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Monday October 23, 2000

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Give me a F-E-M-I-N-I-S-M

Headline Photo

By Phil Leckman

Arizona Daily Wildcat

New women's performance group seeks to reclaim

At a glance, they look like any other cheerleaders, poised to inspire the boys on the team to victory. A closer look, however, reveals some significant differences.

The cheerleaders are dressed in black, with the word "RAD" spelled across their chests in red electrical tape. Their short skirts and tank tops are accessorized with combat boots and red bandanas. And the cheers, rather than the usual declarations of school spirit, are brash and forceful chants for radical political and cultural change.

The Tucson Radical Cheerleaders are the most visible facet of Las Sinfronteras, an ambitious new Tucson women's activist and performance collective. The group, which includes several UA students and alumni among its fluctuating 15 to 20 person membership, debuted at an Oct. 8 concert of the punk band Le Tigre.

Radical cheerleading is just a particularly ironic part of Las Sinfronteras's larger goal of reclaiming female symbols from mainstream culture, said Koren Manning, a UA women's studies and geography sophomore,

"It's a great cultural pun, in a way," Manning said. "We're taking cheerleading, which I don't think most people would call radical feminist ideology, making it our own and using it for our own purposes."

In fact, the traditional view of cheerleading, which Manning sums up as "the girls on the sidelines cheering for the boys, looking really cute in short skirts," could not be farther from Las Sinfronteras's objective. The collective seeks instead to empower women to make their own art and spark their own change, instead of passively cheering for others' achievements from the sidelines.

"A lot of the women I've met up to now are creatively amazing but totally terrified of actually going out and doing things," said Veronica Del Real, an adult education teacher who is the group's founder and chief organizer. "They think their boyfriends are better than them, that they can't do things for themselves. I'm tired of hearing these stories and feeling that intimidation."

Del Real said that she hopes that Las Sinfronteras can "make everybody strong for themselves" and inspire women to exercise their creativity and connect with one another.

Having the chance to lead and express themselves freely, however, can be difficult for women in mainstream culture, said Rachel Shively, a UA graduate in anthropology and women's studies.

"I've been in lots of organizations where the guys were the only ones organizing, and the women weren't learning those skills. We need the power to do this. Creative expression is also important - (the members of Las Sinfronteras) have inspired each other so much," she said.

The collective's focus on women's empowerment, however, may come into conflict with traditionally male-dominated arenas.

"My issue has to do with power. I have nothing against men," said Del Real. "For so long, alternative culture in Tucson has been 'men on top' and I just want to experiment - what could happen if it was reversed? We don't really know because it doesn't happen - not often enough, anyway."

Overall, the main goal of Las Sinfronteras is empowerment and connection - joining like-minded women together from all walks of life.

"We're celebrating culture - we want to build a new culture here in Tucson," said member Audrey Wright, a Pima Community College art freshman. "I want to reach out to people in the mainstream, to girls who haven't broken out of the typical cheerleading squad."

In addition to performances by the Radical Cheerleaders, which will perform at a Nov. 1 Green Party benefit, Las Sinfronteras are organizing spoken word performances, bands, solo music and dance projects, among other projects. For more information, contact Veronica Del Real at 624-3529.