Friday, June 3, 2016

1980s New York Times Article About Girls' Sidewalk Cheers

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post is a transcription of a [1986?] New York Times article about Black girls' & Hispanic girls' sidewalk cheers. These cheers aren't the "rah rah team" cheerleader cheers that are generally performed by school or community based cheerleader squads, but are examples of what I refer to as "foot stomping cheers".*

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, folkloric, recreational, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Susan Hartman, the writer of this article and thanks to all those who are mentioned in this article.

*I coined the term "foot stomping cheers" in the early 2000s to differentiate those cheers from the other, more commonly known category of cheerleader cheers which I refer to as "mainstream cheerleader cheers" or "rah rah cheerleader cheers". "Mainstream" here means cheerleading squads that are all White or are majority White. In contrast, historically, most of the girls who performed (or perform ?) foot stomping cheers are Black and/or Hispanic.

It seemed to me that a separate term for foot stomping cheers was (and is still) needed because the textual structures & performance styles of foot stomping cheers is different from that of mainstream children's cheerleader cheers. Foot stomping cheers is a group/consecutive soloist form of call and response. What I mean by "group/consecutive soloist" is that the group voice comes first, and is followed by a response from a soloist. Also, each member of the group has one equal turn as soloist after each rendition of the cheer. Historically, the movement routine that accompanies these cheers closely resembles the steppin' movements of historically Black Greek letter steppin.

In addition, while "mainstream" cheerleader cheers were/are mostly performed by White community and school based cheerleading squads during athletic games, historically foot stomping cheers were/are performed as informally performed by pre-teen and younger Black and/or Hispanic girls. That said, "foot stomping cheers" can be considered as a sub-set of the general category of cheerleader cheers. Also, an increasing number of school and community "mainstream" children's cheerleader squad are performing what appears to me to be mostly modified versions of some foot stomping years.

Click the foot stomping cheer tag and other tags below for other pancocojams post that provides information and comments about "foot stomping cheers" and features mostly text only examples of many of the cheer excerpts that are mentioned in this New York Times article.

by Susan Hartman [Page C1 and C6] *
"Everybody asks us, 'Can you teach us how to do the cheers?', said 11 year old Elbe Vasquez of Brooklyn. "But when we taught a girl from the Bronx, she told the whole world."

"You can share them", said her cousin Jackie Rendon, also 11. "But if it gets around too much, it sounds played out. It isn't exciting no more."

What these girls call "cheers" is a rapping, clapping, foot stamping game that has become popular in many Brooklyn neighborhoods this summer. It draws from the cheers the youngsters have learned in schools, rap music, traditional childhood games, and their own experiences. The dramatic routines are performed in lines of three to eight girls. Typically, they run one minute to three minutes, and include solos and choruses.

The routines are done in parks and on subways by Black and Hispanic youngsters. Their main stage however is "the sidewalk": "That abstract world which is the richest place for make-believe." said Elliot Willensky, who grew up playing sidewalk games such as boxball and hit-the-stick and wrote about them in "When Brooklyn Was The World: 1920-1957" (Harmony Books, 1986).

"Never, never would we be caught dead in a park or a playground", wrote Mr. Willensky, who is now the vice chairman of New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Playgrounds, he said in an interview, presupposed a kind of regimented activity; the sidewalk gives kids the freedom to do what they want."

Or, as Jackie put it, "It's more fun here" on her favorite stretch of sidewalk near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. "I'm too old for the park".

When they do their cheers, Jackie and her friends can pretend to be older, powerful, and in control. "which

Continued on Page C6
is the whole nature of so many kids' games, Mr. Willensky said.

"You feel important, like you can do it".

The girls can be sexy or macho; they can be as "bad" as their favorite rappers, Run- D.M.C. and LL Cool J.

"Ooh, she think she's bad", chanted Elbe and her friend Aziza Torres, 10, and Peachie Navarro, 11. The three girls were circling Jackie on the sidewalk on recent evening doing their cheer "Hollywood Go Angels".

"Baby, I know I'm bad", Jackie answered, mocking.
"Ooh, she thinks she's cool", said her encirclers, stamping closer.
"Cool enough to steal your dude", Jackie answered.

In another cheer, the group got tougher. "Huh, I beat you down", they teased Elbe, who pretended to fall. "Huh! Right to the ground."
"Huh!, she called back, rising. "I'm coming up - Huh! - To beat you up.

The girls work the alphabet and numbers into their cheers. And they frequently open with their names or nicknames. "I'm Shorty!" sang Aziza in "Fly Girls". "I'm Swee-ie", announced Elbe, next in line. "Lovely!", Peachie called herself. "I'm Sexy! sang Jackie.

Many cheers deal with the physical changes of adolescence. The girls do a kind of hokey-pokey to the tune of New Edition's "Candy Girl" for example, but instead of putting their "right foot in", they shimmy forward with their chests and hips and then their buttocks.

"Ooh, look at that body, ain't it fine?" they sang to Jackie in "Hollywood Goes Swinging".

In the early evening parents often watch from their stoops amused. "But sometimes they don't like what we say and they walk away," says Aziza referring to the sexually oriented lyrics.

"They feel proud of us", insisted Elbe. "They know we put a lot of work into the cheers".

Neighborhood boys also watch and sometimes call out teasingly. "But it's not a boy's thing," Jackie said. "If you look at a boy clapping his hands and stamping his feet"- she laughed- "it just doesn't look right."

References to social problems crop up in the cheers. In "Betty Boop", the girls sang:
"One by one, I'm having fun.
Two by two, my boyfriend too.
Three by three, got the herpes...
Nine by nine, welfare line.
Ten by ten- gremlin!"

