Color Guard Using Guns as Props

Does color guard contribute to the glamorization of gun violence and school shootings?


Senior Tristan Duggan spins her flag at the homecoming pep rally. Photo by Christine Stricker

Taylor Stern, Staff Reporter

Color guard, the form of dance or interpretive moment, was once a rather stationary art. Originally, their sole purpose was to show the flags off at different angles, much like in the military. Eventually, color guard was able to branch away from their militant practices and evolve into the form of entertainment it is now. The props, however, have not followed the same evolution.
The sport first came into fruition during wars when the soldiers liked for the band to come along with them onto the battlefield. Then, the band wanted a person to hold the colors of the American flag up during the songs. Now, in high schools, the color guard is known to accompany the marching band during half-time performances at football games, assemblies, etc. But, because of its combatical origin, weapons such as guns and sabres (swords) are still utilized as props.
“Color guard originated from the military and they use actual rifles to spin. In the military, it’s more of a form of respect,” junior color guard member Tia Strege said. “Since that’s it’s origin, we don’t spin actual rifles here, but we still incorporate them.”
The evolution of color guard’s props being held up to being spun can be attributed to a woman named Peggy Twiggs, referred to in the color guard community as Peggy Spins. In 2017, Twiggs was inducted into the Winter Guard International, WGI, Hall of Fame.
Color guard uses a combination of three things to enhance their performances: flags, sabers, and rifles.
“We call it the weapon line,” Strege said. “If you only spin with flag, you would lose a lot of texture and color because we use different props to help show a story. You can do things on one prop that you can’t do on another.
Aside from the flags, the sabres and rifles can be very widely frowned upon, especially when high school kids are the ones handling them.
This sparks the question: does letting high schoolers handle assault weapons, although faux, send violent messages? Can it be credited to the surge of gun violence and shootings in school? Or is it respected as tradition of the activity?
“The use of rifles in color guard is not meant to, nor does it support the glamorization of gun violence,” color guard coach Brandon Fink said. “I instill open communication with our color guard members about how their equipment is handled to deter any connection to negativity among our community.”
The color guard members take this responsibility very seriously.
“We all know the use for them which is that they’re a prop to spin and that they’re not unsafe,” senior member of color guard Nicole Florence said.
Florence has been a member of color guard for the past five seasons. In agreement with her coach, Fink had the same opinion.“In my experience, I have not encountered hesitation with this equipment as it is not introduced or utilized with regard to violence,” Fink said. “There are also many physical aspects of the equipment that do not resemble a traditional rifle.”
Fink first learned about color guard when he was in eighth grade after receiving a visit and performance from the high school color guard. He joined the team the following year. Through the continuation of his career, he became a choreographer in the color guard community. He eventually developed color guard programs throughout the Oklahoma and Missouri areas, including here at Parkway Central. This is his 14th year as an educator in dance and color guard.
Although the performers know the rifles are safe, the audience could interpret it differently. Many people wonder how guns are even allowed to be used in school settings because of today’s climate regarding gun reform. Additionally, the majority of people not in color guard don’t know the significance of its origin.
“People in color guard know that they’re used for spinning, but outside of color guard, I can see there being different views,” Florence said. “But there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re very safe to use.”
While skill level of course is considered when determining which prop is used when, it’s ultimately the choreographer or designers decision. Flags are mostly used to provide large scale color within a production and can also be utilized to print specific images onto to further stress the concept of a production.
“Rifles are more difficult and require more skill, so we start everybody out on flags,” Strege said. “If your skills are adequate enough, you can start to use rifle because you can get more concussions, break a hand, things like that. It depends on your skill level of guard.”
Because there is such a variety of equipment, it could be hard to understand why each one is used when it is. Along those same lines, it could be hard to understand why color guard can’t remove their guns entirely and make up for it with the other two.
“I feel like some performance values may be lost,” Florence said. “We could compensate with sabres, but it would definitely take some adjusting since they’re widely used with color guards.”
It’s another thing to consider that our schools color guard cannot make that decision independently. It’s a universal right of passage for color guard to use rifles.
Also, because there is such a traditional aspect of the sport, it’s hard to justify taking them away. Although it may not seem like it to audience members, to most color guard members, very crucial parts of color guard would be lost without guns
“We would certainly lose a piece of our history,” Fink said. “We would lose decades of development in technical and performance skills related to this piece of equipment.”