When I was in eighth grade, my family moved to a new town, and although this embarrasses me now, there was nothing I wanted more than to be an Eastern Junior High School cheerleader.
Cheerleading had not yet turned into “cheer,” an athletic sport of its own — it was still just girls cheering for boys. The cheerleaders got to wear sassy pleated skirts and white sweaters with a big forest green “E” across the chest, and on game days, they ruled the hallways.
Amateur coaching wasn’t yet an industry, or at least my family didn’t know about it, and when the tryouts came, I could not do the key maneuver — the thing where you jump and do a split and touch your toes while you are airborne and smiling — and I was not chosen for the squad.
Over time, I made my peace with it. Or so I thought. But then a pitch hit my inbox. “Former Patriots cheerleader forms a Pom Dance Squad at local senior center,” it read.
It was from Joie Edson, who cheered during the 1977-78 season. She is now a 67-year-old woman with a throaty laugh, and when she heard that a group at the Lynnfield Senior Center wanted her to teach them to cheer, she thought it was a “joke.”
But the women had just watched the 2019 Diane Keaton comedy “Poms” — about a group who form a squad at their retirement community — and more than 15 signed up for the class, and here was Edson now, e-mailing a reporter.
Is it wrong that my first thought wasn’t about writing a Globe story, but rather: “This is my chance!”
I guess it’s true what they say — nothing ever really stays buried.
My plan was to take the class and also report on it, and when Edson told me that all the women have poms, and that she could bring me a pair, I did not say no.
The class meets at 10:30 Wednesdays, in a cheerful gym just past a lunchroom where mobility devices mingle with chairs around tables. I didn’t dress for the class, but I didn’t not dress for it either.
The cheerleaders range in age from 67 to 82 (a 91-year-old came once but has not been back). The class has met only a few times, but a Christmas gig has already been booked — at the Lynnfield Senior Center as it happens — and the women are working on their holiday routine.
“Right! Left! Right! Left! Shampoo arms!” Edson called out, pumping her poms high and low, and sweeping them across the back of her head (the shampoo move).
With her grace, charisma, and athleticism, Edson would not look out of place if you saw her cheering for the Patriots on Sunday. And the women in the class — they were rocking, too.
They’ve had their health problems, to be sure, but they pivoted, they punched, they did the mashed potato move (one arm up, one arm down).
Not to make excuses, but it was hard for me to pay attention to Edson’s commands while also taking notes for my story, and pretty soon, I was pivoting when I should have been doing shampoo arms, going left when the class was going right, completely messing up the mashed potato thing, and even though the class is defined by a joyful, judgment-free vibe, I could feel the old panic from the Eastern Junior High tryouts returning.
After class, some of the women told me they were struggling to keep up with the Edson’s fast-coming directions, but I felt like I was the only one openly flailing (a fear confirmed when one of the women called out to me in pity, “You’re doing a good job!”).
Perhaps more than any other sport, old-fashioned cheerleading conjures a sexy image, and probably for that reason, almost every person who hears about a cheerleading class for older women has the same first reaction: They laugh.
But when I asked the women what they liked about the class, they said it made them feel “empowered” and “free,” and if the notion of a bunch of old ladies with the chutzpah to do shampoo arms makes people laugh, well, let them.