What on earth is taking place? Over here, ten teenage kids in green tops and white miniskirts are jerking their heads into the air, then locking elbows, back to back, to form a herd of lurching pushmi-pullyus. Over there, a gang of pink-lipsticked, sunglassed young blonds, in matching scarlet outfits, have gathered in a circle around a giant radio and are joining together in a chorus of banshee wails. And all about, twirling, swirling, waving their hands in the air Al Jolson-style or vaulting on top of one another's shoulders are girls with turquoise streaks in their tresses, girls with gold stars stuck on their cheeks, girls with tiger tails pinned to their backs.
And what's with all these well-regimented drills? A battalion of cadets goose-steps along a tennis court. Not far away, another uniformed squad executes a series of elaborate routines with shields. A dozen little girls, clad in shocking-pink leotards, parade forward and wriggle in formation to the tune of Ghostbusters, each with a small black rifle in her hand. And then, all of a sudden, there comes a thumping of feet and a building of intensity and the thunderous eruption of a mass-rally chant: "U.S.A. Fight! Fight! Fight!"
Do not despair! U.S.A. stands for United Spirit Association, and the title has nothing at all to do with liquor or religion. No indeed. The group is so called because it upholds, above all else, unity and spirit, the two mantras that it will spell out this summer to 30,000 initiates, ages 5 to 18, in 82 cheerleading camps from Montana to Hawaii. And here in the largest encampment of all, just north of Santa Barbara, Calif., within dreaming distance of an enchanted forest and a blue lagoon, 1,030 girls--and seven equal-opportunity boys--have assembled in teams for a $137 four-day summer seminar, jam-packed from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. with such activities as Cheeramids and Styles in Strutting and Meetings with Dorm Mom. This is not, however, just a cheerleaders' camp. There are separate schedules for song leaders and band-letter girls, for drill teams, tall flags and twirleens.
"We have a philosophy," says Michael Olmstead, the president of U.S.A. "Fifteen years from now, the girls are not going to have to do toe touches or split jumps. But they will face the same kind of problems in life that they do as cheerleaders." So U.S.A. teaches not just stunts and splits but communications skills, group dynamics, ways of being human. Above all, Spirit. The agenda includes a Spirit Workshop and a Spirit Film. It features Spirit Ideas and, in lieu of awards, Spirit Sticks. For other needs, there is also a Spirit Fashion and Accessory store.
As it is, the high spirits and blithe spirits are relentless. Hardly have the campers arrived than their dorm is smothered in rainbowed posters bubbling over with red hearts, pictures of Garfield and slogans championing both competition and community. MAARCHE MAJORETTES WANT YOU TO HAVE AN AWESOME TIME! DEBS ARE MOOR FUN. LUV THE DESERT. And even before the maiden cheer session, six-, seven-, ten-packs of enthusiasts have clustered together in bunches, and begun punching the air, boogying, dervishing and screeching out the cries of their particular tribe.