Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Road Trip: A Pageantry Experience

I just drove to Ohio for the first time in 10 years… and it wasn’t for color guard. As a matter of fact, I didn’t end up driving anywhere near Dayton, Ohio.

Yes, everyone can take a collective gasp in shock or laugh in twisted humor… I know I found it amusing myself.

This 2nd week of June, I drove to Ohio to visit family in Cleveland. My twin cousins were the last of all my cousins to graduate from high school and it was their celebration party I would be attending. It was a huge family gathering and after so many years, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. So there I was, ready to go in my sweats, at 7:30am on a Friday morning. I ended up sitting in the back seat of the shiny red rental car while my sister and brother-in-law sat up front. With my travel bag at my feet, my mini suitcase in the truck, a small foam cooler in the seat next to me, a pillow, and a sleeping bag, I was ready for the 15+ hour drive ahead of me. My first initial reaction was… thank goodness I was not driving. It was really early and I was really tired. As a matter of fact, since I wasn’t on the rental permit and wasn‘t allowed to drive at all, my comfy spot in the back of the car was mine and mine alone. My second thought brought me to our beloved sport and all those who have ever drove to WGI or for all those who have marched DCI or are currently just beginning their DCI summer travels.

Before departure and settling in, I immediately fell into seat organization mode WGI -style. I laid out my sleeping bag to claim my space and placed my travel bag by my feet. I put my spare pillow case on the chair in front of me to have a drink holding pocket and I safely placed my flip flops in the side cubby for quick access. I switched to DCI - mode and made sure my suitcase was loaded in the trunk aka “under the bus” and then worked to make sure all other luggage/supplies were stored properly and safely. I “boarded” and snuggled into my seat.

As we pulled out of the parking lot and turned on the highway, I curled myself up into my sleeping bag, fluffed my pillow, and laid my head down. After 15+ years of Dayton travels, I have been permanently programmed that if I am not the driver in a vehicle on a long trip, I was able to instantly and gratefully fall asleep. Many WGI and DCI members know that sleep is rare on these amazing trips. I have had many experiences that upon arrival to Dayton, we performers usually had about 2 hours (if we were lucky) before jumping straight into rehearsal. The time between arrival and rehearsal was mostly meant for food, a quick shower, changing clothing, and for stretching. Have you ever sat on a bus that long? Soreness sets in really quick when you are curled up into a human pretzel on a single chair for hours and we all know that isn’t an excuse for a bad rehearsal especially at Nationals. Staff members are usually found eating/drinking, discussing plans for the night, and focusing on the details of the week. My DCI experience of my rook-out season at Teal Sound wasn’t much different. Once we arrived at our new site, it was usually the very early am. Between unloading the bus (I was on bus crew) and laying down again, it wasn’t much time before we heard the great memorable words of “GOOD MORNING TEAL SOUND! YOU HAVE 15 MINUTES TO MAKE IT OUT FOR STRETCH BLOCK!” I made sure I got some zzz’s on the bus.

I also knew instantly when the bus stopped and I would rise and shine. Well, I would get up anyways. We were somewhere in Georgia now. So what is the one thing that all pageantry people know to do when the bus stops? You run to the bathroom. Whether you have to go or not is irrelevant. You go. I hopped out of the back seat, flip flops and debit card in hand, and made a mad dash towards the bathroom only to realize how foolish I looked being one of 3 people getting out of the car. Thankfully, it looked like I just had to go rather than in my sleepy stupor thinking there were several people behind me.

We purchased breakfast and I returned back to my spot in the back seat. As I sat back there watching the world pass by and eating my French toast sticks from Burger King (they forgot my syrup L ), I briefly pondered about the great “Battle of the Back Seat“. This is the timeless battle that happens in any bus trip ever. We all know that people fight for that seat; it’s the long bench seat in the back that has just a little bit more room than the others. And since it is a rule that there is no using the bathroom on the bus, it was known that it wouldn’t smell like potty in the back of the bus. Then again, most of us know the definite stink of drum corps bus smell - a lovely mix of body odor and dirty clothing. A smell that was just a matter of time to develop regardless of bathroom usage. No matter where you sit when the stink finally sets in, no particular seat can save you. Sometimes, it can be far worse than any bathrooms I‘ve ever experienced. Anyways - so all in all, I always sat up front for previous mentioned first-off-the-bus rights. Others preferred the extra leg room. Guess it just depends on your priorities.

