First of all, the word “bow” has two pronunciations. Bow, rhymes with how, means to bend the body to indicate respect. Bow, rhymes with hoe, also means to bend or curve, as in a curved stick. In the case of cheerleading, the bow in stunting, rhymes with hoe, refers to the extreme bending of the body. The arm is placed through the curved bow shape to look like an arrow. Hence, the stunt is named a “bow and arrow.”
The bow and arrow cheerleading stunt is an advanced skill requiring both flexibility and balance in the air. In a stunt group the top cheerleader is supported on one foot, and does a vertical split in which the toe or heel of the extended leg is held by the opposite hand. Yes, the opposite hand. The free arm is horizontally stretched past and in front of the vertically extended leg. The top’s torso will naturally curve like a bow. The bow and arrow is more difficult than a heel stretch where the extended leg is held by the hand on the same side.
Flexibility and balance are vital training for any cheerleaders striving to achieve the bow and arrow skill. There is no shortcut to become that flexible. A bow and arrow is impossible without training and proper technique. Training starts on the floor, then balancing in a standing position, and finally up in the stunt.
There is no decisive documentation to date the first ever bow and arrow stunt in the sport of cheerleading. Until the 1990s, there was a standard list of stunts: thigh stand, double base, extensions, heel stretch and liberty. In the 90s, the choreography evolved as each of these traditional skills took on added features into higher difficulty levels. So, the heel stretch morphed into the “bow and arrow.”
I “bow” to all cheerleaders who have a “bow and arrow.”