Have you ever been at a basketball game and seen an interesting halftime performance that was something other than cheerleaders throwing small foam basketballs into the crowd?
Well, that’s what sparked my interest in writing this article. I’ve seen some interesting performances at halftime shows and one of the most interesting is baton twirling.
Baton twirling started in Eastern Europe and Asia, and people believe that it started at festivals where performers would throw knives, torches and other items and twirl them around. Over the years, the act of twirling went from many different items to specifically a baton that is used for competition.
If you’re at a men’s or women’s basketball game at Slippery Rock University, you’ll usually see one of those batons twirling through the air.
The twirler that you’ll see rolling, twirling and throwing a baton here at SRU is Emily Strickland.
The 21-year-old, dual major in public relations and political science, from Curwensville, Pa. started twirling batons when she was only four years old.
She started by performing in local parades and other small town events, and then at the age of 12 she went away to a baton twirling camp to learn how to become a more serious twirler.
Her coach took her to the camp and started having her compete in competitions the next year. Strickland said that while she focused on twirling as a major part of her life, she also was able to participate in other things, unlike some of the twirlers she competes against who have twirling as their life.
“Twirling has always been my sport,” Strickland said. “I was able to do other activities like dance, play piano and play trumpet in concert band for high school, though. Some of the girls that I compete against have had baton twirling as their number one priority since birth.”
Three years ago, Strickland joined the National Baton Twirling Association (NBTA). The NBTA, founded in 1945, is the premier baton twirling organization in the world and has paved the way to modern baton twirling.
She became very serious about twirling when she joined the NBTA and knew that she had to work hard to compete with the twirlers who have been serious and competitive twirlers since they were three or four years old.
After joining the NBTA she competed in the Miss Majorette of Pennsylvania competition and won the title of Senior Intermediate Pageant winner.
After winning the Miss Majorette she was able to go on and compete in the American Youth in Parade competitions against 38 other national and regional champions. She finished in eighth place out of the 38 competitors.
“It was a big accomplishment for me,” Strickland said. “The tournament isn’t just going out and twirling. There are different categories and you have to model a gown and participate in an interview session.”
During the interview with the Miss Majorette of Pennsylvania champion, I asked her to show me some of the tricks that she performs to see if I had a future in the baton twirling world…I don’t.
She started me off with some of the basic tricks that are taught to beginners and eventually become transitions in a routine to tie other tricks together.
The first trick was called a figure eight and Emily had an interesting visualization of how to do the trick.
“You start off with the baton in front of you and hold it vertically,” she said. “Then we act like our right side is chocolate ice cream and the left side is vanilla. You dip the baton into the chocolate and then rotate it over and back in front of you into the bowl. Next, you do the same thing in the vanilla side and repeat.”
I followed her steps and even though I’m sure I looked completely out of place in Morrow Field House next to her twirling a baton, I passed my first twirling test.
The next trick was called a horizontal. Once again, you start with the baton in a vertical position and then turn it horizontally and start to move your hand in a rotating motion to twirl the baton on a horizontal.
I’m pretty sure I looked ridiculous attempting this trick, but once again Emily said that I did a good job at it and showed me one final trick.
The last trick was called a roll. In this trick, you put your left arm out directly in front of you and hold the baton horizontally in your right arm under your left arm. Then you push the baton up, let it roll over your arm, and catch it back in your right hand.
Once again I completed this trick and was feeling like somewhat of a natural. After showing me this final trick, I grabbed my notebook and pencil, which feel much more comfortable in my hands, and had Emily explain a more complex trick to me.
She said that twirling is a sport where you usually take more of the basic tricks and multiply them to add difficulty.
She took the roll trick that she showed me and instead of putting her arm out, she put her elbow out. She proceeded to twist the baton over her elbow and then roll it on to her right elbow as she tucked her arm into her chest. This trick is a double elbow roll.
From there, she added more difficulty by spinning the trick into a triple elbow roll where she spun it from her right elbow, across the face of her back and onto her left elbow again. She said that you can repeat this process over and over and that continues to add difficulty to the trick. She added that the main focus in that trick is foot movement, because when your feet stop spinning you around, the baton falls.
Hopefully the next time you’re at a basketball game and see Emily perform you’ll be able to pick out some of these moves in her routine. You better get to these events quickly because Emily said she plans to retire from competitive twirling and go into coaching and judging with the NBTA after she graduates college.
Also, watch out for other events on campus because Emily has performed at Homecoming with knives and at the St. Jude’s “Up ’til 2” event with fire batons.
After my first lesson of baton twirling, I don’t think I’m ready to start twirling knives or fire yet. Maybe I have a career as Emily’s duet partner in the future, though?