After eating, I promptly fell back asleep. I must have been up and down because time had drifted by.

Somewhere in South Carolina, I woke up again and we stopped for food. I was sad at first as my first guard reaction was that we were at Cracker Barrel. Oh, how I love Cracker Barrel. I thought of the rocking chairs up front, the oversized checker board, and how I could play in the store. It always became WGI tradition that we would do breakfast at Cracker Barrel and we could buy our Secret Sister/Brother a new present. I love the cinnamon apples there too; it just made my guard breakfast. Instead, we ended up at Bo jangles chicken, which made me think of one of my 2005 Paradigm rehearsals and Momma Jordan made us her amazing homemade fried chicken and how in DCI we never got fried chicken or restaurants on tour. (No restaurants unless on laundry days there was a fast food place in walking distance) We got whatever came off the food trucks. Some days it was a full spread of hot scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits, etc. Other days, it was boxes of cereal and PBJ. I do know some of the upper level corps get some pretty amazing food on the daily. We ate up and continued on the journey.

Now that I was full, I became restless. What does one do when they are restless? You became the DJ of the car and being the DJ isn’t easy. Even when its only 3 people, someone always dislikes the choices! I remember there was nothing more difficult than to get a bus full of marching members, WGI or DCI, to agree on a single movie to pass the time. I remember never watching the end of anything either because the next group wanted to put their movie in as soon as possible. Movies that I always felt were bus appropriate were musicals, anything with a dance number, and team sport related movies. They were easy to relate to as we all danced and were a team. Movies that never made everyone happy and always caused fights were horror movies, most comedies because everyone has different levels of humor, and guard videos. Yes, guard videos. It didn’t matter if we were going to Nationals or another DCI show. We were surrounded by the sport. Despite popular belief, we really didn’t want to watch it all the time. We were living it. I know guard videos were a big no-no during my DCI days because the guard members were sharing a bus with the drummers and it was an agreement that we wouldn’t torture them with guard videos if they didn’t drum on EVERYTHING while not on the way to a show. They had our blessing to drum away enroute to a show; we were too busy putting on makeup and changing to care that they were banging on everything. But if they insisted on tapping on everything every second of every bus trip, they might of lost fingers.

Farther down the road, somewhere along the way, the line-in cord to the radio was taken away from me and I proceeded to fall back asleep. I woke up again in the little town called Bland, Virginia.

 I immediately felt all the aches and pains of being curled up in a back seat as I stood up and got out. Stretching seem vital at this junction of the trip as was checking out the small little town we stumbled into for a gas/potty break. WGI and DCI travels gave us all the great opportunity to visit places we would never have had the chance to go to. So many of my fellow performers said they haven’t been out of Florida as we embarked on an out of state Regional or the Nationals trip. Paradigm members learned valuable lessons about snow in our 2003 season. Our South Florida members learned the finer meaning of cold as we were snowed in in Rhode Island after attending the Regional up there. With DCI, we never knew where we were and that was all part of the adventure. Most days we didn’t know what day it was either. I marched before the peak of smart phones so back then no one was that connected like they are now. So I was thankful for the morning schedule though that usually had vital information marked on top somewhere for us.

Again, somewhere, I got bored and fell back to sleep.

Around 10:45pm, after traveling through mountains and many more miles, we finally arrived at our destination excited to be there. We quickly unpacked, thankful to be up and mobile. Family met us at the door and we were given a great meal and a lot of laughter til about 1:30am and we had to go to bed. The long journey was complete and extensive trek from Florida to Ohio was made worth it by great food, family, camaraderie, and the knowledge that is was a rare opportunity to have all these people together for a short time. The limited time wasn’t dwelled on, but everyone knew how rare the next few days together were and how quickly it was going to be gone.

