IN 1997 I WROTE A STORY FOR THIS magazine about the birth of my daughter Tyler and how it compared with the birth, just a couple of weeks earlier, of Carson Smith, the daughter of this magazine’s editor, Evan Smith (“Babes in the ‘Hoods,” April 1997). Tyler, born in upscale North Dallas, received a pair of Dior booties as a baby present. Carson, born in the eclectic Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin, received a pair of baby Birkenstock-type sandals. Tyler slept in a gleaming white crib purchased from a Dallas baby store that served its customers coffee and croissants. Carson slept in a crib purchased at an Austin store that sold only “organic beds” uncontaminated by varnish or paint. Clearly, I concluded, the long-standing Austin-Dallas lifestyle clash was very much alive and well.
But in fact, Carson and Tyler turned out to be not all that different. They’re both crazy about Hilary Duff. Carson is a voracious reader who loves the Harry Potter books. Tyler is an intense pianist who had mastered “Belle the Bashful Butterfly” by the time she was five. Neither of them has any interest in soccer: During a game, Carson will sit down in the middle of the field to pick flowers, while Tyler will wander off to pet other people’s dogs.
Then, in May, I took six-year-old Tyler to a birthday party held at a place called Sports All Around, a cavernous gym where little girls are taught cheerleading. The gym is owned by Missy Griffiths Laros, perhaps the most vivacious woman I have ever met, and she immediately had the girls standing in a line, throwing their arms up in a V, then, in rapid succession, jumping up as high as they could, landing and doing a somersault, jumping up again, and clapping in rhythm. Tyler returned home and announced, “I am going to be a cheerleader.”
“Uh-oh,” said my wife, whose one great fear in life is that Tyler might someday turn into the stereotypical big-haired Dallas woman who loves all things shallow and superficial. I could tell what she was thinking: “We cannot let our precious daughter grow up to become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.” I decided to wait for a better time to tell her that, before I left the gym, Missy had persuaded me to sign Tyler up for a series of classes so that she could be on a cheerleading team called the Sparklers.
In Dallas, cheerleading has been big business since Lawrence Herkimer started his summer cheerleading camps at Southern Methodist University in 1948 and introduced the world to a jump called the Herkie, a sort of mid-air split. Throughout Dallas and its suburbs you can find such cheerleading gyms as Club Cheer, Spirit Celebration, Cheer Athletics, Cheer Basics, Cheer Techniques, and Planet Cheer. Like the Sparklers, the teams from these gyms participate in “club” competitions. This is hardly the kind of cheerleading you see at a high school football game, where perky teenagers yell, “Go, team, go!” This cheerleading is a strenuous combination of modern dance, tumbling, stunts, and dramatic interpretation. That’s right: The girls are taught a range of facial expressions—from open-mouthed surprise to a full-toothed smile—to go with their routines. When Missy teaches the girls to smile, she shouts, “Sell it, girls! Sell it!”
Every week, Tyler attends classes where she learns to tighten her heinie when she leaps in the air and other important skills. But it is quite possible that her participation at the highly competitive Sports All Around will last for only another couple of years. If she is not capable of doing cartwheels and backward handsprings by the end of the second grade, Missy will not keep her on the team.
For the moment, Tyler isn’t concerned about her lack of technical prowess. What’s important to her is that she gets to wear a cute uniform and put bows in her hair. “I want to wear bows,” she said the other day. “I love bows.” I called my editor to inform him of my daughter’s new life as a “bow head” and asked if Carson had ever thought about cheerleading. “Damned unlikely,” Evan said. “I’d rather see her in film school—or in hell.”
I went looking for my wife to tell her what Evan had said, but I found her sitting on Tyler’s bed watching her make all the facial expressions Missy had been teaching her.
“Sell it, girl,” I said to Tyler. “Sell it.”