Best of both worlds

Red and gold streamers. A first place trophy raised in triumph. Crying tears of happiness. Junior Danielle Robles still remembers the time she won first place at Sharp International Competition with her Downey High School Dance Team. Although she started her performing arts career in the world of competitive dance, Robles has now transitioned into the world of competitive cheer.

Robles began cheerleading her sophomore year of high school, after she transferred to Walnut from Downey High School. Robles missed tryouts for the dance team, which led her to try out for the cheer squad. With encouragement from her mother, who was also a cheerleader in high school, Robles made the switch from dance to cheer.

“My mom was really proud because she was a cheerleader and dancer. My whole family was. They were really proud of me, and they saw me as a mini them. In cheer, you have to scream. You have to be loud for cheer, that’s one thing that’s really different with dance and cheer,” Robles said. “Dance is pretty, and cheer is sharp, but they’re both fun.” 

Once Robles made varsity cheer at Walnut, she tried out for the all-star Strive Athletics Cheer & Tumbling program and made the Level 3 team, one of the highest teams at Strive. During practices, which take place  5 – 7 p.m. on weekdays, and an additional tumbling class, Robles will do anything from stretching out to tumbling on a trampoline to practicing stunts, such as fulls, libs, cradles and kick twists. 

“My Saturday practices here actually help me a lot because we’re starting to work on choreography and we just got the whole first part of the choreography down, and we had jumps,” Robles said. “It’s pretty hard, pretty fun. The girls are great.”

Cheer competitions occur several times throughout the season, depending on how prepared Robles’ team is for competition. A typical competition day consists of driving to a competition site, doing makeup during the bus, stretching out for 15 minutes on the side, rehearsing baskets, jumps and double nines, and then competing for judges.

“It’s such a rush, hearing the crowd screaming. It’s really fun, nerve racking definitely, but it’s just a rush, especially when you have a part near the stunt and it hits, you keep dancing and it’s so much fun,” Robles said. “You never know what you’re gonna get because when you’re in competition cheer, everyone does their own things. You can do whatever you want. You could have 50 people throwing you in the air when you’re flying and they won’t say anything as long as you don’t get hurt.”

Robles has participated in around 60 competitions throughout her high school career, with 30 to 40 of these competitions being at Sharp International. Robles has been to a Sharp International Dance competition in Hawaii with her team, where they placed first place. 

“You have to have trust if you’re in a stunt because if we put a girl up in the air and they fall, they’re going to be like, ‘I don’t want you guys to base or back me anymore.’ If we trust other girls if we’re basing or if the flyer trusts the bases or backs then the stunt will hit harder because they’ll know, ‘If I fall, they’ll catch me,” Robles said. 

Cheer isn’t where Robles started off, though. Before cheering, Robles danced her whole life, starting at the age of 3. She began her dancing experience at the Los Angeles School of Arts, where she took different dance classes, including ballet classes and hip hop classes. 

“I remember my mom telling me every week I’d be excited, I’d say, ‘Okay, ballet time, ballet time!’” Robles said. “When I was little, my mom used to listen to Jennifer Lopez, so she put a bandanna on my head and I tried doing the hip dancing like Shakira, and she was like ‘Yeah, this girl dances.’ To be honest, I wouldn’t be where I am without dance.”  

Robles competed with the City of Commerce Dance Team (COCDT) at the age of 13 and the Downey Dance Center at the age of 14. With COCDT, Robles performed different styles of dance, including jazz, contemporary, hip hop and pom, which combines elements of cheerleading and dancing.

“When we’re on that stage, everyone is cheering. So that feeling of adrenaline kicks in, when that music starts, and you’re like ‘Okay, let’s go!’” Robles said. “It’s so much fun.” 

With these dance teams, Robles would attend a variety of competitions, including Sharp International Competition, Rainbow National Dance Competition and Starlight Dance Competition. 

“When I’m at competition, it’s a whole different feeling because you know you have to bring it. The one thing is that usually, when a girl messes up themselves, they take the blame. They’re not like, ‘Oh, it was you!’. We don’t argue. We’re a team,” Robles said.

To this day, Robles participates in a variety of different forms of dance, including jazz, lyrical, contemporary, musical theater, acro and hip hop and krump, or street style dance, classes. Occasionally, Robles will attend hip hop dance classes.

“[Dance] relaxes me when I’m doing jazz, contemporary or lyrical because its more long and stretching and relaxing,” Robles said. “It calms me down. It makes feel like you know, good at something. It makes me feel like I can do anything.”

By Flora Lei, Feature editor
Photo by Isaac Le