After a fantastic weekend that went by all too fast and a grateful flight home, it was then that I realized as I packed way too much for 3 days just like I always did for a Dayton trip and I was glad I wasn’t making that trip home again via driving. DCI, please enjoy those bus trips. My body is just way too old for that anymore.

To all those out there beginning their DCI summer experiences, all of you amazing performers, volunteers, and staff members, from all of us at Paradigm, have a great summer full of memories and incredible experiences, good luck on the buses, and we can’t wait to see your performances


Friday, June 21, 2013

I Wish You Were Standing Here With Me...A Post For Tony Jenners

When I was 12 years old, I was walking past a park with my mom when I saw a colorguard warming up. It was a spring day and although I knew what guard was because my brother was in marching band, I didn't have a true understanding of what I was looking at. It was Nashville and it was April. It was WGI. I was looking at a guard warm up for nationals and had no clue. I had no idea what WGI was and I wouldn't have an idea until five years later when it was my turn to warm up for WGI. In 1982, I had never touched a flag pole. I wasn't aware of WGI and I certainly had never heard of the Cavaliers, Grenadiers, or Skylarks. It would take me until 1987 before I would grasp the insanity, the absurdity, and the passion that is called WGI. It would take me even longer before I would grasp the friendship that flows throughout the entire compass of the pageantry activity.

The following year in 1988, I would understand the heart of the activity in ways I hope no one ever again has to understand it. I have written about this before, but it's worth a mention here, because to understand the activity the way I understand the activity, you have to know that you can't truly understand the gifts of life until you understand the pain of loss. At 18, I learned. I learned it through winter guard and I learned it while coming home from a regional as a freak accident took the lives of members of my high school guard. 

In a very fast and painful way, I learned what the activity meant as the outpouring of support came from all over the country. In the band room we had a bulletin board of cards and letters of guards and guard instructors from every aspect of the activity. As this was a time without Facebook and cellphones, the support came through personal letters from guard members we competed against and guard instructors we had never met. At circuit championships not a dry eye was to be found as we received a standing ovation for just entering the gym. It would become one of the most treasured nights of my life as I clung to my teammates and my staff ,while they played our music in front of the crowd. 

Over time the memory faded and the wounds would heal. The friendships though, would never go away. I learned quickly what the gift of pageantry really was. I learned about friendship and trust. I learned what the concept of "team" really meant. I learned about passion and that feeding that passion for me was as important to sustaining life as eating and sleeping is for others. I learned about community and more than anything, I learned about love. I explored all of this and over time would grow to see that the activity is certainly NOT just flags in a gym, but a living, breathing microcosm of the life we should all strive to live. 

I, along with all of my friends are well into double digits of time in the activity. We have taught so many teams that it's all just an amalgam of gyms, football fields, warm-ups, and scores. These people are no longer "colorguard friends," they are simply just, FRIENDS. As with all aspects of life, people come and go. There are bad times to be had, but it makes us appreciate the good. I've been around long enough, that I have reached a time where death is an inevitable part of my amalgam of the activity. We are losing icons, but mostly we are losing our friends. I remember when we lost Ernie Zimny in 2004. The voice of WGI was gone. I remember losing Patty Stetson, one of the best techs to ever grace a flag block. She was the first person that I remember whose death was reported through Facebook. I knew then what an impact social media could have on our activity as I read memories and prayers beings sent over the internet on a national scale. Facebook changed how we interacted with each other as an activity. When many say social media removes the human element, I believe the complete opposite. It has brought our activity together. We are able to offer condolences in real time and share memories with people we knew 20 years ago. We are able to offer a closure of the loss through those connections.

