Winter Guard? What is that?
Colorguard? Winter Guard? You mean those people who twirl flags and rifles at half-time? The ones who hang out with the band? well...sorta... Winter Guard is a sport - a relatively new, hybrid, performance art form that combines elements of music, dance, and military precision-marching in a competitive arena into a total entertainment package. Born out of the Drum Corps/Marching Band world, color guard came into existence about 25 years ago. It involves the manipulation (spins, tosses, flips, etc) of equipment (rifles, flags, sabres, and anything else we can think of) while moving the body around the performance area. Members use every available resource, from their bodies to the smiles on their faces, to create an atmosphere of excellence and inspiration. This is a spectator sport! The competitive part of it is judged similar to Olympic figure skating.
Rifles?!? Sabres?!? Are they real?
No - no matter what the Chicago Airport people say! Rifles are usually made of wood in the general shape of a rifle with all of the usual projections removed to prevent injury. Sabres are made much closer to real ones, but many are padded and/or reinforced; not only to prevent injury, but to keep them from breaking and marring gym floors. There are three main pieces of equipment utilized in Winter Guard. The first piece and the most widely used in the group is the flag or silk. Flags come in all sizes from swing flags no longer than 3 feet to giant field flags. Flags are used to create motion, an overall color, and a general tone for the show. It is customary that all members in a group be proficient with this piece due to it's importance as a base piece of equipment. The second piece and the first of the weapons is the Rifle. Rifles are abstracted pieces of wood usually painted white that come in strap and strapless varieties. Rifle lines are symbols of strength and power on the floor. STOP They bring an element of force to a show that is related to their difficulty and weight. Rifles are highly respected members of the guard and it is understood that they have to build up a great deal of strength to handle their chosen piece. The final weapon is the sabre, sometimes spelled saber. Sabres are sword shaped weapons which usually have hardened plastic hilts/handles and a steal blade which is covered by a thin white sheath. Sabres, like rifles, are difficult to handle and demand respect on the floor. They bring an air of grace and coordination due to their sleek appearance and quick movement. Being in guard is about being apart of a team where no one person is more important than the next, the flags are no less important than the sabres. While sometimes egos may rise up, it is vital to remember that different pieces of equipment serve different purposes in the show and it isn't fair to compare them. It's apples and oranges! Judge a silk by silk standards and a rifle by rifle standards! Now and then it happens ...injuries. Actually when you figure in what the activity actually is, throwing heavy metal or solid wooden objects into the air along with swinging them violently and contorting the body in unnatural ways..yeah it makes sense that there would be a few bumps and bruises. Avoiding physical pain is very possible, all it takes is consistent stretching and warming up before doing anything dance related. Avoiding air born projectiles is another story. Everyone will get hit by a piece of equipment at some point in their guard career. You aren't a real guardo until you've had a decent lump from trying to catch something with your head. The only thing you can do is get up and try again. Avoid becoming timid about tossing, get right back in there and try again as soon as possible. A piece of equipment is after all just a piece of wood or metal, you control it, not the other way around.
Can anybody do this?
Yes. It involves rigorous activity, long hours of dedicated practice, a definite level of skill and of course an organized form of competition. Guards come in all forms and compete according to their skill as well as their size. Membership is usually limited to 30 performers per guard; both male and female. As in Drum Corps, it is generally regarded as a youth activity (up to age 23) with background support from parents, educators, and alumni. Some guards are school-based, some are drum corps off-shoots, and some are independent. There are also several senior guards around Winter Guard is one activity where everyone is welcome. No matter how thin or big, no matter what race, sex, height, shape or size, anyone who has the determination to be in guard has the opportunity to try-out. While it can be said that many guards have a certain uniform look about their performers, this is usually achieved through costume and balance so that no one person is singled out of the group. In recent years issues about discrimination over appearance have arisen which challenges the core idea that guard is for everyone. Most of these claims are unfounded but it sNOhould be remembered that groups that do engage in such screening are not in the majority. When you join guard you join a family. Being apart of a Winter Guard unit means making a commitment to a group of people, saying that you will work just as hard as they will to make the team as good as it can be. It would be nice to say that problems never arise but just like in families there are always disputes. Because of that members also learn how to work alongside people they might not love to death and learn how to compromise. They learn the importance of being responsible and working for a larger goal by taking small steps. They learn to be leaders as well as to be respectful and obedient. They gain confidence in themselves and lose arrogance in exchange for pride. Above all they learn that whatever you put forward is what you will get back, hard work pays off eventually and every person has it in them to achieve their goals.
Where do they do this?
It takes place in the gym rather than on the field and instead of being a half time diversion, guards are the main event. The performance/competition area is 50'x70' (the size of a basketball court) and is usually a gymnasium or arena that can accommodate spectators. Shows have also been done in many places where the floor area is roughly court size. The airspace must be relatively high to accommodate tossed equipment. Competitions are usually held on the weekend by a major circuit such as SFWGA (South Florida Winter Guard Association). Teams are grouped according to their status as independent or scholastic, the number of participants, and the general skill level of the group. The system varies depending on the circuit. Lower classes start first and the classes progress so that the top groups perform last. Groups are judged by several different judges at a time. In most cases the judges watch for the dance work, the overall show effect, the unity and cleanliness of the equipment and the design of the show in general. This is the time to shine for performers. They put on their biggest, loudest expressions and attack the audience with visuals. A group should always practice the way they perform but usually things go a little higher energy at a show. Competition is what Winter Guard is all about, but at the same time winning shouldn't be the goal. Every good guard knows that competition is for improving your own show, not outdoing another.
Does everybody do the same thing?
No. Each guard's show usually has a theme or underlying concept. Music can be and has been everything and anything. Aretha to Aerosmith. Liszt to LaBelle. Stones to Schubert. There's something for everybody. If you see something you don't like, just wait 10 minutes; it'll change. Groups utilize their unique mixture of Bodywork, Theatrics, and Equipment work to illustrate a chosen piece of music. Music can range anywhere from Nine Inch Nails to Janis Joplin, to a symphony piece by Bach, there really are no limits. The music may tell a story, set a mood, or express an idea. Either way the senses are bombarded by the final product and spectators find it hard not to get involved in some shows.
Do you get paid to do this?
No. The performers don't. Some instructors are paid for their creativity and teaching time, but the vast majority of participants in this activity are volunteers. Moms, dads, sisters, brothers, boyfriends, girlfriends, alumni and some who just think guard is a good thing and want to see it continue. Most importantly, Winter Guard is a place where performers can come together to form a team and learn from one another as they build self-confidence and improve themselves as people.
What most people see of Winter Guard is 5 or 6 minutes of show and that's the end of it. Few realize that it takes hours, weeks, literally months of practicing to achieve a show worthy of competition. High school groups put in endless hours of after-school practice, usually 3 or so hours a night then some extra time on the weekend to polish up their work for a competition. Independent groups basically live at their practice sites all weekend long. Groups have been known to start warming up around 8 in the morning and going in to bed before 1 or 2 in the morning the next day with a few hours set aside for eating lunch and dinner. Guard members realize that practice makes perfect and the more time and effort put into practicing, the better chance the show will go smoothly when the time finally comes to perform. Oh...and if a guardo ever tells you "in a minute" or "just once more" get out while you still can!