Why colour guard is the unexpected sport your child should try this year

When you’re wondering what sport or activity your child should try this year, colour guard usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind – but it should be! Colour guard is what we call the group of athletes/performers/dancers that twirl flags and toss (fake) rifles in front of marching bands. They’re extremely impressive but no one really knows how to join a colour guard, how you learn those skills, or what the colour guard does when they aren’t leading a parade. To answer these questions and more, the Escalade Winter Guard Association is hosting a colour guard Youth Development Camp this month, providing beginner instruction in dance, flag, and rifle skills – perfect for youth of all ages! Plus, if your tween/teen likes it, they can sign up to join the Calgary Round Up Band or Calgary Stetson Show Band this season. Still not convinced? We’ve got 8 reasons your kid should give colour guard a try this summer:

1. They don’t call it the “sport of the arts” for nothing! Colour guard is called the “sport of the arts” because it brings music to life through performance in a competitive format. Performers demonstrate skill, agility, strength and endurance through choreographed movement, dance and use of props set to music to tell a story. Every season, colour guards rehearse several times a week to prepare for competitions. They make it look easy, but it takes a huge amount of skill to gracefully spin and toss colour guard equipment.

The Stampede Showband is an auditioned group for youth ages 16-21. Taylor Fraser, pictured here, is preparing to toss her "rifle" into the air, so it'll spin six times, and then catch it. Photo: End Credits

The Stampede Showband is an auditioned group for youth ages 16-21. Taylor Fraser, pictured here, is preparing to toss her “rifle”. It’ll spin in the air, and she’ll catch it without missing a beat. Photo: End Credits.

The coaches and instructors are seasoned veterans who have performed and competed at the highest levels. Many of the instructors with Calgary’s colour guard ensembles performed with the Calgary Stampede Showband and Drum Corps International (DCI) ensembles, and continue to compete in local elite ensembles like Escalade.

2. It’s a myth that colour guard is only for girls. In fact, in there are actually all-male colour guards in the United States! Any child who is interested in theatre, dance or sports might really enjoy this unique activity! Tim Yu, a Calgary Stampede Showband alum, told us that he never struggled to fit in when he was the only male in the group. Colour guard members have a shared love for performing that brings them together, no matter what. Aside from the comradarie, one of Tim’s favorite things about colour guard is the theatrical side of what they do – it’s not just about spinning equipment. “We create dramatic visual impact that gives the audience a different way to appreciate and understand the show. I know I’ve done my job as a performer when the audience feels certain emotions because they’ve watched our show. It’s a great feeling.”

The Calgary Stetson Show Band provides performance opportunities for youth in grades 10 to 12.

Their flag features will take your breath away! The Calgary Stetson Show Band, seen here in the Calgary Stampede Parade, provides performance opportunities for youth in grades 10 to 12. Photo: Pat Johnson.

3. It’s a year-round activity with a lot of variety. You will never be bored as a member of a marching band colour guard:

  • Parades from May to July. Some, like the Stampede Parade, are even televised!
  • Stand-stills, like the performances you see at the Saddledome Steps during the Calgary Stampede or the CIBC Run for the Cure, happen year-round for all kinds of audiences.
  • Winter guard in the fall and winter is indoor colour guard. Ensembles perform to recorded music and compete against other winter guards.
  • A summer production with the marching band. The colour guard performs to live music and competes as a section in the band.

4. It teaches teamwork. Dozens of performers, instructors and designers are involved in bringing every performance to life. The shows always involve spinning and tossing equipment and complex choreography so colour guard members have to work together to understand what they need to do to create an incredible experience for their audiences.

5. It’s a really neat part of our history. Marching bands and colour guards are rooted in military tradition. Colour guards started as a group of soldiers who were designated to protect the regimental flags with rifles and sabres. Although the purpose of marching band and colour guard is very different nowadays, you can easily spot hints of their military roots: marching bands still wear military inspired uniforms and the colour guard still spins and tosses colourful flags and (faux) sabres and rifles.

The Calgary Round Up Band provides performance opportunities for youth in grades 7-9. Photo: Pat Johnson.

Most youth don’t start colour guard until junior high school. The Calgary Round Up Band, shown here in a Canada Day parade, provides performance opportunities for youth in grades 7-9. Photo: Pat Johnson.

6. Colour guard is one of the fastest growing activities in the world. According to Winter Guard International (WGI), there are colour guards in the United States, Belgium, Holland, Germany, England, Ireland, Malaysia, Korea, Japan and Africa. In the United States, there are hundreds of schools and community organizations with colour guard programs. In Alberta alone, there are over a dozen colour guard organizations. Any one can do colour guard and there are groups for all ages and skill levels.

Colour guard was even in the spotlight last year when Talking Heads frontman David Byrne enlisted big-name artists including the Beastie Boys and Nelly Furtado to create music for a special colour guard performance called Contemporary Color in Toronto and New York.

7. It’s an “easy” way to see the world. Marching band and colour guard are hard work but it’s more than worth it when you have the chance to travel to incredible places. Local marching bands have traveled all over the world for competitions, including Australia, Brazil, England, Holland, Japan and Malaysia.

When a colour guard performs indoors on its own to pre-recorded music, it's called winter guard. The perfect way to spend a cold Calgary winter!

When a colour guard performs indoors on its own to pre-recorded music, it’s called winter guard. The perfect way to spend a cold Calgary winter!

8. For spectators, the performances are breathtaking to watch. You can’t help but be captivated by colourful flag features, impressive choreography and gravity defying tosses that accompany the marching band’s repertoire. Everything is timed to make your heart swell with pride and to bring a smile to your face. It’s even better when it’s your kid on the field and you know exactly how much passion and hard work go into every performance.

Escalade’s Youth Development Camp for colour guard is taking place August 27-28, 2016 at the North Glenmore Park Community Hall. To register or find out more information, call 403-261-9322 or email jointhebands@calgarystampede.com. You can also find out more about joining Calgary’s marching bands at http://stampedeshowband.com/join-the-band.html

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