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The cheers heard 'round the world

Above, an RHS cheerleader gets some instruction from a Japanese visitor on the art of twirling a baton around her elbow. The Japanese did not know English and couldn't do much more than point, smile and demonstrate, but they seemed to get their points across.

The two groups of girls gathered in Rosemount High school's wrestling gym couldn't speak to each other, but that didn't stop the smiles and it didn't stop the laughter.

It was a cultural exchange, with pom poms.

The two groups were different in a lot of ways. The girls dressed in blue were a cheerleading squad from an American high school. They demonstrated powerful tosses and acrobatic flips. The girls in pink and black were a national champion baton team from a suburb Osaka, Japan. They could twirl their batons in ways the American girls could never imagine, but they'd never done anything like the stunts or the cheers they were seeing.

But the groups were similar in some important ways, too.

"We both had this sport that we absolutely loved, but that wasn't very popular, so we could relate to each other," said Erin Biebesheimer, one of the members of Rosemount High School's competition cheerleading team who participated in last week's cheer summit. "That was the most interesting thing I learned about them."

The Japanese team was in the Twin Cities last week and connected with the RHS squad through Meet Minneapolis, the city's visitors' bureau. Minneapolis and Osaka are sister cities, and the Japanese team decided that while they were here they wanted to meet an American cheer team. RHS coach Mario Navarro wasn't sure how the team ended up in Rosemount, but he's glad they did.

"This was a great thing for our team," Navarro said. "They didn't know what to expect when they were going to meet them. I didn't know what to expect. We knew they were a baton-twirling team, but we didn't know a whole lot of background. But I think the interaction with this team and the girls and the language barrier was really great for my team."

The teams started the exchange by performing their routines for each other. Then they did what they could to teach each other what they knew. For the Americans, that meant trying to figure out the finer points of spinning a baton on their elbows and around their heads. For the Japanese squad, it meant getting used to being lifted into the air and held in the palms of their new friends' hands.

The Japanese team had an interpreter along, which was important when the Irish girls were teaching their visitors how to perform some of the lifts they do. But much of the communication was nonverbal. Baton team members taught some of their twirling tricks simply by pointing, smiling and demonstrating, then applauding when their students got something right.

"It was just kind of monkey-see, monkey-do," Biebesheimer said. "It was really interesting to see their reaction when we'd do something right."

"They would clap for you and give you a big smile," said Lauren Trandahl, another of the RHS cheerleaders.

The RHS cheerleaders probably won't add baton moves to their routines anytime soon, and the stunts the Japanese team experienced last week are probably not destined for their regular shows. But Navarro believes his team got a lot out of the exchange.

"They learned that there's more out there than just Rosemount," Navarro said. "There's a bigger world out there."