"Once when we went to Manhattan, we saw a homeless man in front of an office building," Elbe said. "He was singing something that sounded like "Lachichu lamain". So on the subway home we made up a cheer called 'Lachichu'". But only the name recalls the homeless man. The cheer celebrates the girls themselves: "We're light and lovely! Crabby or ugly!"

"First we all talk about it", said Elbe, explaining how a cheer is created. "We get stuff from cheers at school, from the radio, from Channel 31 and from my cousin Ruthie who brings us back cheers from Puerto Rico. She teaches us in Spanish and we translate."

The cheers aren't always performed in an amicable spirit. Aaron Goodwin, a 37 year old X-Ray technician and one of the children's neighbors, says he sometimes acts as referee "when they fight or leave somebody out."
"But mostly, they play nicely," he said.

"It's lively", said his wife Linda Carr Goodwin, 36, a secretary, who often watches the cheers with their 9 year old daughter GeeGee.

On hot summer days the girls don't begin their cheers until late afternoon. Sometimes, they are still going strong at 10 PM.

"The feeling pushes you - move, move, move", Jackie said. "You stop when you don't feel comfortable no more. When you're too tired and sweaty."
"Or cranky", Aziza said.
"When you got no more emotions", Jackie added.

When they reach that point of exhaustion the sidewalk clears for a few minutes. Some youngsters are called to bed. Some rest on the stoops in their parents' arms.

Then, slowly, the sidewalk fills up again, in new configurations of children on bicycles and skateboards, of boys expertly shooting skelly caps, and of girls soaring above the sidewalk in complicated double-dutch jumps."
This transcription is by Azizi Powell.

*The article was featured in the paper's Home section with photographs. The article's date is August 11, 198__. The remainder of the year isn't shown, but the year 1986 is mentioned within that article as the publishing date for a particular book.

While this featured 1986 [?] newspaper article indicates that these cheers became popular in Brooklyn neighborhoods that summer, the earliest date for these types of cheers that I've found is 1976 in Washington, D. C. (as per "Old Mother Hippletoe record notes, Band 3 Cheerleading). I've also found excerpts of what I call "foot stomping cheers" in Mama's Girl by Veronica Chambers, a book about a Black girl growing up in Brooklyn, New York in the 1970s.

My research concurs with this article that historically these cheers were almost always performed by Black and/or Hispanic girls, pre-teens and younger (My research suggests the starting age of 6 years old, but I've read comments about girls ages 4-5 years old doing cheers.)

My conclusions from my observations are that if a young girl is "good at doing cheers" (meaning, she is good at learning and performing particular cheer routines and the lyrics for those cheers), older girls will prefer to do the cheer with her than with an older girl who has more difficulty learning and doing the cheer. Therefore, doing cheers provides perhaps rare opportunities for younger girls who are good at this activity, to interact with, learn from, and gain social status with older girls.

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  1. This 1980s New York Times article on sidewalk cheers ("foot stomping cheers") mentions the following cheers: "Hollywood Goes Angels", "Hollywood Goes Swinging", "Fly Girl", "Luchichu", and "Betty Boop".

    I've directly collected examples of "Hollywood Goes Swinging" and "Fly Girl" from Pittsburgh (1980s, 1990s, 2000s). And I've found online examples of these same cheers with those names (or, in the case of "Hollywood Goes Swinging", also cheers with similar names) from various African American communities of those two cheers. I've also found two online examples of "One by one, I'm having fun" although they weren't called "Betty Boop". Those examples are quite risque. Here's one example from
    4-01-2003, 02:10 PM
    What about ...

    1 and 1 we were having some fun in the bedroom,
    all day and all of the night
    2 and 2 he pulled off my shoe in the bedroom
    all day and .....
    3 by 3 he undressed me in the bedroom
    all day and....
    4 by 4 he shut the door in the bedroom
    all day and....
    Location: Chicago, Illinois
    Oh my goodness. This is really taking me back. I swear I didn't know what I was talking about. Well I knew I was talking about sex but it was so innocent.
    Another example of that cheer is found in that 2003 discussion whose participants were members of historically Black Greek letter sororities. Given some their comments, I think that most their rhyme memories were from the 1980s.
    Notice the screen name "Candy Girl". That article also mentions the New Edition's song "Candy Girl". I collected an example of a foot stomping cheer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that was based on that song and had that title. That version of "Candy Girl" includes lyrics from that R&B/Hip Hop record-
    Group:"Candy Girl, All My World/ Looks so sweet/Special treat"... The soloist then says- This is the way I do the [says dance name]
    The cheer then returns to the group part in the beginning and the next soloist says "This is the way I do [says a different dance].
    This continues until every girl has a turn as the soloist.


    The lines "I'm going down...I'm coming up... to mess you up" that are mentioned in the article are found in a number of foot stomping rhymes.

    The only cheer that I'm not familiar with which was mentioned in this article is the one the girls' made up and titled "Lachichu". By the way, the writer of this article indicated that "The cheer celebrates the girls themselves: "We're light and lovely! Crabby or ugly!" I think that that line might have been meant to be "We're light and lovely! Not crabby and ugly."

    1. With regard to the phrase "light and lovely"- this may have been a play on the hair care brand name "Dark And Lovely". Those hair care products are mostly marketed to African Americans, but Hispanic girls in New York City would have certainly heard of them.

      The word "dark" in those hair care products refer to skin color. The word "light" in that cheer might also refer to skin color or might have just been an instance of alliteration without and intended skin color put down.