I remember when the FFCC lost Sue Taylor and Jon Kersten; both leaving a mark on the activity in their own way and leaving an irreplaceable hole in our hearts. There have been so many. Some I knew and some I didn't, but I valued all of them and loved reading the memories that are shared. Everyone who ever taught a count, sewed a flag, balanced a budget, sold a candy bar, placed a number on a tote sheet, or volunteered in a souvenir booth left a mark and left a legacy. We have lost members of our activity to AIDS, accidents, cancer, aging, and even suicide. I remember losing Donnie from Alliance to suicide and I remember wondering how he slipped through our fingers and out of our lives when so many people loved him.

The one person that brought all of this home to me however, was Tony Jenners. Tony and I literally knew each other for less than 2 years before he passed. Our bond however, was undeniable. From rehearsals to cocktails, Tony and I shared our dreams and disappointments of the activity. He even babysat my 2 year old, while I went to judge one Saturday. (Now THAT is a friend for you!!) He was a true friend and I will never forget the day when he called me to tell me he didn't have much time left. I actually didn't believe him. I didn't want to believe him. I should have gone to Houston to say goodbye, but Tony was a beautiful light and lights like his just don't burn out, or at least that's what I wanted to believe. I didn't go to Houston and he died a week later. I was devastated, but that devastation didn't last long, because the support and memories shared of Tony were amazing. He was one of the biggest pageantry fans to ever grace our activity. He loved everybody. He loved the struggling guards and struggling corps the most. He always wanted to help them and support them. He had such adoration for the people of this activity that he helped start the Colorguard Historical Society. He wanted to keep our history for future generations. His legacy still graces Facebook today.

I write this post for Tony and for Patty. I write for Ernie, Sue, Jon, and the amazing people I never knew, but who left their mark on an activity that reaches thousands. I write this for Rob Strain who we lost just a couple of weeks ago. I write this for Orlando Suttles who we lost today. We can't stop the hands of time, but the outpouring of love expressed across the miles has certainly made those moments of time precious and more bearable. Pageantry is not about drum corps, marching band, or winter guard. Pageantry is about friends and the memories we share with each other as we welcome in a new generation at the start of each season.

The past two weeks have been a hard one for the WGI community, but the love and friendship expressed in those hard times has only made us closer and we are all better people for it. I have grown to realize something very important to me.  Pageantry people are beautiful lights that can never burn out and that is the true beauty of our activity. We are all lights that brighten each other's lives and because of the pageantry arts our lights will never dim.

This used to be my playground (used to be)
This used to be my childhood dream
This used to be the place I ran to
Whenever I was in need of a friend
Whenever I was in need
Of a friend
Why did it have to end
And why do they always say

Don't look back
Keep your head held high
Don't ask them why
Because life is short

And before you know
You're feeling old
And your heart is breaking
Don't hold on to the past
Well that's too much to ask

Live and learn
Well the years they flew
And we never knew
We were foolish then
We would never tire
And that little fire
Is still alive in me
It will never go away
Can't say goodbye to yesterday (can't say goodbye)

No regrets
But I wish that you
Were here with me
Well then there's hope yet
I can see your face
In our secret place
You're not just a memory
Say goodbye to yesterday (the dream)
Those are words I'll never say (I'll never say)

This used to be our playground (used to be)
This used to be our childhood dream
This used to be the place we ran to
I wish you were standing here with me

Don't hold on to the past.


Monday, June 10, 2013

A Guide To Understanding Young Women in a Rehearsal Setting...Practical Considerations

A couple of months ago I published an article on this site about the women in the pageantry arts. That post garnered the second most hits and comments than any other post I've written. The article spoke in depth of observations that I have noticed in my 25 plus years in the activity. In the article, I noted that the leadership roles in the winterguard and drum corps arenas are filled primarily by men. Most designers are men. Designers are paid more. Most judging panels are made up of men. Most members on circuit boards and national boards are men. WGI for example, is made up of 16 board members. Three are listed as women. In a brief look around drum corps websites and without doing a full analysis of all of the drum corps listed by DCI, most of the directors, boards, and caption heads are men. The last blog post addressed the possibilities of this and I don’t profess to want to go to extremes and say that misogyny is at play or that women are being left out at will, what is interesting however, is that pageantry has always been a microcosm of society and the trends that are found in pageantry are also found throughout legitimate research that looks at corporate America.

