Flying for the first time

25 Feb 2019

By Joel Chan

Royals executing the final pyramid, the last stunt of their performance. PHOTOS: JOEL CHAN

The second-year student from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information only had the opportunity to be a flyer for the Hall of Residence 8’s cheer team because they did not have enough members.

Most teams have seven flyers - cheerleaders who get tossed into the air during stunts - but Royals, the name of Phua’s cheerleading team, only had four.

This paved the way for her to fulfill a childhood dream.

Since primary school, Phua harboured dreams of being a flyer, but could not pursue it because of her mother’s disapproval. Her mother felt that cheerleading was too dangerous for a primary school girl. Later on, her mother heard that a cheerleader from her sister’s polytechnic had died during practice, a story that was reported in The Straits Times in April 2014.

But this did not deter Phua from spending hours after school watching videos of other flyers being lifted or flung into the air during stunts.

These flying acts looked spectacular to her, until it was her turn to experience it.

“I never felt so nervous in my entire life,” she said. “The bases were reminding me of the steps before they threw me into the air, but all I could hear was the thumping of my heart against my chest.

I almost backed out because I was so scared, but I would have been very disappointed with myself because this was literally a moment that was eight years in the making,” she said.

Learning to trust

Bases begin every stunt on a beat but Phua missed it. Without warning, they tossed her mid-air and this caught her off guard.

“I panicked and screamed my lungs out,” Phua recalled embarrassingly. “Even from above, I could see everyone giving me the eyes.”

Since that memorable first fly, Phua realised that trusting both her teammates and herself was crucial if she wanted to perform well.

“Learning to trust was probably the hardest lesson throughout my journey as a flyer but if I worry about too many things, I would not be able to focus on executing my stunts well,” said Phua.

Phua shared that it took awhile for her to learn to trust her bases fully, particularly after witnessing a couple of bad experiences.

In one incident, a senior flyer on the team fell flat on her back when her bases failed to catch her on time.

“She had a slight concussion and had to stop doing stunts as she would be jeopardising her life,” Phua said before pausing. “She was the most experienced flyer among us.”

It took her about three months before she learnt to place her safety in their hands.

Over several training sessions with the same bases, they developed communication and understanding, which helped her build trust.

“I realised they were more afraid than I was, because if anything happened to me, it was on them,” she said.

Overcoming negativity

On an individual level, Phua had difficulties dealing with her self-doubt, especially when she failed to properly execute her stunts. She would feel responsible for her team’s inability to successfully execute all the choreographed moves.

She recognised that her negativity hindered her from performing to her fullest potential.

Phua said: “I was already defeated before I began the stunt. The negativity subconsciously made me lose my balance or forget my steps.

It became a vicious cycle and I felt worse about myself.”

But in times of self-doubt, Phua shared that the constant support and advice from her teammates, coaches and captain have helped her to overcome her lowest points in cheerleading.

“They were always there for me even though I failed so many times. I knew I could not let them down and started to try to snap out of my negativity,” she said.

“My captain also told me that a performance does not end with one failed stunt, and that I cannot allow it to affect the rest of my performance.” said Phua.

These words became her mantra which would guide her through the remainder of her journey. Since then, her performances improved significantly, culminating in her strongest performance for Royals during the Inter-Hall Cheer Competition (IHCC) in February.

Although Royals failed to meet their personal goal of executing all their stunts to perfection, Phua shared that they remain optimistic.

Phua said she still feels lucky for the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream and to experience what many others will never have the chance to do.

She said: “Besides, my mother came to watch me despite her stance against cheerleading. That meant the world to me.”

Phua Zhao Xi (first from front) and her teammates prepare for the final dry run before their IHCC performance.

After the final dry run, the wait for IHCC to commence was unbearable. Phua occupies herself by touching up on her make-up to distract herself from her nerves.

Phua and her teammates gather for a final team talk before the performance. This was not her first time performing in front of a large crowd, but Phua said that her heart was racing faster than ever.

Phua performs a basket toss during the final dry run before IHCC.

Phua felt that she had performed well in the final dry run and her confidence was skyhigh. This surge in confidence helped her to produce her strongest performance during IHCC.