The Montreal Alouettes incorporated men into their cheer team for the first time last season.
Longtime director Annie Larouche hopes the program can achieve another first in 2019.
"I have male (stunt team members) but I’d love to have males (on the Alouettes dance team)," said Larouche, entering her 24th season with the CFL franchise. "I think now the whole cheerleading world has evolved and the mentality has changed to where I think they’d be more than welcomed.
"Some guys have said they’d love to do that but wouldn’t want fingers to be pointed at them, which I understand. I think fans would like to see those guys dancing and we have so many talented dancers in Quebec."
Traditionally, CFL teams have fielded female-only cheerleading squads. But over the years, more have transitioned to include former athletes — male and female — or revamped their programs completely into mainly stunt units incorporating both genders.
This season, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors replaced their all-female Dance Pak with the North Side Crew, a 25-member troupe that includes 11 men.
Last season, the Alouettes again offered a female-only cheerleading squad, but for the first time unveiled a 16-member stunt squad that included seven males. Larouche, who’s been with the Alouettes since the franchise relocated from Baltimore in 1996, said the addition of a stunt team was no accident.
"I’ve been thinking of adding a stunt team to our dance team for a while now," said Larouche, the director of the Alouettes Foundation, the squad’s community relations department as well as their cheerleading team. "Two years ago, I spoke to the Quebec Cheerleading Federation and we invited amateur teams to perform prior to every home game.
"I wanted to see how it would be received so I walked around and asked people what they thought and everyone loved it. People were like, ‘We love our dance team but this is good, too.’ So I decided to go with both last year and we had 32 people on the field, 16 dancers and 16 on the stunt team, the best of the best."
Last year, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats also had male members on their cheer team for the first time. The Ticats replaced their cheerleaders with a 14-member "performance team," that included four men.
Only the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders went with all-female cheer squads last year.
Later this month, the Alouettes will hold cheerleading auditions for 12 dancers and 15 stunt-team members in 2019 and men have again been invited to attend.
Cheerleaders have long been a fixture in the NFL but six clubs — including the Buffalo Bills — didn’t have them on their sidelines last season. Last year, the Los Angeles Rams named two men to their cheerleading squad — which the team said was a league first — although that claim was disputed with reports the Atlanta Falcons had 12 males on their cheer squad in 1987-88.
Larouche said Montreal’s cheerleaders must be able to do more than just shake pom-poms.
"We always had a dynamic, synchronized talented dance group," she said. "And of the 16 members on our stunt team last year, I think 14 of them went to the world championship in Orlando.
"They’re professionals, they know their stuff and what they’re doing. I don’t teach them anything, we work together and say, ‘Let’s try this."’
Larouche said the presence of stunt teams on the field only enhances the sideline experience for fans.
"It brings a little bit of everything and really makes for a more complete show." she said. "The stunts are spectacular.
"When you’re sitting in the stands and are a little bit higher up, when you see someone flying right in front of your face it’s pretty impressive. But what I really like about it is everyone’s represented now, boys and girls."