforms is that they bear some resemblance to the actual uniforms you wear when you perform. This is more important than you might think; if there is a big difference between the outfits you wear in practice and what you have on at the game, you will not be at 100%, because all that muscle memory will be adjusting to the difference in weight, range of motion, and even texture. Worse, it can throw off your teammates - imagine bases and catchers who are used to the texture of the cotton leggings worn in practice, when suddenly slick nylons are covering the legs? The results could be disastrous.
There's a reason why performers of all kinds have "dress rehearsals", and for a sport as dangerous as competitive cheerleading, it becomes even more important. Once you've got your routines down, try several run throughs with your actual uniforms on - just so that everyone can adjust to even the smallest differences.
Where to Get Practice Cheer Uniforms
One great source for your practice uniforms comes when your squad buys new uniforms - and the old ones suddenly become both disposable and an accurate representation of what you wear during your performances. Of course, if there is a vast style change, that won't work - but even so, pieces of the uniform can be used to give your practice sessions at the very least a touch of school spirit.
If you're lucky, your squad will be able to get warm-ups and practice gear from the same source as your uniforms - often online retailers like CheerleadingOnline.com or CheerZone. It may be tempting to go to an athletic apparel dealer, but you are probably better off ordering from a site that specializes in women's wear, such as Athleta, especially if you prefer the tighter fit of clothing. Another great source of practice clothing is any dance apparel store, such as Danskin. The great thing about dancewear for cheerleaders is that the clothing is often specifically designed for the kind of moves you will do in routines.