Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Images of Broken Arm Bands, WGI Signs, and Oranges

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"Let me photograph you in this light in case it is the last time that we might be exactly like we were before we realized. We were sad of getting old it made us restless. It was just like a movie. It was just like a song. When we were young."--Adele


Dayton 2017 was my 29th year at WGI. I guess with 29 years I've probably attended more than most, but not enough to be in that first generation of trail blazers. I found myself somewhat sad and maybe less celebratory than those around me. I tried to figure out why and it finally came to me in a late Friday night cocktail sitting in the kitchen with friends, as I snapped the arm band off my wrist preparing for the finals arm band yet to come. 

Image may contain: 1 person, table and indoorDayton can be an unforgiving mix of ill timed tosses, a misplaced tenth, and people who always seem a little bit happier and a little bit more successful than you. Usually none of that bothers me, but this year was different. As my broken arm band lay sitting on the table, I saw my life and the story it told through the tan left over pieces of another season coming to an end. As I sat and pondered my life, I realized what it was that was making me sad. WGI and the winter guard activity as a whole is moving on into the future, but through the process of change is a systemic loss to who we are at our core and I believe we are being reckless with our past. When the announcement came down that there would be no more videos even for educational purposes, I thought that once again, we've lost a piece of ourselves. This isn't about blame. It's just a simple fact and with every change, we become a little more lost to time. Earlier this season someone asked where I marched and I said what I always say. "I marched Pride the kite year." Their response? "I don't think I know that show." Think about that statement for a moment, because I did. Think about being 6th place in World Class without anyone remembering what you did. Once my generation is gone, so is my show. I guess that's life isn't it. I can't even find a video of it and for that I am heartbroken.

While standing at the top of the tunnel waiting for my guard to make the decent to the floor, it was mentioned to me that equipment warm up use to be held in the tunnel. I didn't know that. Then there was a time when warm up was held in the tent and you prayed to not hit those beams with your rifle. The tent. Remember when most of the vendors were guards selling their tee shirts and buttons? History. In our activity we use words without explanation. The tent. The tunnel. Headquarters. Butter Jesus. Depending on when you marched depends on what those words mean to you. Will a current A class performer ever use the word "tunnel" one day? I remember when the Butter Jesus burned down and we all made light of it, but the Butter Jesus was when those of us coming from the south realized that we were truly in Ohio. Headquarters has been updated and it's different. Gone are the days of sitting on those old brown bar stools waiting for some friend you haven't seen in a year. Al is still there. Al is the bartender at headquarters and every year he gives me a hug and makes me feel welcome. Jesus is still there, but he no longer looks like a strange butter statue.

Many of us fear we are losing the Dayton experience with the A Class not getting a shot at the tunnel and finals shows that go on back to back in different arenas. Shows are being missed. Dayton is an experience and the experience my friends is changing with its commercials between shows and congratulatory sponsorships. Then there are the things that have gone to the past that some day, no one will remember. Triple Finals. Sunday finals. Buffalo. Bump Score. Open Class...the old Open Class. 

There was a part of me that hoped when I got to Dayton, the arenas would be filled with large posters of performers of the past and there would be a dedicated ballroom for those of us wanting to take a trip down memory lane with old shows playing on a large screen tv, recaps spread out on tables, and uniforms of guards long gone. As I went from arena to arena, I realized that outside of the visual reminder of signs that said, "40," there really wasn't much that connected us to our history. As video's played of guards of the past in the arena during world finals, it made me think of all of the wonderful shows that weren't featured and that didn't win. It made me think of the guards that gave us a memory and live in the conscious mind of those who were in attendance on any special night in April. What I learned this weekend is that life is meant to be lived in the here and now, because there might not be a tomorrow. Some remember Pride the kite show and those are the people that I'm most connected to, because we shared a moment. Performer to judge. Audience to performer.  

We get caught in a loop in our activity with the same names and same guards recycling themselves in our discussions year after year. With those discussions, we leave out people and shows that also made an impact and also gave us memories to last a lifetime, but might not have received a winning score. I think that's what makes those of us who are old a little sad at times, because all we want is to be remembered for our time and our contribution. I guess that's what makes us human and maybe that's what keeps us coming back year after year, to hopefully see a glimpse of ourselves from a time gone by.

There are guards that live in my personal memory and I want to give them a shout out, because they are everything to me. They are of my time and they keep me warm on nights when life gets rough. 

Forte' and Odyssey. Before Onyx did Bizarre and no one knew what to do with them was Forte' 1995, and no one knowing what to do with them, and before Forte' was Odyssey 1987, and no one knowing what the hell that all meant.

Everybody. Before Northern Lights stood on top of the world with Road to Perdition, was Everybody and their off the wall costumes that took the phrase production value to a completely different level. One year they were peacocks and another year they were also taking off clothes to the song King of Pain. 

