By Landi Whitefield
“I used to be a twirler,” said the lady sitting beside me. She was clearly excited about the halftime show that was about to begin on Memorial Field. She clasped her hands together in anticipation and stood up ready to cheer for “The Sound and the Fury of Tarleton” to march out onto the field. The band was announced under the direction of Dr. Gary Westbrook, and then they announced the lady’s obvious favorite, Feature Twirler Margo Dausin. Margo took the field front and center, ready to twirl in her glistening costume.
The lady turned to me again and informed me that she never misses a home game, and that she is so pleased that the band has a twirler again. She stated that she hasn’t seen one on the field in about five years, and she missed it. She said she is, “always entertained by the band – one of the best around in my book, but twirlers just add so much to the show! Just look at how her twirling accentuates the music!”
I was dazzled as Margo would leap in to the air and throw one baton, then two, then three…. I wondered how she kept from giving herself a concussion! She even left the field to change costumes like she was Katy Perry at the Super Bowl. Flawless is all that I can say. Her songs were perfectly choreographed to the band’s superb halftime show. After the game I was very curious about how Margo learned such an intricate sport.
I contacted Margo to find out how she learned the sport of baton twirling. I have to admit I thought baton twirling was somewhat of a dying sport, but I was pleasantly mistaken! Margo invited me to follow her around at one of the many National Baton Twirling Association sanctioned events that she competes in every spring. It was the beginning of spring break, and instead of being on a beach in Mexico like some college kids, Margo was at a contest perfecting her craft. Margo approached me in a ball gown, looking as magical as Cinderella at eight in the morning.
Margo greeted me and walked gracefully to her lane to model in her fancy ball gown. There were about 100 girls of all ages present to show their skills. Margo gave me a brief synopsis about baton twirling and all that it entails. Margo’s day consisted of a beauty pageant with an interview much like Miss America. Then she changed into her “strut” costume where she twirled without actually throwing the baton. After lunch she had another costume change and completed her twirling routines where she twirled one, two and three batons. Margo was one of several collegiate twirlers present representing their universities.
After speaking with contest director, Vicki Ray, who is a former twirler, coach, and judge, she told me about the history of baton twirling. It began in Eastern Europe and Asia at festivals and through soldiers twirling their rifles. In the US, it began because the male drum majors began twirling their “mace” (large baton-like metal rod with a ball only on one end) to show off, but then WWII started and the men went off to war. The women were left to entertain the crowds and most bands went from all male to female during this time in history. The baton as most people know it was invented because it was easier than twirling rifles or a “mace.” The girls learned to steal the show and entertain the crowds. Twirling’s hay day was in the 1950s and 1960s and most people’s mothers tried their hand at it, including Margo’s and my own.
At the contest I asked a little girl what her favorite thing about twirling was, and she said “the costume.” All of Margo’s costumes are exquisite. I asked her if the university has them made for her. Margo chuckled at my question and said, “actually, out of all of my Tarleton costumes, only one was made especially for me; all of the others my mom made.” Margo stated that she is careful with her costumes and uses them as long as she can, because new ones cost upwards of $1000. I was thinking to myself that this girl must really love baton twirling – the costumes alone plus tuition is enough to scare any parent!
Next in my exploration of the art of twirling, I reached out to Mr. Gary Spur, Collections Archivist at TSU’s Dick Smith Library. He helped me explore the history of twirling at the university. The first twirler at the then John Tarleton State Agricultural College was in fact a man, named Marvin Zindler. Due to the limit of photography at the time, no photos exist of him twirling his baton, although there are many articles that detail what a showman he was. After the war started the first girls band was formed and the first majorette was Barbara Kinchloe, under the direction of the first female drum major at the college, Dorothy Brunson. Some of the first female baton twirlers at the college were Martha Rhew Dawkins, Doris Jean Sisson, Peggy Durham, and probably the most decorated was Betty Knudson.
I asked Margo when she began taking baton lessons, and she informed me that she started in the 4th grade. She saw a cousin twirl and begged her mother for lessons. Margo’s coach was Pat Montgomery at Alamo City Strutters in San Antonio. She took weekly lessons and practiced for 2 to 4 hours daily, which lead to her being the twirler at her high school. Her coach, Pat Montgomery, stated, “Twirlers are all unique and competitive, and Margo is no different. I have enjoyed watching Margo grow from a little girl into a graceful young lady who is fun and energetic. I consider Margo part of my family.”
Margo was accepted to five universities, but she chose Tarleton because she loved the band, the band director, and because it felt like home. She hopes to one day be in the sciences, possibly a marine biologist or even a math major. Margo continues to compete all around the state through the National Baton Twirling Association contests, most recently placing 2nd runner up in the state, an accomplishment that she is eager to bring back to TSU. Margo hopes to one day see the sport of baton twirling in the Olympics. It seems many want the same thing. Reportedly there are many twirling organizations in the US, but none have succeeded in navigating the Olympic politics enough to get the sport into the games.
Baton twirling isn’t dead – far from it, and it is truly one of those sports that isn’t done because there is a paycheck, or a gold medal; it is done for the love of the sport. Feature Twirler, Margo Dausin, is a welcomed addition to the legacy of the sport and band at TSU. Margo will accompany the award winning “Sound and the Fury of Tarleton” in November to the State UIL competition where they have been invited to participate in the college exhibition. There they will show the high school bands across the state how it is done.
Go out and support not only Texan Football, but also “The Sound and the Fury of Tarleton” along with Feature Twirler Margo Dausin. Her talent as well as her inward and outward beauty will not disappoint. Getting to know and see Margo will make you even more proud that such a wonderful university is right here in Erath County.
Photos by Landi Whitefield Photography and provided by Margo Dausin, TSU Fine Arts Department Records, Dick Smith Library, and Tarleton State University