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Off Beat Empire: Dance Squads

To complete previous articles around various auxiliary band sections, I figured that I would briefly touch on dance squads this week. Most of us are familiar with dance squads as a sort-of cheerleader wearing slightly different clothes and a bit less active in trying to get people to actually shout. If you don't see them on the football field, you'll usually see them on the basketball court performing at halftime. I'm pretty sure everybody in the Big Ten has such a squad, and just about all of them interact in some form or another with the Band at different points of time, be it dancing to the fight song on the sideline or participating in pregame festivities. However, most of these squads are sponsored by the Athletic Department and are formally considered part of their school's spirit squad. They very rarely practice with the band, and only on a few occasions will they actually take the field as part of the pregame or halftime performance.

At a few select schools in the conference, this isn't the case... the dance squad is an integral part of the Marching Band and is expected to join practice and perform drill during both pregame and halftime. Specifically, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, and Maryland (kind of) all field squads that are formally considered part of the Marching Band. In addition, Iowa has a squad that is separate from the band, yet often plays a role in their halftime shows.

Before we delve into the the first group, the Redsteppers of Indiana, it's interesting to give a little bit of background on the environment in which they came about. Believe it or not, despite the fact that most high school marching bands across the country were co-ed (my own mother marched in the 1960's), almost all college bands in the conference were still 100% men. Needless to say, some people had some strange ideas around how much strength and athleticism it took to participate in band, and there were (in retrospect) comical objections to women. For example, Michigan's newly appointed Director, George Cavendar is quoted by the Michigan Daily as stating the following (via https://michigantoday.umich.edu/2015/01/21/women-take-the-field/ by James Tobin):

When The Daily pressed Cavender about it, he said: "It's more violent physical activity than would be proper for a lady. It would be too hard - we couldn't excuse a woman from rehearsals if she had 'female problems.' I certainly don't excuse any of my boys from practice."

A girl may have enjoyed marching with her high school band, he conceded, but "now there are other activities which should be her main interest. After all, most girls play with dolls when they're young and nobody makes them stop doing it. They join Girl Scouts and nobody makes them quit. Why should they stay with a marching band?"

With growing women's rights pressure and the passage of Title IX legislation in 1972, it became clear that Marching Bands were going to have to undergo a number of changes if they were going to meet the spirit of the times. I don't know if this pressure directly led to the founding of the Redsteppers by Karen Bailey in 1971 / 1972 or not, but at a minimum, the changing environment probably helped her efforts at establishing an all-female dance group within the Indiana Marching Band. By 1973, all positions in the Marching Hundred were open to women (as was the case for the vast majority of bands in the Big Ten conference).

Today, the Redsteppers are probably one of the most visible and purest examples a true dance squad to perform with the Marching Band. In addition to being sponsored by the Band, they attend all practices, receive credit for their involvement, perform in all pregame and halftime shows, and are exclusively dedicated to the football season (a separate Hoosier dance team tied to the spirit squad fulfills more traditional dance squad responsibilities for both football and basketball). Performances typically include slightly different costumes for each halftime performance, although the red boots or cowboy hats are a common staple. In almost all shows, at least one piece during halftime is dedicated toward featuring the Redsteppers. Aside from that performance, they usually just sit on the sidelines waiting for their turn or for the show to end. Of course, the squad is also quite talented, usually featuring at least one kick line performance per halftime show that would make the Rockettes proud.

In the case of Illinois, there was a point in time (not sure entirely when) where it was decided to combine pom and dance squads under the leadership of the Marching Band in order to form the Illinettes. Just like the Redsteppers, the Illinettes join the Marching Band for all practices and receive credit during the Fall football season. Unlike the Redsteppers, Illinettes are given the opportunity to voluntarily continue in a cheerleading / dance capacity during basketball season and apparently compete in various spirit / dance squad competitions in the spring. Although the Illinettes are featured from time-to-time as part of a halftime performance, most of what they do actually takes place in front of, or to the side of the band along a sideline. Unlike the Redsteppers, they usually perform some version of a routine for the entire show, even if they aren't part of moving drill.

Purdue's Goldusters joined the AAMB in the early 1980's. As far as I can tell (and I hope our Purdue contingent can fill in the details in the comments), they are exclusively dedicated to Marching Band during football season as opposed to a cheerleading function. As is the case for Indiana, it seems like most of their involvement in halftime shows is part of a "feature piece" where the band is in some sort of variation on park n' bark while they perform, and they are otherwise inactive on the sidelines for the remainder of the show.

