Since the 2016-17 season Cherepovets fans can’t say it’s cold at their rink – they now have their own cheerleading team, which provides real firepower during the games. You got it – today we’re going to talk about the girls who cheer for Severstal and Almaz.
Team coach Marina Melnikova gave us a short history of MaRhinos. She also told us about the roots of her team’s unusual name.
“This past March we celebrated the third anniversary of our cheerleading team,” she said. “Today we are the only cheerleading team in town, so we perform at every sport event. Initially, we founded the team to support an American football team but last year Severstal announced a competition for cheerleading teams to perform at hockey games. We did well at the competition and since the beginning of the season we support two of our town’s teams – Severstal and Almaz. Some think that the name of our team derives from my name but it’s far from the truth. The American football team was named Rhinos. We decided it wasn’t that good of a name for a women’s team. Somebody offered to add ‘Ma’ in front – it’s a polite way to address women in one country. And that’s how MaRhinos came to be.”
Marina works with the girls herself, including choreographing and choosing music. The team rehearses three times a week and increases the number the closer they get to performance nights. Sometimes the girls can rehearse all week with no days off.
“I follow the other cheerleading teams,” she says. “Although, I believe that copying someone’s performance is disrespectful to the coach who came up with it. Obviously, when it comes to lifts and other stunts, there’s a certain number of standard moves that everybody uses but we try to come up with our own stuff. Sometimes, it’s the girls who come up with ideas and I’m more than glad to use them. It’s very important for me to find the right music for our performance. Sometimes it’s difficult to do and you have to go through a lot of material. But when I find ‘the right’ music, the ideas begin to surface on their own. Sometimes it takes me a while to find something but sometimes I can hear a tune in a café or in a car and instantly fall in love with it.”
We spoke with two MaRhinos cheerleaders – Diana Bugaychuk and Lera Borisova. And once again some cheerleading myths were busted. Both girls had worked with Marina Melnikova longed before the cheerleading team came to be.
“I began working with my coach sometime around 2012,” says Lera. “Back then our team wasn’t a cheerleading team. I’d danced for six years before that but in a different style. To be honest with you, it wasn’t that interesting. It was show-ballet and stuff like that. What interests me the most in cheerleading is lifts – simple as much as the most difficult. When you just dance, it’s not as spectacular as dancing with stunts. And, of course, the signature part of being a cheerleader – the pompoms. They add a certain color to the picture if you ask me. I really enjoy performing at sports events. Take hockey for instance. It’s fun to dance and cheer for the team at the same time. Although, regular performances are just as much fun.”
“I had joined our cheerleading team long before its inception – I’ve worked with our coach Marina for 10 years now,” says Diana. “I had danced in Severnye Zori dancing team for six years before that and also in Todes. Although, only with this team I truly found everything I was looking for – our coach always comes up with new ideas, sometimes even crazy ones, our performances are very interesting, we always go to competitions, always perform somewhere and the team itself is just great.
“Our coach is an unpredictable person. Sometimes she would just come and say that we have a competition to go to in a week. Other teams had been getting ready for it since the beginning of the year, perhaps, while we just come up with a performance in one week. And we even win it! Recently we celebrated our third anniversary and as part of festivities we had a concert. Even though, some say that cheerleading teams don’t do concerts – we did it! And it was huge. Even the idea of trying out for a hockey team was a priori crazy – back then everyone told us that the whole thing was fixed. I also remember travelling to Ufa with the team early in the season. It was a huge sensation for everyone that cheerleaders went to support Severstal to the other part of the country. Was it a surprise for us? Just as Marina announced the idea – we didn’t doubt it one bit. We would follow her anywhere.”
Coming up with new performances is a creative and difficult process. We decided to go behind the scenes and asked Cherepovets cheerleading team coach about the stages of coming up with a new performance – how much time does it take to go from getting an idea to its realization and what difficulties did the team had to go through in their debut season.
“As I said, it all starts with choosing the right track,” she says. “Then I get to the dancing part. Usually, one performance consists of two or three different tracks. Then I add some acrobatics to it along with lifts, different transitions and line changes. And then comes the longest part – rehearsing, ‘cleaning up’ and working on maximum synchronization. Sometimes it takes two or three month to get it done. Although, the girls approach rehearsals very seriously, give it a 100% and sometimes we get it done in just a month.
“This was our debut season and it’s fair to say that wasn’t always going the way we expected. At first, we were supposed to perform on the balcony, which is limited by the ceiling. So all of our performances were facing one way and there weren’t as many lifts. Then we were told by our management to perform on ice – we had to re-do all of performances and get rid of difficult acrobatic stunts, since they were impossible to do on ice and injury-prone. By the middle of the season they built a special scene for our cheerleading team where we weren’t limited by the ceiling, so we had to re-do everything all over again.”
“Our on-ice performances are not easier than our usual ones,” says Diana. “Girls from other cheerleading teams often comment on our Instagram posts or send direct messages saying that don’t even understand how we do it. Comparing to others, we lean towards cheerleading. That’s why we how a lot of elevated stunts and acrobatics. Besides pompoms we use veils for Eastern-themed dances. We made the letters ourselves. We use them at our performances to spell ‘Severstal’ and ‘Almaz’.
“As far as I know, not every member of our cheerleading team came directly from sports,” says Lera. “The beginners don’t struggle because of lack physical training to rehearse with us since we get our physical conditioning training from our coach – she gives us exercise to increase strength and other aspects.”
There’s a stereotype that all cheerleaders are self-indulged and arrogant people and their teams can be compared to a yarn of hissing snakes. We asked the girls about it and they successfully disbarred the accusations.
“I’m happy to bust the myth,” says Lera. “We have a great team and we all feel comfortable. Everybody helps and supports one another. We always have something to talk about with the girls. We have each other’s backs. Sometimes we spend time together after rehearsals and performances, too. Of course, not all of us but some get together. We see each other so often because of constant rehearsals and performances that we don’t even have time to miss each other.”
“We have a loving and understating group of girls here,” says Diana. “We are friends with everybody even outside the rehearsals. Personally, I can assure you that nobody thinks that cheerleaders are arrogant. I try to avoid people who think otherwise.”
Off-season in hockey isn’t the time to put away your pompoms.