The rebound: The UP Pep Squad picks up where it left off

Against several odds, including COVID, we pulled off a performance for the Freshie Welcome Assembly

Two weeks.

All we had were two weeks to create a routine, try the stunts, polish the dance segments, smoothen out the routine, and run the performance with the drummers. Two weeks of preparing for our performance. Without any coaches, all we had were each other—to teach each other the dances, to help each other with stunting, and to discipline each other. Honestly, it sounded like a herculean task—and it was.

I remember, on the first day of our official training for the Freshie Welcome Assembly (FWA), we had to train outside because the gym was fully booked. Without any choice, we trained in the space beside the weights room, and to make matters worse, it was drizzling, as well. Still, we kept going. “It’s just a drizzle,” we said beneath the trees of the College of Human Kinetics, trying to work with so little space with so many people.

Days later, we finally had the gym reserved, but again, without a coach, all we had were each other. We corrected each other and helped each other. However, Rod, the member in charge of the FWA routine, couldn’t lead all by himself. He was part of the routine, as well. And so we reached out to an alumna to help us with our routine. So far, we had our blockings covered, we had the dance down, we had some stunts to lift and pyramid ideas, and coach Fae was there to help us with the routine, and she made it so much easier for all of us.

In those two weeks that we trained, coach Fae invited coach Deo, our favorite Zumba instructor, and coach Zar, another University of the Philippines Pep Squad alum. These three people were with us everyday to help us try and improve our stunts, polish the dance segments, teach us new skills and techniques, and iron out the routine to make it as smooth as possible. At the time, they weren’t our coaches yet, they were still applying to be our coaches, but it was more than generous of them to help us with the routine—our routine.

The UP Pep Squad during the Freshie Welcome Assembly Photo by Renee Villanueva

By the second week of training, we were almost done with the routine and we needed to train with the drummer soon, but we couldn’t, as they were all isolating from being exposed to COVID. We had a week left until performance day, and so we chose to stick to the drum routine. We made sure to take videos for every run to send to the drummers, and hope for the best. We only had one day to train with them and it was on the technical run, the day before the FWA.

Two weeks of preparing for our performance. Without any coaches, all we had were each other

For a week and half, we were able to finish the routine and do all the stunts. For the rest of the training days, we ran through the whole routine several times. And because it was most of the members’ first performance (ever for some rookies, after two years for the seniors), we had to learn how to breathe throughout the routine again, training our endurance and smiling through the exhaustion.

The fifth of September arrived. Barely awake, we took our antigen tests at the University Health Center at 6 am, just a few hours before performance time. It took nearly two hours to test and receive the results and lo and behold, three members were confirmed COVID positive.

We didn’t have that much time. It was 8 am and the assembly started in two hours. Thankfully, the people in charge of the cheer teaching segment arrived early. We quickly told them about the news and in just a snap, we already had replacements. We practiced our stunts outside the theater immediately with the change of people, under the blazing sun. In less than an hour, we were able to teach the new bases their stunts and their roles. It was one of the most stressful mornings I’ve ever experienced, especially hours before performance, but thankfully we were able to bounce back and adapt.

Our time in the dressing room went by in a snap. One minute we were warming up, stretching and recalling the choreographies with the drummer, and the next, we were running our stunts by groups backstage while waiting for our turn to perform. There we were, backstage, jogging around, stretching our legs and hitting our body positions, I felt them all at once: the nervous tingle of my fingers, the abrupt need to go to the toilet, the cold threatening to kiss my bones the moment I stood still.

The moment we were called on stage and we were running to the center, waving to the crowd, that’s when I felt the goosebumps—not because of the sea of people cheering for us, not because the stage was too bright that I could barely see. No, because we were performing our routine. This was our first performance as a changed UP Pep Squad featuring a new system, a new culture, a new attitude; this was the UP Pep Squad that bounced back.

Our performance for the Freshie Welcoming Assembly was merely the start of the next chapter, a sequel, you could say, to what the team is growing to be. So watch out; the team isn’t what it used to be. We’re picking up where we left off—just with a bit of a rebound.

Cover photo: The UP Pep Squad in one of their recent halftime performances Photo by Nowhere to go but UP

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