Since 2011, the Marching Tar Heels were unable to find a single majorette skilled enough to join the band. That is, until first-year students Ava Smith and Ciara Gillis twirled onto the scene. Now the band has two baton-wielding performers for its pregame and halftime shows.
“We’ve had students audition in the past. We don’t always have students audition, but in the past couple years, I haven’t felt that the students who auditioned would have contributed in a positive enough way to the ensemble,” band director Jeffrey Fuchs said. “And then Ciara and Ava both auditioned this year, and they have great skills and great presence.”
Smith and Gillis both have extensive experience in competitive baton-twirling. Smith started twirling in fourth grade, and Gillis when she was 5.
“Luckily, we came in and we were about at the same skill level, which really helped," Gillis said. "And then our teacher, Zoe, was brought in, so it’s kind of a learning experience for all three of us, working things out together. But we get along really well, and it’s been really fun getting to work with her.”
Jordan Showalter, a senior drum major for the Marching Tar Heels, said that the band was excited to add the majorettes.
“Our team is obviously musical and visual, so they offer another aspect to the visual portion of what we do,” she said. “They are definitely a wow factor of the band.”
Smith said that the band is welcoming and encouraging to the majorettes.
“They really appreciate us, and always tell us how good of a job we’re doing, and how we add to the visual effects of the football games and halftime shows and performances,” she said. “They say we really add to the diversity of the band, and just add another element to it.”
Though they perform amongst the band, Smith and Gillis’ presence has not disrupted the flow of performances.
“I think they’re staged strategically,” Molly Gaskin, a junior mellophone captain, said. “Our drill probably does reflect space for them and highlight their talent, though, which is pretty cool.”
Smith and Gillis both said that they were prone to pre-performance jitters before the pregame and halftime shows at sporting events.
“It’s super nerve-wracking, standing in the tunnels and waiting to go out pregame, because if me or Ciara does badly, the whole crowd will notice — but it’s super fun when I get off the field,” Smith said. “It just pushes me to go outside of my boundaries and do stuff that I normally wouldn’t do.”
Large crowds at football games have been a source of both nerves and excitement for the majorettes.
“Once you get on the field, it’s just amazing,” Gillis said. “And especially when we twirled at the sold-out Duke game, in front of, like, sixty-thousand people. It’s always just amazing how many people — whether they’re really watching you or not.”
Even to an audience that doesn’t know much about baton-twirling, the majorettes’ performance is a spectacle.
Fuchs said the audience should pay attention to Smith and Gillis' athletic abilities, like the velocity of their tosses and the height.
"And I think any time they pull out the fire batons is pretty cool," Fuchs said.
Looking forward, Smith and Gillis will continue to work with their coach on developing and perfecting their routines.
“I hope they continue to get better at what they do and add more skills to their repertoire,” Fuchs said. “I hope they become more comfortable performing in the environment we ask them to perform in, in front of a large audience. And I hope they have fun, too.”
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