By Jill Keppeler firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — During a recent Twin-Ton Twirling Corps practice at Meadow Elementary School in North Tonawanda, there’s a lot to catch the eye.
On one side of the room, instructor and group founder Rita Lovegrove-Weaver walked a group of younger participants through an exercise, the girls watching her as they solemnly spun their silver batons with ever-growing dexterity.
At another, a group of older girls practiced throws and gymnastics moves, batons flashing through the air higher and higher.
And nearby, instructor Debbie Gramza-Dudek keeps an keen on them, occasionally calling out advice and instructions as she speaks about the sport she’s loved and practiced — in one way or another — for decades.
“This has been my life for so many years,” said Gramza-Dudek, a resident of the Town of Tonawanda. “I’ve done it all: Twirled, taught, judged. It can be a recreational thing; you do it once a week and have fun. Or it can be more.
“It can be almost anything you want it to be.”
The Twin-Ton Twirling Corps was started about four years ago by Lovegrove-Weaver, who approached Gramza-Dudek as another coach. Both instructors met in and took part in the now-defunct Twin-Ton-Ettes for years, moving on to other groups, competitions and teaching.
“It’s been a lifelong passion of mine,” Lovegrove-Weaver said. “I’ve twirled all my life, and knew that someday I wanted my children to twirl. It’s shaped me into who I am today, so hopefully it does the same with my children.
“I think for me, growing up in twirling ... it was almost a second family. The people we met back when I was in Twin-Ton-Ettes, we all grew up together. They were lifelong friendships.”
According to the U.S. Twirling Association, one of the bodies governing the sport, twirling is an “artistic and aerobic sport” that “combines dance and gymnastics while manipulating one, two or three batons.” It’s done individually and in teams.
Lovegrove-Weaver said that it lends itself to flexibility, strength, grace and hand-eye coordination.
“For me, it’s just a well-rounded sport. It actually takes a whole lot more, I think, teaching and training, than most other sports,” she said, added that corps members traveled to a national competition in Notre Dame, Ind., last year — and that 2014 is a qualifying year for the world competition. “You can take it to so many different levels.
“It’s a whole world out there that most people don’t know anything about.”
“There are a lot of different things” people get out of twirling, she said. “As far as corps goes, you have friendships. I’m still friends with people I met when I was 10. I have twirlers who are now parents of twirlers. You get to travel to lots of different places.
“And there’s exercise, fine motor control, gross motor control. Also memory — you have to memorize your routine. You have to know what to do.”
Ages of children in the Twin-Ton Twirling Corps range from 6 to 16. Most are female. There has been the occasional boy throughout the years, although the girls tend to stick with it longer, Gramza-Dudek said. Many have a dance or gymnastics background.
Students work in different groups based on age and ability, learning multiple twirls and tricks, from basic figure eights up to multiple spins. They take part in local competitions and many parades — a very popular activity — over the summer. Other local twirling groups include the Niagara Royalettes, Grand Island’s Islettes Elite, the Ambassadors Twirl Corp. in the Williamsville/Amherst area and the Clarence CC Diamonds.
Natalie Teglash, 7, of North Tonawanda has been taking part in the corps for all four of its years. Her favorite part is the baton tosses — the higher the better.
“I like the costumes. And I like the pretzels,” she said, demonstrating a technique that involves the twirler twisting her body into a sort of human pretzel.
Some of the older and more experienced students also take part in the newer travel team, which will produce four routines this year, as well as at least three individual routines each, Lovegrove-Weaver said. Competition levels include novice, beginner, intermediate and advanced.
April Mott of Lockport, 16, has been twirling about eight years. She said that she likes the challenge of twirling
“Everyone says it’s not a sport,” she said. “But really, it takes a lot more talent to twirl than it does to throw a football. That’s just my opinion.”
Lovegrove-Weaver’s daughters, Caroline Weaver, 12, and Jillian Weaver, 11, both been twirling about five years — and earned beginner pageant winner and novice pageant winner honors respectively last year at the Miss Majorette of NY pageant, qualifying for the national competition.
“I like the competitions,” Caroline said. “They’re fun to do. There are so many solos and X-Struts (a pattern-based baton performance) and all kinds of routines.”
“I like how you’re constantly making new friends ...,” Jillian said.
“ ... and constantly learning new tricks ...,” Caroline added.
“It’s pretty fun to do,” her sister concluded.
Emily O’Bryan, 13, of North Tonawanda has been twirling for three years
“I tried a couple other sports, but twirling is my favorite. I like learning the tricks, and what Jillian said, making new friends,” she said. “It’s different. No one else does it. It’s kind of cool to do something no one else does.”FOR MORE INFORMATION • Visit twin-tontwirlingcorp.com or call Rita Lovegrove-Weaver at 860-0645 or Debbie Gramza-Dudek at 692-2150.