Accent on Living

A VAST leveling-off movement seems to have overtaken the drum majorettes. Formerly unique, like a queen bee, the drum majorette was usually the only one of her sex on parade, sometimes with a handmaiden or two but more often alone, strutting her stuff in the van of an all-male formation. There was a certain piquancy, no doubt, in the prancing ardors of the nymph in contrast with the paunchy gait of the fraternal or veterans’ organizations in her wake; a high school band, shambling behind, served only to set off the vitality of her capers; the longer the route, the greater her triumph over the assorted trudgery of her followers. As one thus singled out for emphasis, the early drum majorette seemed to hold, ex officio, the status of campus queen, Miss Nirvana Heights High, and the toast of the regiment. All this quite naturally caused others in the school community to take thought.

Schoolgirls in great numbers decided that they too could become drum majorettes, given no more than the uniform, a good enough bleach, and a set of dental caps for that great big curb-to-curb smile. The schools of education, never reluctant to add a low I.Q. attraction to their bargain offerings, sensed a new opportunity, and the whole system began spewing out great quantities of drum majorettes and what the sports announcers choose to call “marching bands.” A boom ensued in accessories; one finds formally catalogued today such ingredients of “band and school uniforms” as epaulettes, aiguillettes, shoulder knots, caps, shakos, braid, and, of course, the vestigial skirt. More toasts of the regiment are in production than there are regiments to toast them. Sometimes, between the halves of a football game in which hired athletes bounce one another about, it has seemed that there are more drum majorettes on the field than there are spectators in the stands.

The purpose of a high school education, one gathers, so far as these mettlesome girls are concerned, is to train them to perform during the intermissions of professional sports events and to march through the streets in department-store parades.

The activities of the drum majorette have proliferated along with her numbers. In her earlier days, high stepping in a parade seemed sufficient, but drum majorettes or their equivalent in the year just passed have appeared not only as baton twirlers but also as Scottish dancers, color guards (with muskets), hula dancers able to throw a baton high in the air and wiggle while catching it, and flag wavers in the manner of Siena’s alfieri, the standard bearers who can wave their banners in intricate patterns and turn somersaults at the same time. Turning somersaults in any of these roles is well regarded. Individual performances are few where so many take part, but one child enlivened the intermission one Sunday last fall by twirling and tossing a baton that was giving off flames at each end, bringing from the TV sports announcer the comment, “Here’s a drum majorette with flames on her baton, and that’s the first time we’ve seen that one here at Yankee Stadium this season.”

All these struttings and stampings and tossings represent a highly organized teaching effort, but the TV camera usually tries to omit any view of the coaches or parade managers or whatever they are called. It may well be that the middle-aged civilian, glimpsed briefly as he blows his whistle at the performers, is the principal of the school. (In Florida more than 60 per cent of all school principals are former athletic coaches who gained their credentials from a school of physical education.)

Just how the annual outlay for the chemistry lab stacks up with what is spent on trombones or boot tassels is probably not known by the good people of Nirvana Heights, but the school of education catalogue is beginning to include such course designations as “public performances” and “drill teams" along with wellestablished specialties like roller skating, storytelling, officiating volley ball, and bait casting.

“Public performances” by drum majorettes are still rather undeveloped in their choreography. Marching and baton work are, of course, sensational, but attempts to inspire the girls with the spirit of the dance have yet to meet the ordinary standards of an off-to-Buffalo. The most recent routines seem to consist solely of causing the girls to shift from one foot to the other and kick, negligently, while doing so.

Here is training, then, that ought to keep the high school girl active and healthy; and while it won’t qualify her as a physics major or a linguist, it might land her a job as a carhop or selling cigarettes in a night club.

From the television spectator’s point of view, one doubts that the networks are quite aware of TV’s flexibility. Those who actually attend the contest must sit there and take what comes at intermission. Why not a news show for the others?

With more and more public school time available for the drill-team way of life, drum majorettes are now popping up in a kind of junior corps in the elementary grades. At one of the big Middle Western professional games last fall, some of the uniformed tots on display didn’t look a day older than seven. Courses in how to teach the younger groups will naturally be added to the school of education catalogue, for it is well known in those circles that teaching baton twirling to a sevenor eight-year-old calls for techniques — skills, I mean quite different from what is required with older children.