Military precision, dance combine in color guard competition

Another finals competition is coming to Las Vegas and the Thomas & Mack Center, but this one doesn’t involve basketballs or riding angry bulls. Instead, it features military precision, firearms, swords and … dance.

The Winter Guard International is hoping to make Las Vegas the new home for its Western Championship event following a successful regular regional competition last year. Around 75 groups are set to compete in the color guard championship March 19 and 20. It combines gymnastics, dance and choreography while spinning, throwing and sweeping rifles, sabres and flags.

“You’ll see kids throwing rifles 10 to 15 feet in the air and doing acrobatic tricks right under their equipment and then catch it,” said Irving Lopez, communications manager for Winter Guard. “There’s definitely a ‘wow’ factor in these shows.”

The rifles and sabres are props these days, but the sport has its roots in ROTC training and has since branched off into its own event. It’s an artistic performance performed with military precision and an artist’s flair.

“Forty years ago, color guards were performing very military, striking movements,” Lopez said. “In color guard today, they really know how to dance, like a ballet dancer.”

There are 12 to 40 members in each group, and they perform a five- to seven-minute routine set to music. The music can be nearly anything from contemporary to modern to classical to pop. The musical choices are similar to the ones used for ice skating or gymnastic routines. The local group from Clark High School, 4291 Pennwood Ave., is using several selections from Cirque du Soleil’s “Ka.”

“I joke that in color guard, there are three styles of shows,” said Jeff Lacoff, band director for Clark High School. “One is the pretty lovey song that’s kind of weepy and emotional. One is the sort of fast and angry show, and one is the distinct storyline. We are definitely doing the fast, angry kind of show.”

The performance involves a painted tarp on the floor, several faux torches made with colored fabric, a fan and powerful hidden lights and a Foamcore backdrop, painted to look like dungeon walls. The backdrop not only provides a piece of staging to perform against, it also creates a hidden area to conceal performers and props.

“The show is titled ‘Lair,’ and it’s a take on Medusa’s beauty and rage,” said Tracy Jones, who has been coaching the group for five years. “There’s lots of tumbling and contortion. They’ve been working on the routine for three months.”

Lopez noted that the shows can be about a wide range of subjects, but they have to be about something.

“They could be about world hunger, just having fun or a broken relationship,” he said. “They’re judged on how well you can understand the show.”

Other criteria for judging include equipment technique, movement technique and if the performance flows and makes sense.

The competition is set to begin at 9 a.m March 19 and end around 8 p.m. All groups are set to perform the first day. From 9 a.m. to around 5 p.m. March 20, the best of the best from the previous day are set to perform the same routine.

Tickets are $17 for March 19, $20 for March 20, and $32 for both days.

“We tend to fill up an arena,” Lopez said. “We hope to sell out the Thomas & Mack Center.”

Visit wgi.org. To see examples of color guard groups in action, visit wgizone.com.

To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email ataylor@viewnews.com or call 702-380-4532.

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