A squad's decision whether to go curly or straight is a part of the overall strategy

Cheerleader curls are everywhere

Curly ponytails were everywhere at the 2011 National Cheerleading & Dance Championships

Atlanta, GA -One of the nation's largest hair shows combined with the nation's largest cheerleading competition at the Georgia World Congress Center. At first glance, these two enormous groups didn't appear to have much in common.

But both groups—from the pint-sized cheerleaders to the veteran stylists—shared an obsession: hair.

Ponytails were flying as thousands of cheerleading and dance squads from around the country gathered in Atlanta 2011 National Cheerleading & Dance Championship. Some ponytails were straight, and some were curly.

Glitter accentuates cheerleaders' curls

Coaches take decision about whether to go curly or straight seriously

Whether a squad should go straight or curly—and squads must all wear the same style—could make or break their squads' chance at victory.

On one squad's web site, this weighty decision was to be left up to all parents and guardians. "We will let you know the results of those votes and whether or not your child’s team will/will not need to purchase cheer curls for competition. Families are responsible for ordering their own set of cheer curls."

Cheerleader curls are a team effort

It takes a team to create cheerleader curls

"It's whatever looks cleanest," Emily White, who coaches the Georgia Elite All Stars of Atlanta. "It's every important how the bow looks and how the bobby pin looks. And you have to keep the flyaways back. Curls just look sloppier."

Curlformers create perfect spiral curls

Curlformers are one of the tools of choice for curly cheerleaders

Obviously many other coaches disagreed, judging from the abundance of cheer curls sprouting from heads all over the convention center.

Different girls use different techniques to get their "cheer curls." There are those who use curling irons and those who use sponge rollers and those who use products like CurlFormers and those who use The Wand. And some use curly hairpieces. In many cases, the process of achieving those curls can take more than two hours and an abundance of hair spray.

Naturally curly girl uses curling iron to create cheer-ready curls

Naturally curly girl Rochelle uses a curling iron and a flat iron to create perfect cheer-ready curls

Rochelle, whose squad traveled from Buffalo, NY, for the competition, has naturally curly hair. But to get the ideal curls, she must curl it—when it's dry—using a 3/4-inch curling iron to reform the curls. Then she uses a flat iron to straighten the top. And then she plasters it with hairspray. How long does this take?

"A long time," says Rochelle.

Natural kinky curls

Natural hair was a rare appearance at the 2011 National Cheerleading & Dance Championship

How important are cheer curls? So important that an entire industry has emerged. There are companies that make curly hairpieces for cheerleaders, like Cheerswirls and Cheerleaderhairpieces.com. Many cheerleading supply magazines now carry hair products for cheerleaders, including hair ties with fake hair attached. These pieces are great to use for competitions because they are easy to attach to the head and require little maintenance.

Kippan and Amelia from Asheville, N.C., explained the process of using the Wand to get cheer curls.

"I like twirl it and leave it for like 10 seconds and then it's like really curly," says Amelia. "Our team must have curls!"

Demonstrating how to use The Wand to get perfect curls

Asheville, N.C. cheerleader Amelia demonstrates on squad member Kippan how to use the Wand to get perfect curls

foam rollers create perfect curls

Cheerleader rocks her foam rollers before taking the stage