UP Pep Squad generates UAAP cheerdance excitement
It is 7:30 p.m. and practice is just about to start inside a cavernous gymnasium whose basketball courts are separated by rope barriers typically used for military exercises.
On each court, a varsity team of some sport is training. At the back end of the gym, diminutive but ripped dancers are practicing stunts and maneuvers that made them look like circus performers. The degree of difficulty was evident. Yet somehow, the dancers—athletes, we dare say—performed with a grace that made the stunts look easy.
Welcome to the world of the UP Pep Squad.
It is that time of the year when UAAP teams are in the homestretch of preparations for the cheerdance competition. The teams take the court today at Mall of Asia Arena.
And while National U is the two-time defending champion, there has been a lot of buzz all around Diliman, as avid cheerdance fans eagerly look forward to what the UP Pep Squad has in store.
“I can’t give a definite answer but I think we always change things up and that’s why people would look forward to what we would do next,” said assistant coach NJ Antonio.
“That’s the only reason I can think of.”
It’s the only reason that matters.
Every time the UP Pep Squad took the court before, they have always gone for shock and awe; they have always left a lasting imprint.
In 2011, they came out with bleached hair. In 2012, they shaved off their tops as an homage to Oblation. Who could forget their tribute to Philippine festivals in 2007 with the trippy “Kapayapaan” bursting from the coliseum speakers? Even last year’s #lovewins-inspired performance made its mark despite losing to a technically superior NU Pep Squad. In that performance, the UP Pep Squad took gender equality a step further by having female cheerdancers lift their male counterparts.
This year, Antonio said the UP Pep Squad promised cheerdance fans that their performance will be something people will “have to watch out for.”
Antonio gave no specifics. And we certainly will not dive into what stunts and routines the Pep Squad was practicing when we dropped by. Strategy is a tightly guarded secret among competitors and nothing leaks out of training sessions until they perform today.
He did, however, dropped hints, particularly on the umbrella theme UP will be performing under.
“There isn’t an exact theme but it would revolve around the phrase ‘utak at puso’ (mind and heart)… because we dedicate this (performance) to student-athletes,” Antonio said. “It’s because when an athlete gets down in an in-game situation people would usually say ‘puso lang.’”
“But for us, since we’re from UP, we also need our mind to work with our heart. It’s not always our heart that we should always use, ‘utak at puso’ that’s our homage to student-athletes.”
To justify the buzz surrounding UP’s performance today, the Pep Squad will have to acquit themselves well on the floor. The team will be gunning for a tournament-best ninth title (UP and UST are currently tied with eight crowns each) today and that goal will have to go through the defending champions.
And make no mistake, NU is ready for a third straight crown.
“There’s a lot of surprises for this season’s routine,” said NU coach Bernabe. “Every time we watch our performance last year, we already think it’s a difficult routine, a breathtaking routine. But if last year was tough, the routine we’re doing now is more difficult.”
NU isn’t just out for a title. It is out to build the same legacy that the likes of UP and UST have forged.
From 2007 to 2012, the UP Pep Squad won the UAAP CDC title five times. It is this kind of consistency that creates legacy. That, and a culture that permeates every member of the Pep Squad.
“UP always gives something new for people to watch out for,” Lara Limjap, one of the captains of the squad, said as she surveyed the different groups practicing their parts and smiling in satisfaction over what she saw.
“The supporters really do believe in us, they know we have something new to offer, they watch out for us,” Limjap said.
A couple of years without the title has not tainted the Pep Squad’s mystique, something they look to refresh in 2015.
“We are ready to rise especially after the two years that we’re not the champions,” Limjap said.
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