If you love TLC’s “Cheer Perfection,” get ready for more of fiery Alisha Dunlap and her cast of characters at Cheer Time Revolution. Season Two has hit the airwaves! Get to know this opinionated gym owner and find out how “Cheer Perfection” has changed her life:
CP: Share a bit about your cheerleading background.
Alisha: We opened Cheer Time Revolution in 1999, and then I sold the gym in 2004. I had already started a family and wanted more babies. But as time went on, I absolutely missed it—couldn’t stand it. Also, my oldest daughter was awfully talented, and I couldn’t find a gym anywhere in the state that I liked. We were driving 2.5 hours to take her to cheer. In 2007, we re-opened, and today we have 16 teams ranging from Tiny Tots to an open Level 6 team.
As for my own cheer experience, I was on the very first all-star co-ed team in the state of Arkansas, the Cheer Central Braves. I cheered for six years.
CP: How did the opportunity with TLC come about?
Alisha: My daughter used to do pageants, and they had been asking me for several years to do Toddlers and Tiaras. They wanted to show just the pageant life, but I told them, “Our life is truly cheer, so come into the gym for a few days.” They came in and saw what we had to offer. After T and T aired, we got great hits, and they said, “We want to do this cheer thing selling you guys.”
At the time, I was so busy running two businesses (Pageant Perfection Studios and Cheer Time Revolution), plus a family with three kids. I wasn’t sure what more I could take on my plate. But all of the kids had so much fun on Toddlers and Tiaras; they thought they were superstars. They had a blast! I talked with the parents and kids at the gym, and they said, “Give it a try.” I thought to myself, “I’m going to do this more for the kids than anything.” Since when does a little itty-bitty gym in Arkansas and these kinds of kids get an opportunity like this? So I went for it.
CP: What are the benefits and drawbacks of such large-scale exposure? Have you seen a demonstrable change in interest or prestige since the pilot aired in July?
Alisha: The show isn’t just about cheer—it’s about our lives and interactions. The gym is a “set” for us; it shows how we all work together and get our kids to this point. We have not had any drawbacks. I haven’t lost one kid. In fact, we have doubled in size. When the show aired in July, we went from having small teams to large teams. Our junior team now has 32 [athletes]; we’ve probably gained 60 kids total since the show aired. Our tumbling classes are full, and new kids are coming out of the woodwork wanting to be cheerleaders. It’s generated a ton of hits on our website and Facebook pages.
CP: What advice would you give to cheer professionals who have the opp to put their gym in the spotlight?
Alisha: Pray about it. Go with the flow. Reality shows are reality shows, and editors are editors. Just do what you do best, and hope for the best.
CP: Parental expectations are a big part of the show. How do you strike a balance between keeping parents satisfied and doing what’s best for your gym?
Alisha: We have to set a line. It has to be our way, and that applies to both parents and athletes. We’re always open to suggestions, but our staff as a whole decides on what’s best for the gym. We’re okay with the fact that we might not always be the best fit for all parents or how they want to see a program run. We still have to do what’s best for our gym.
CP: You co-own the gym with your husband RD—any advice on running a business with your spouse?
Alisha: Without the two of us, it wouldn’t work. We love to disagree, but we always have to meet in the middle. We are night and day: I’m very firm, and my coaching style is very different than his. I want to see the overall routine hit and overall athlete to excel. I want their skills to improve and advance quickly, whereas my husband wants to see perfection before progression.
[As a compromise], we start our routines early in June. We have a lot of kids, so it’s about muscle memory. My husband helps them learn the early stunts before we advance. This approach gives us more lead time to accommodate both of our coaching styles. By the end, our kids can do the whole routine backward and forward, with or without music. Then he comes back in before competition season to get the skills absolutely perfect.
CP: The show emphasizes a heavy focus on winning. What’s your philosophy as a coach?
Alisha: Winning is important, but it’s not always about actually winning the trophy. They’re winners if they hit what they’re supposed to hit and do their absolute best. And 99 percent of the time, when the kids give all their effort and execute like they should, they’re going to win. It goes hand-in-hand.
CP: Any response to criticisms that you’re too hard on the cheerleaders?
Alisha: That’s from the outside world. [On TV], I come across as a hard coach, but what they don’t see is that, behind closed doors, I am very rewarding. I expect my kids to be a certain way in practice and I will push them until they get the skill they want to learn. In return, they are rewarded for everything they do. If they go out and have an awesome performance, we have sleepovers and ice cream parties, so it makes them want to work and give 100 percent. It’s all about working toward the skills they want to achieve.
CP: How do you think reality shows about cheer can further the sport as a whole?
Alisha: If all the cheerleading shows can show a positive side of cheer, I think it will be great and can only pick up the numbers. The new show on CMT [“Cheer”] shows a very high-level of kids. My feeling is that maybe the newer kids watching will say, “I couldn’t ever do that,” but with our show, they’ll see that everyone starts form the bottom and has to learn Level One first, so they have a chance. It’s great to have a wide representation across the spectrum.
Can’t get enough Alisha Dunlap? Check out our new “Candid Coach” Q&A with the Cheer Perfection star!