Unfortunately, when Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School senior Aspen Burgess graduates in May, she will take the LFO tradition of the majorette with her. No one waits in the wings to take her place as “feature twirler” on the Lakeview Warrior field. No other high schools in Walker and Catoosa counties even have majorettes.
Michelle Allen, a former LFO majorette and Burgess' instructor, said interest in the baton has seemed to wane in recent years, with much attention going toward dance teams or other activities. Allen said she's worked with several pairs of girls for many years, but after Burgess, she'll have no one to train.
“Dance studio instructors used to come into the schools and offer jazz, tap and baton,” Allen said, “which made it more affordable and easier for kids, but they stopped doing that. At this point, there's just not a lot of knowledge or support or interest.”
Allen said weapons (rifles and swords) seem to be a more favored choice in band shows and Burgess suggested directors might be leaning toward more flags for the color nowadays, which detracts from the need for a majorette.
Regardless of the reasons, Burgess still described her career as a majorette as the key to her self-confidence. She said all the hard work and performances “drew her out of her shell” and taught her to persevere.
“Performing is my favorite part,” Burgess said. “I love when I have a perfect show. It's such a great feeling.”
Allen agreed, reflecting on her own days of performing at LFO and in college at Middle State Tennessee University (MTSU.) She defined a perfect show as “no drops.”
“You're throwing the baton in the air most of the show,” Allen said, “so there's a lot of pressure. If there's mist or rain, it can get really difficult. Having a 'no drop' show is a big deal to everyone, even the band director. It's a great feeling.”
Burgess, who has a hearty collection of awards and trophies from her four years of twirling at LFO, said she is looking at University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Valdosta as college choices and hopes to keep twirling for a little while longer.
“I'm going to try to continue,” Burgess said. “There are a lot of competition twirlers in college. You have to be good and it's a lot of hard work, but I'm excited about it.”
Edith Duff, from Fort Oglethorpe, was LFO majorette from 1953-55. In high school, she was Edith Guess. Like Allen and Burgess, she has wonderful memories of those years.
“It was a special time,” Duff said. “I always tried so hard to do my very best and get everything perfect. I was head majorette my last year there, but we all got along very well.”
Asked how she felt majorettes had changed over the years, Duff said the routines looked more difficult and were probably more demanding, but she thought the older uniforms were a little sharper.
“I think we had the best uniform,” Duff said, laughing. “We wore the boots with the tassels. I just think they were the best.”
Burgess said newer trends on the field are batons with streamers attached, batons on fire and “hoop batons,” but band shows require they use other props as well.
“We've used wooden guitars,” she said, “and we used glitter hats one time. It's a lot more 'showy' now, I think, more of a production.”
Another difference marked by Duff was the contrast in styles of parades. She enjoys televised parades and loves to watch the majorettes.
“We marched in a lot of parades,” Duff said. “Back then we had a lot more local parades and they were much longer. I really loved the parades.”
Duff also said there was a group of majorettes, not just one or two, which is more typical today, and “back then” they had no instructors.
“ We had a head majorette,” Duff explained. “All of us just worked together and made up our routines and then we'd run it by the band director. We were in formation on the field, but we just sort of did our own thing.”
Like Allen and Burgess, Duff is also very dismayed to see the decline of the profession.
“I think it's very sad,” she said. “I think it's wrong. If I could go back right now, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I've often wondered where we all ended up. I'd love to see everyone again. It was such a wonderful time in my life.”