Teaching the Triad

The Triad! It's the skill of doing three things at once: moving your body(dancing), manipulating equipment, and traveling through space(drill). As if dancing wasn't enough of a challenge, colorguard performers add spinning flags/rifles/sabres/etc on top of that, AND they move around in perfect formations while continuing to do the first two tasks! There is no doubt that guard is a workout for your brain as much as it is a workout for your body! It's because of this that I like to add exercises specifically designed to practice and develop triad skills into basic training.

If, during your first season of guard, you finally started to feel ok about doing drop-spins, angles, and tosses without hitting yourself or your neighbor, only to get out on the field or floor for your very first day of learning drill and realize "holy cow, I have to MOVE while I'm doing all this?!" you are not alone!  

In my own training, as is likely the case for many of you, dance, equipment, and marching/across the floors were all introduced as separate concepts.  We often seem to view the combination of the three as an advanced skill that must be reserved for those who have already mastered the individual parts.  However, at some point, we must practice dancing, spinning, and traveling through space all together. I propose that we start teaching triad skills from the very beginning. 

Of course, catering your training regiment to your specific group of performers is imperative, but there are myriad ways in which to inject a little triad into your rehearsal that will be helpful at ANY level of colorguard!

A high school marching band for which I taught some years ago, was just beginning their transition into the world of competitive marching (they had been exclusively a show band for football games and parades prior).  Their colorguard was used to a different style of choreography from my own, one that did not include dance. In an attempt to bridge the gap between their experience and mine, and to help them understand how to move in drill while spinning, I started teaching many of their flag exercises as across the floor exercises. They did a simple angle exercise with jazz walks, and chassés while keeping the pole flat and presented forward, focusing on their upper bodies.  We never once had a "dance" block during that season, but they moved well with their equipment regardless! When we got out on the field and started learning drill, they performed it beautifully with the flag choreography, and they enjoyed a successful first competitive season. 

I have used a different approach with many of my more experienced colorguards.  I like to spend time talking about alignment in dance block, making sure my performers have a good understanding of where their spines and centers are and from where they should initiate and support arm movements.  I like to remind them how this applies to any equipment that they might spin (arms initiating from spine and sternum, equipment as extension of the arm...).  I usually have at least a few dance exercises that can be paired with flag exercises so I can add that layer of training into their standard flag block (plie, tendu, rond de jambe, coupe, passe/retire, attitude...can all easily be applied to flag exercises)

There is also a box exercise that I like to use as a base for some movement training (yes, the same box that many of you probably already know), and it translates well to flag.  It moves sideways, and can be used as an across the floor exercise or done in one direction and immediately repeated to the other. I like the possibility of direction changes in this context.  I can ask the performers do a simple drop-spin exercise and add the box in variable numbers of sets to the left or right (i.e. right-handed drop-spins with 3 sets of the box to the right and 3 sets to the left), or add my own variation/flair to the movement and/or flag once the performers have mastered the basic version.  

At both the novice and advanced levels, I insist on alternating days to practice across the floors without equipment and across the floors with equipment. Adding directionality, jumps, turns, etc, can be an incredible boon in helping your students develop a more refined sense of planes, body facings, velocity changes, etc. 

By adding just a little bit or triad training each week, you'll notice a profound difference in your students' confidence and proficiency as they move and spin throughout their show!