Shaktai. I taught Shaktai and for six years we graced the World Class with five times in finals and with Aquarius, we saw fifth place and an undertone of the ending of the Renaissance of the activity. 

Millers Blackhawks. Will anyone ever really grasp the impact they had on the activity? They were the guard that high school kids wanted to perform at. Well this high schooler anyway.

Royal Guardsmen. Before Aimachi brought the house down, a little rainstorm made the Dayton arena shake with a roar that is rarely even heard anymore on the night of finals. 

Northview. Dr. Seuss. That is all. 

Northmont. Somewhere. It was beautiful. 

There have been others. 

Studio One. Thunderbolts. Chesapeake Cavaliers. Anthron. St. Ann's. Chimeras. Suburbanettes. San Marino Academy. Alliance of Miami. Escapade. The Knights. Northeast Independent. The Study.

Lest we forget our wonderful high school programs.

Chaperrals. Crestwood. Northview. Choctaw. Kaleidoscope. Overton. Coast One.

Standing in the tunnel on Thursday morning I just wanted to stop for one moment and take a picture, but as I once heard in Six Feet Under, "You can't take a picture of this. It's already gone." One day, the guards of 2017 will be only a memory to be only thought of by those in attendance. One day, 2017 will be 2037 and WGI will be celebrating 60 years. Many of us will be gone and it will be up to those left behind to tell the story of Aimachi's standing ovation and Onyx's Bizarre, Bizarre. How will the story be told? Will they be lost to grainy YouTube videos without explanation or discussion? How will history capture Onyx and something so unusual that not many could wrap their heads around? Will we remember the discussion? Will we remember how the entire audience leaned forward in their seats while they tried to process what it was they were seeing? 

I've been to 29 years of WGI World Championship finals and they are all like an old movie to me that runs in silence with the click, click, click of the projector, as I sit in the dark with only the light of the movie to illuminate my memory. With WGI signs torn off the wall, props thrown in dumpsters, and broken arm bands, I realize that some things never change. Every year when I make the final drive past the arena to I-75, I want so desperately to hold on to what it is I experienced that weekend. I want to hold on to my friends and hold on to the guards. There are dear friends I spend special moments with that only I know about and that I call Same Time Next Year moments. I always morbidly wonder who won't be with us next year. I think of my moment in the Dayton arena with my dropless sabre run. Every year I make sure to eat an orange at prelims and that my performers do the same. It's the only thing that hasn't changed. It's the only constant from arena to arena. The oranges are the level playing field and one of the most important aspects of our history and yet, I don't even know why we do it. All I know is that you have to eat an orange. It's tradition. It's history. 

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5 comments:

  1. Great article Shelba. Brought back memories and thanks for the shout out!

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  2. I KNEW finals used to be on Sunday! Everyone always disagrees with me! I marched from 1982-1993. As for the history, I think, at least during World Class finals, since they already have jumbo trons around the arena they should show the highlights of the finalists from every year in between guards. It would make a wonderful distraction for the audience while the guards are exiting or setting up their floors.

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  3. Great article! It's so true that Dayton holds so many emotions for each one of us. I remember making my way back to Boston after my age out year, getting home exhausted, but mostly sad. It felt like I lost a limb. Aging ouI hit me hard (do they even say "aging out" anymore?), and I did not see the crash coming. I wondered what will I do now? Years later, 2 kids and many years being away from the activity, I still feel all those emotions when I see a distant memory of what Dayton was like for me. Even if it's coming from my phone screen because of Facebook. I want to be there again, performing and doing what I loved to do for so many years. It's something I will always connect with as long as we hold onto our history. I don't want it the activity to change so much that I don't recognize it in my old age. I'm proud to be part of the 40 year history; we all should be. I'm proud of what I accomplished during my years marching, Yep I said "marching" because that's where it started for me. A drill team practicing in an urban city parking lot.
    Thank you for sharing, it brought me the opportunity to put my own thoughts out to our world and reminisce. It allowed me to take part in the activity in some way because, after all we are all part of its history.
    Jackie Hogan
    Blessed Sacrament
    1975-1987
    Captain
    Sabre

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  4. Once again Shelba reaches into my mind and pulls most of my exact thoughts. I was trying to explain Forté's contribution in context to the times. Great article! Shelba for WGI historian!!!

    Marcus Brown-Adams

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    Replies
    1. What a great piece - a stroll down memory lane....memories my "kids" relive over and over again whenever I see them. These "kids" now have children of their own and often refer to these times gone by as the best years of our lives. We laughed, we cried, we fought hard and accepted defeat knowing we gave it all we had and always wanted to be remembered. Most of all we loved - and still love to this day - because we saw past race, religion, sexuality and connected on levels that most people never will. I often say the world would be a better place if everyone marched a year in guard or drum corps - the lessons it teaches are for life! Thanks again - from someone who is tickled you remembered.

      Brian McCormack
      NY Royal Guardsmen and Chesapeake

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