Maryland's dance squad is co-sponsored by both the Marching Band and the Athletic Department. It's tough for me to confirm, but it seems like their direct ties to the Mighty Sound of Maryland are a bit more sporadic than necessarily every practice (I could be wrong). Several of Maryland's halftime shows do include dance squad features, but not all of them do. It looks like they perform a more traditional spirit squad role in the stadium and during basketball season.

Iowa's dance squad is completely separate from the Marching Band, but from what I have seen, they feature pretty commonly in Hawkeye halftime shows, usually performing at least one park n' bark feature with the band. I assume that the dance squad for football forms the nucleus of what continues into basketball season and beyond.

To the extent that other squads join other bands, it is usually just a one-off cooperation between the spirit squad and Marching Band. For example, Ohio State honored their award-winning dance team earlier this year with one feature piece, but that was the only time that the dance squad joined the band for halftime all year.

What do I think about dance squads? Pretty much the same that I feel about everything visual for the Marching Bands, which is that the ladies are very talented and bring some nice color and pizzazz to the halftime performances, but they're often misused. The features are very nice, but I don't see why the band has to stop their drill just to feature the dancers. Just last week, there was some nice video on Maryland's band where they were able to put the dance squad center stage, but didn't really make any compromises on drill. It looked great... it looked like the squad adding to the overall performance instead of bringing it to a halt. Aside from that, I wish that the ladies could be used for a greater portion of the show and contribute to things like drill as opposed to disappearing and / or being shuffled to the boundaries of the field. There are a lot of little unique things that a dance squad could do throughout a show (add a touch of color to animation drill, for example) that could be fun if somebody actually created a role for them, but nobody seems to bother thinking through anything other than the feature piece, which is a shame.

This week we have new video from Maryland, Minnesota, MSU, OSU, Rutgers, and Wisconsin.

For their Nov. 3rd performance, the Mighty Sound of Maryland featured a show principally focused on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice Day with a variety of Great War patriotic tunes. Songs performed include George M. Cohen's "Over There", "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" by Jack Judge and Harry Williams, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "God Bless America" by Irving Berlin, and my all-time favorite (yippee...) "Salute to the Services". At this point, I haven't gone through all of the performances, yet, but I'll put the over / under for Salute at 3.0 out of six bands. A couple of things about the performance... first, I don't think the microphone placement was good and it was clearly a windy day, so I don't think we're getting the full might of Maryland's sound. From what I can hear, it sounded like things perhaps got a bit sloppy at times with some phasing issues, but it also sounded like there was some good play back-and-forth between different instrument groups and I liked some of the contrast between soft sections and the bigger hits. The drill was exceptionally simple and featured a lot of park n' bark. I am going to give the band a little bit of a hard time for forming a passenger jet to "Over There" when Lindbergh hadn't even yet made his cross-Atlantic trip... a boat would have been more appropriate. I also am a bit disappointed that we didn't even get shapes for the "Salute" - that is the one thing that I look forward to when bands perform the piece! Of course, now that I praised them for their drill during a previous dance piece earlier in the season, Maryland decided to go full park n' bark this time around during "Alexander's Ragtime Band". It's not easy to see at this distance, but the dance squad looked good as part of their performance. Overall, it wasn't the most difficult or best performance that we've seen from Maryland this season, but it had nice sound at points.

For those who can't see the video above, you can click here ( http://www.ummbvideo.com/newummbvideo/Videos/20181110Halftime.mp4) for a link to the show.

From the Gophers on Nov. 10th, we got... wait for it... wait for it... a patriotic show to celebrate Veteran's Day / the Great War Armistice! Pieces performed included John Williams "Summon the Heroes", Edwin Bagley's "National Emblem March", I should have taken the over "Salute to the Services" (they called it the "Armed Services Salute") and "Stars & Stripes Forever". I seemed to hear a little more contrast in volume than I normally hear from the Gophers, which was a positive development. I did like the idea of marching blocks and precision turns for "National Emblem March", but there were a few points where some of the blocks seemed like they could have used a drill sergeant to keep things in line. Apparently, Indiana got a ton of first downs during this sequence. "Salute" drill featured geometric design for the Coasties, modern angular logo for the Air Force, Anchor for the Navy, Eagle for the Marines, and Star for the Army, and I have to say that it was a nice little musical send-off to "Stars & Stripes Forever". Decent job by by the Gophers, but I liked some their shapes last year much better to "Salute" (last year, the Gophers fired the drum major out of a tank main gun).

Michigan State (and OSU)

Sigh... Veteran's Day patriotic songs. I knew this was coming... why did I review this week?

