It's a Sunday morning and the cheers are reverberating through the halls of a factory building in Tsuen Wan. And it's not some sort of protest or factory song.
Rather, it's the Hong Kong Ladies in training.
This Saturday and Sunday, the territory's first all-female cheerleading team will be competing in the sixth Cheerleading World Championships at the Hong Kong Coliseum.
Make no mistake: cheerleading is not just about pom-pom waving. It's a tough competitive sport. Just ask team member Yanbie Lo Tsz-yan, 17, a Form Six student at Buddhist Mau Fung Memorial College.
"Before, I thought it was just dancing. But it actually involves stunts like tossing and catching one another, and lifting teammates to the top of [human] pyramids," she says, "movements that take a lot of strength and stamina."
Competitive cheerleading is a relatively new sport in Hong Kong. The Cheerleading Federation of Hong Kong, China (CFHK) worked with the International Federation of Cheerleading (IFC) to bring the biennial tournament to Hong Kong.
"Hopefully, with the championships, it can help develop a local interest in the sport much more quickly. It's only been around in Hong Kong for the past 3 to 4 years," says Crystal Chan Hiu-tung, deputy secretary general of the CFHK and a coach of the Hong Kong Ladies. "Our cheerleaders are quite young and this is the first time we'll compete in [a world event]."
The Hong Kong Ladies will be the city's sole entry in the All-Female division of the tournament.
The team is made up of 16 girls from different backgrounds from across the city. They are one of more than 70 teams from 20 countries competing in the championships in six different divisions.
Joanna Leung Chung-yan, 17, the team's captain, and Sushi Fong Tsz-yin, 18, were in a dance group before. "We were on the same dance team and heard of the chance to join a new cheerleading team to compete in the championships," says Joanna, a Form Six student at Buddhist Sun Heung Lam Memorial College.
The team has had only four months to practise together. That's a short time in a sport such as cheerleading.
"Our movements involve one person climbing on top of another on separate levels so there are some elements of danger," notes Sushi, a Year Two student at Hong Kong Design Institute.
"We are a new team so we haven't had too much time to work on our chemistry. We really need co-operation to complete our moves."
That chemistry is especially important to Yanbie because she's one of the climbers who stand atop the pyramid. "It's actually quite scary on top, but you really need to trust your teammates," she says. "If you're too scared, you won't want to perform the stunt, which will cost the team. The base is struggling to hold you up so you can't just think of yourself."
Despite the challenges, both the girls and their coaches believe the team can go a long way.
"We competed in our first international tournament last month in Thailand, where we gained a lot of experience," notes coach Zico Hau Kin-man.
Joanna adds: "We're going to try extra hard to win the championship in front of our friends and family in our own city."
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