Why does this matter? It matters because in the world of pageantry and specifically winterguard, young women are the primary recipient of our performance art, yet it seems that less than 30% make up leadership positions. It matters, because while it is young girls who are on the floor bringing our art to life, especially at the scholastic level, it tends to be men directing them. It matters, because girls are raised in our culture by our media to be pretty, ridiculously thin, and to take a subservient role in many aspects of life. This is true. Data shows over and over that women make less than men for the same days work. Data shows us that there are less women CEO’s, stockholders, and executives. It matters, because in any culture, it is important for a child to see themselves through the eyes of their leaders and role models. A black male needs to see that black men can rise to great achievements. A Hispanic child needs to know that there are Hispanic leaders who came from where they are and that they too, can rise to great levels. This is also true for young girls, yet misogyny is alive and well in our culture. The Geena Davis Institute specifically exists to bring to light the lack of female representation in Hollywood and Broadway, specifically behind the scenes at the decision making level.

It matters mostly, because if men are going to direct our young girls they need to know a few things about them. They need to have an awareness into the female psyche and female body when interacting with them. When researching this post, I spoke to a number of women who have been in the activity for a long time. They spoke of things they have heard men say to the girls, that a woman would never say. They also drew on their own experiences as performers, as did I. These women were honest and very appreciative of the opportunities pageantry has afforded them. They spoke highly of their male counterparts. They also admitted their own failings over the years, when they got caught up in the pressure of the season and made comments to the girls that they later regretted. They also voiced concern. 

  • For example, I spoke to a woman this year in Dayton who tech'd for a very prominent designer. The designer told a 19 year old who needed to go to the restroom in the middle of a rehearsal to take care of menstruation issues, that at the age of 19 she should have figured out her cycle by now and that leaving for that reason was unacceptable. Seriously?  Did he know that it can take a woman years to get a consistent cycle and that a change in stress and health can change the cycle? Was he aware at the embarrassment young girls go through as their body adapts to menstruation? While we are at it, as an audience member and judge, I cringe when I see high school girls wearing white uniforms, especially the young ones. I wore a white uniform in high school colorguard and hated it. On top of trying to do the best show possible, I had to worry about issues the boys in the guard didn't have to and so did my teammates. The last thing you want as a designer or tech are issues unrelated to the show, during the show. 
  • What about body image? Open up any magazine or watch any tv show and you will see anorexia glaring at you. Girls grow up looking at their bodies as something to hate. There are entire industries set up to make a woman hate her body. So, how do we address this in colorguard? First, create buy-in on the uniforms. Think first about the girls you are about to costume and bring them 3 or 4 acceptable versions and ask them what they would like to wear the most. The uniforms I've seen some girls in over the years is not just a blatant act of not considering body image, but disregard for the girls themselves. At age 14 and 15 you are dealing with developing breasts and hips. Consider that during the costuming phase. Anorexia and obesity are huge problems for young girls. Consider those issues as well.  I have taught two guards that the designers costumed the girls in corsets. The shows didn't even dictate them. They weren't shows staged for an 18th century period piece. They were just shows. I watched as girls taped down their breasts and worried about lifting their arms to throw a toss, with fear their breasts would pop out during a show. I watched as the pulled at their uniforms in warm up and I watched as they experienced pain from the prolonged pressing down of their breasts. How does this help their self-image in any way? How does this make them look forward to the hours of being in uniform? Engage a female staff member when designing uniforms and ask for their opinion and then listen to them.  
  • Don’t refer to a girl’s weight at all unless a woman is present, especially at the high school level. I once heard a band director use the phrase "beached whale," in referring to the guard and how they moved across the field. Was that the best way to show respect towards the girls paying dues to participate in his program? Pageantry isn't the modeling industry or professional dance. Many of the girls we get are in the activity, because they found a home with it. Many of them already feel bad as they weren't included in the more female based activities like cheerleading or dance team. Let’s not destroy their fragile self-esteems by our insensitivity to body image. 

