With multicolored flags painting the air and elegant movements telling the story of a flight to paradise, the Emporia State winter guard, Elegante Independent, won second place in its latest competition on March 12 at Blue Springs South. 

The team performed to “Fly to Paradise” by Eric Whitacre and, on top of placing second in the competition, received positive feedback from the audience that rivaled even the group that came out one point on top in the scoring, according to William Woodworth, director of athletic bands. 

“I don’t feel like they got the audience response that we got,” Woodworth said. “They were clean, they performed very well, but there were things that they did that the audience, you know, usually if you do something good the audience claps, there was a couple of times where they did stuff and the audience was like okay, okay, then we’d do stuff and they were clapping.” 

While color guard performs with the marching band and at football games, being in a competition atmosphere changes the way the crowd often reacts. The venues even encourage audiences to cheer when they see something cool, Woodworth said. 

“It’s a little bit different when you’re in marching band and you’re on the field,” said Abigail Brown, graduate teaching assistant for athletic bands and music education major. “The crowd doesn’t quite understand sometimes, they’re like oh yeah that’s cool, but they’re not going to be like (cheering). Here, and it’s the same with dance competitions, if they do something cool, as an audience member, you are going to clap, it’s kind of just expected. So it’s really cool that we are getting that response because they see it, ‘that’s cool, okay we’re going to clap.’” 

With so many things happening throughout the show, the performers get encouragement from the crowd when they do something particularly difficult. 

“From a performers perspective,” said Courtney Troup, junior science education major and performer. “It’s really cool to see the people that do the same thing you do, like the support with it, because like for this show I have a really high toss and I’ve caught it each time at the competition, fingers crossed for this next one, but to see right after I catch it to see, like to hear it moreso, the crowd yell and scream about it, that I caught it, is just really cool from a performance side of it and especially with the rest of the show going on and the different tosses and different things that happen, it’s so cool to hear it on the stage.”

While the actual performance consists of 10 performers with multiple tosses and flying equipment, that’s not where the challenges end. The group is like a “traveling circus,” only having seven minutes to completely set up, perform and take down their floor and backdrops, according to Jennifer Woodworth, director of the color guard and Stingers dance team.

“It’s not just one stage,” Jennifer said. “We have a floor tarp that we use and that’s our stage and we have these beautiful backdrops that they use and so it’s really neat to see the production value, really, of what it is, of what each group is doing, because it’s not just on the field going to perform spinning a flag, it’s a literal theatrical production.”

With all the set up and production, the performers still come together to tell a story for the audience. 

“The thing about winter guard that’s a little bit different from dance or even sometimes, depending on marching shows, is that it tells a story,” Brown said. “And that’s our goal, is that we have a concept and we’re telling that story on the floor.”

On top of traditional six-foot flags, the performers also use smaller, swing flags, metal sabers and wooden rifles. 

“It is a little dangerous, it really is,” William said. “And I mean the amount of skill that these performers have to do, because it’s not just spinning a flag and not just spinning a rifle, but they’re doing it while they’re dancing, while they’re moving, while they’re interacting, going through forms, having to be artistic and create beautiful expressions to the audience while doing contortion, it’s amazing to see what they do.”

With each piece of equipment comes a new weight distribution and shift in the center of gravity, making the performers adjust how they spin and throw each piece. 

“It’s interesting to change between each one,” Troup said. “Because like we normally in the fall season, we have the six foots and then we have the rifles now, everyone’s on rifle and so switching between them is kind of like a challenge at first until you get used to it, because they’re weighted differently, they just feel different, they look different, and so like for me, I’m on all four of them, on the other two sabers, and like we just jump the entire time from each thing and so it’s just really interesting going through different ones and like having the weight difference.”

Elegante Independent’s next competition is the circuit championships this Saturday in Springfield, Missouri. 

While the Woodworths believe the team sits in a good position to end in the top three out of nine, the expectation is simply for the performers to do their best, according to Jennifer. 

“It’s gonna be a challenge at championships,” William said. “I mean, really what Jen says is absolutely true, it’s just they have to do the best they can and whatever happens is going to happen, because we can’t control the judges, so we can only control what we can control, which is our performance.”

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