When you meet me, one of the first things I'll tell you about myself is that I love color guard.
Most likely, you've never heard of that. If you have, you only have a vague idea of what it means. You'll usually ask me questions like, "Oh, is that like a marching band thing?" or "Oh, is that like a dance troupe?" or "You, like, spin flags right?"
You're technically correct, but color guard is so much more than that.
You know that feeling when someone tosses you something from across the room, and you catch it with one hand, or when your phone falls out of your hand and you somehow manage to catch it before it falls to certain peril? And everyone in the room stops what they're doing and is like, "Hey, nice catch!" and you feel like an epic ninja wizard?
That's what color guard is. Except instead of your phone, you've thrown a four-foot silk on a six-foot pole three times your height, it's rotated twice, and you caught it behind your back with a smile on your face. Oh — and the other 19 members of your guard also did the exact same thing at the exact same time in perfect unison.
Color guard is a unique combination of dance, theatrics, and hand-eye coordination. You're expected to have flawless dance technique, pointed toes, straight knees, and turned out feet, and also manipulate equipment — flags, rifles, and sabres — in perfect unison with your fellow performers, all while entertaining an audience, playing a character, and telling a story.
The color guard is both precise and artistic. Every count — no —every half-count has a specific place. You are aware of every angle your equipment hits throughout the show, every release, every rotation, and every catch, but you are also aware of your body. Every arm motion has sub-divided counts, every leap is precisely coordinated. Even your inhales and exhales are choreographed, written into the show to correspond with specific movements. Even with all this precision, it is still incredibly expressive, and getting to play a character and perform to an audience is one of the most rewarding, incredible feelings.
Color guard is unique in that the performers within the group form an incredible bond. We go through hell together — a hell called camp weekends, where you are exhausted and sweaty, your muscles ache every time you move, and your knees are bruised black and blue. You go through days where you just can't get it right, and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. And then you perform together. Even after years of singing and performing in theatre, there is no feeling like that of the arena going crazy because your flag feature was perfectly timed. In color guard, you don't just perform for yourself: you perform for your guard. The applause isn't just for you, it is for your unit, for the thing you all put literal blood, sweat, and tears into together.
When I tell you I love color guard, this is what I mean. I love throwing the same toss hundreds of times. I love the feeling when you finally master a trick you've been working on. I love having to hold the count "two-and" for 10 minutes. I love the knee bruises and the callused feet and the ridiculous amount of black dance clothing I own. I love performing for crowds and dramatically exhaling on count five.
I think my favorite color guard memory comes from WGI World Championships last year, 2015. My guard and I had just finished our semi-finals performance and were waiting to find out if we had made the cut, the top 15 performing units that would get to compete in finals. We were standing outside on the Dayton street outside the Convention Center arena when we got the news —we would be performing in finals in the fifth place spot. We screamed, we cried, we hugged each other. My friend Bridget hugged me, and her show makeup left a stain on the white apron of my uniform that I never washed off.
I wasn't able to perform this year, and it's been hard for me to watch my guard perform an incredibly beautiful show. But I'm so incredibly proud of them, and I can't wait for the next time I get to spin. When I tell you I love color guard, I don't just mean that I have a hobby, or that I like to "twirl flags" sometimes. It is a passion, something I can't bear to be separated from for too long, something that my life will always lead me back to.
If you want your heart to hurt in the best possible way, check out Artistry IN BLUE's 2015 Program "The Lonesome Rag Doll" which placed fifth and won the Fan Favorite award, and try not to cry too much:
Visit www.wgi.org or WGI Zone on YouTube to discover more incredible indoor performing units, or dci.org to discover the wonderful world of Drum Corps International.