Well, at least it's MSU, who as usual sounds absolutely awesome throughout the entire show. Everything is crisp, clear, you get all of the melody and all of the counters... just absolutely beautiful sound out of the Spartans. One of these days I'm going to make a trip to East Lansing just to hear the Spartan Band live. The repertoire performed included Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man", Morton Gould's "American Salute" (a variation on "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"), and "Salute to the Services" (why did I only guess three? We're already there). There is an upbeat performance of "Fanfare for the Common Man" that I performed when I was in school and I was a bit frustrated that Michigan State started with this version, but they then seemed to have the good sense to let the piece slow down the way it was originally composed. It's just such a great, rich piece of music... I kind of hate it when people try to energize it just for a halftime performance. The drill was fairly decent throughout, and our "Salute" shapes included a nice rolling Tank, Jet complete with fire extinguisher exhaust, a submarine with a really nifty and innovative "dive" sequence, a Coast Guard ship, and an Eagle.

After the completion of MSU's show, they were joined on the field by the Buckeyes for a rendition of "America the Beautiful". This is typical of what I expect when bands work together (as opposed to Michigan and Penn State's complete combined show last week, which was very impressive)... something very simple from a shape / drill perspective that mostly features the combined music. The Spartans and Buckeyes sounded fantastic together, which really isn't a surprise given how good each group is on their own.

For their road trip to East Lansing, the Buckeyes repeated their performance of "Once Upon a Dream", featuring a variety of pieces to Disney and fairy tale stories. I'm not going to say a lot about this performance as I reviewed it last week, but I will say that I thought the microphone placement was kind of bad last week, and this pretty much confirms it. The sound here is so much better now that a single trumpet isn't blaring directly into the microphone. Of course, the video ends with the combination with MSU featured above.

We have some delayed video posted for the Rutgers Oct. 20th game versus Northwestern, which featured a variety of tunes from the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson. Specifically, we got pieces of "I Want You Back", "ABC", "Shake Your Body to the Ground", "Billy Jean", "Beat It", and "Black and White". Two things about this performance. First, I am legitimately bummed that the only recording we have of it is from the other side. There is a brief snippet out there from the side to which Rutgers is performing "Beat It" and before the cameraman decided to wander over half of the stadium, it sounded fantastic. In fact, here it is...

I would have loved to hear that full show at that quality, but alas, all we have is the muffled reverse video above. What little I can hear is very clean. As is usually the case for Rutgers, the drill is top notch as well. There are very few awkward pauses in the show, the shapes and the lines are in great definition, and the transitions between shapes are well thought out and well executed. The other key takeaway is... it's a full Michael Jackson show... AND NO THRILLER DANCE!!! I could hug you just for that, Rutgers.

And we're back to Nov. 10th, and patriotic music. "Coming to America" by Neil Diamond, "Salute to the Services", and Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA". There was some fun little drill to "Coming to America", including some good pinwheel work. However, major demerits for leaving the U.P. off of Michigan! "Salute" was a Star, Anchor, Air Force Logo, "USMC", and Shield. There was a big flag featured in "God Bless the USA". The sound throughout was solid - there was some really good contrast and balance going on and everything stayed cohesive. Overall, it was a nice little show, but thank the good Lord that I only have one more band to review and I pray there is no more "Salute to the Services".

This is the show that I saw live when the Badgers visited Ryan Field earlier this year. As I wrote about in my article last week, for the uninitiated, this was a loud, energetic performance of Bennie Goodman's version of "Swing Swing Swing" and something else that I'm not even sure what it was. For others, namely one of the writers here who shall remain unnamed, this was a murdering of Bennie Goodman. I kind of lean toward the latter, particularly given that they were trying to replicate this legendary jazz concert in 1938 that sounded WWAAAAYYYYYY more laid back than anything being replicated here. I leave it up to others to make up their own mind. Again, lots of people around me like loud and energetic things, and they liked this performance.

For their Nov. 3rd game against Rutgers, we got a performance of music by the Four Seasons (i.e. Jersey Boys). What's the old joke about Frank Valli... walk like a man, talk like a man, sing it like a woman? I'm not going to spend a ton of time trying to pick out all of the various songs played, but I will say that I actually think this was one of Wisconsin's better shows in that they actually had some nice contrast at points, the music stayed (mostly) cohesive, and they threw in some falsetto voice to add in a bit of something different. Of course, drill is variation on blocks and diamonds... with kneeling. Next year, Wisconsin... a curve... it will happen some day.

I appreciate everything that our veterans have done for us, but I can't take another "Salute to the Services"... not this year. C'mon bands... let's get some other tunes lined up for next year... you don't have to do this every Veteran's Day. I'm sure the veterans know more than one song.

Anyway, this is Bennie Goodman in his prime as part of that celebrated 1938 concert...


https://www.offtackleempire.com/2018/11/14/18093966/off-beat-empire-dance-squads