St. Olaf has a new club sport on campus, and it is a little different from rugby and soccer. St. Olaf students, meet the St. Olaf Winter Guard.
Winter guard is a dance-based activity with a twist: flags and fake rifles and sabers are incorporated into the performance. The members of St. Olaf’s winter guard take to the gym floor to spin, toss and dance, creating a visually stunning effect. A winter guard is similar in many ways to a color guard, with the same techniques and equipment. However, instead of a marching band providing the music, the guard performs to pre-recorded songs. The absence of a band lets the guard take center stage.
St. Olaf’s student-run winter guard was founded in the spring of 2019 by Eugene Sandel ’22. It is an official club sport that aims to foster collaboration and teamwork, as well as unique skills not easily acquired elsewhere on campus. The organization started out with seven members and has grown over the past several months. The winter guard is now 14 students strong and hopes to continue to grow in the future.
Teaching students to throw, spin and, more importantly, catch a flag, rifle or saber is no easy task. But that is exactly what Sandel loves to do. He choreographs all of the guard’s routines with Elizabeth Kiihne ’21, and they teach the moves to the club members. Instructing members is a creative process in its own right – “We have to think of five different ways to explain everything because everyone has a different learning style,” Sandel said. The leaders of the guard try to be as flexible as they can be to ensure that everyone learns the routines and has fun at the same time.
A typical winter guard practice is an hour-and-a-half to two hours long, and practices are held twice a week. The guard starts with a stretch and an across-the-floor body warm up and then moves to spinning equipment for the rest of the rehearsal.
“It’s a combination of learning new skills as well as putting everything together and learning show work,” Sandel said. The guard learns the choreography, but also the basic skills necessary to execute the drops and spins.
For those who feel intimidated by the idea of throwing a six-foot-long metal pole in the air and being expected to catch it, Sandel offers reassurance: “It’s not as bad as it looks,” he said. “When you’re on the outside looking in, it looks a lot harder than it actually is, but when you do it, you’re shocked by the amount of skill you actually have.”
For Sandel and the members of the St. Olaf Winter Guard, though, it is about more than the spinning and dancing. Sandel’s favorite parts of the club are the friendships and bonds the members build with each other.
“It’s not a community,” Sandel said. “It’s a family.”
Keep an eye out for a possible Halloween performance or stop by a rehearsal to catch a glimpse of the guard in action. Sandel emphasizes that the club always welcomes new members and encourages everyone to give it a shot, no experience necessary. Go to a practice, pick up a flag or saber and become a part of this family.
The St. Olaf Winter Guard’s October practices are Tuesdays from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. and Sundays from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. November practice times will be released soon. Email Eugene Sandel at email@example.com for more information.