Oh by the way…stop costuming high school girls in white!

  • Then there is design in and of itself. Whether we like it or not, many girls are not raised to be competitive. They aren't raised to be powerful. Even in this day and age, really competitive girls aren't easy to find. When Disney released the movie, “Brave,” it was hailed as a triumph for women. Merida was the first princess in Disney history to want to be competitive and want to break away from female tradition. Girls could find themselves in her. I have noticed that most girls come into rehearsals rather timid. They aren't overly competitive, especially if there are boys in the ensemble. It’s easy to design for the really outgoing performers, especially if those performers are boys. Boys get more crowd response…it seems. When I teach, I tell the girls that I expect a rise in the female power and that they can achieve great things. I tell them that they can throw a high toss and that if they want to be a rifle, then they can…they just have to know they can and they have to do the work. I also make sure they know that I know when they are selling themselves short. It’s important that we do this. The skill to know they can command an audience can carry into their careers and relationships. If they can command an audience, then why in the hell would they ever let someone in a relationship call them a bitch or a whore. If they can command an audience of thousands, then they can take on that date a rapist if the day, Heaven forbid ever comes. I heard a designer once ask the entire guard if there were any boys who could perform a certain trick. He didn't ask if “anyone” could perform a certain trick. He asked if “any boys.” Let me tell you, this was not a design decision. That statement was one of misogyny. Girls in this activity have the potential to take on any design moment that a male can. They just have to know they can do it.  They have to be given the chance. Feel free to design to their natural sensuality, but use the female staff to help them understand it.

We can use the female sensuality as a wonderful aspect to the design of the show, without exploiting their sexuality. It's been done, but not enough. 
  • Strength. If I see one more phrase written with the strength of a grown man, for the strength of a 14 year old girl, then I swear I’m going to throw something at the choreographer. End of the pole work is an example of this. Wrist strength is different for females then it is for males. We can train and train and train, and some choreography will always be a struggle for some women. They aren't lazy. They physically can’t do it. Tricep based work is also difficult for some women, especially the young ones. Most girls in their teen years are not at a physical point to have the muscular strength to manage some of the work that is tricep and even bicep based. There are cheats. There are ways to manipulate the phrase to make it accessible to all performers, which will not change the structure of the phrase. Did you know that teen girls are more susceptible to ACL injuries? Teach landing skills properly.

·         Bitch, whore, ho, and pussy. Just don’t! Not in any way or any context! While we are at it, could we put a moratorium on the phrase, "fish?" 

  • Avoiding embarrassment is a priority for girls. Girls are raised to care about how they look and act. Not wanting to be embarrassed is a huge issue for many females. This will keep them from excelling and cause them to panic when they feel pressured. Work with that trait and not against it. 
  • Girls also want to look "pretty." Don't forget to costume the hair and make up and then give them the tools such as technique and time to do it correctly. 

S   The issues with women in our society is one that stirs some very passionate responses and I realized that as I wrote every word of this post. The dynamics of women in society are studied and researched internationally and the body of research is growing. Even women are split on misogyny and how it impacts our world. This discussion however, remains an important one and one that every organization should have.

Pageantry has done some wonderful things for young women all over the nation. We can do more. It’s important that our young girls who have chosen the path of pageantry can see themselves in any way the want to. They need to know that their self-image and self-esteem are safe while in rehearsal. They need to know that the misogynistic images they were raised with through the media, aren't going to follow them on the field or in the gym. In a world where women are 10 times more likely to be raped than a man…where females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline…or female characters in feature films populate less than 30% of all speaking roles, then we have to take a stronger role. WE HAVE TO! 

Those of us in leadership roles, need to look at the makeup of our organizations and honestly assess if women are being asked to adjust to a male dominated environment or the environment is equal to both sexes. We have to harness that female power. We have to understand it and include them as stakeholders in the design of the shows and in the running of the organizations. Here is how you start…It’s pretty easy. Just ask the women of your organization. Just ask them. Ask the performer and ask the staff. Just ask. It’s that simple.