Baton twirling

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Baton twirling
Twirling baton, 2010
First contestedEurope and Asia, 19th century
TypeGymnastic sport
Country or regionWorldwide
World Games1993 (invitational)

Baton twirling is a sport that combines dance and color guard[clarification needed] to create coordinated routines. It requires a "baton" which is metal rod, typically just slightly larger than one's dominant arm. The sport can be seen in national and international competitions including the USA Junior Olympics.


Twirling combines dance, agility, coordination, and flexibility while manipulating a single or multiple batons. It is a sport that is played worldwide. A performance is typically accompanied by musical tunes. There are various types of baton twirlers. Majorettes twirl in a group for a high school or college with its marching band. A twirler may perform as part of a group that marches in a parade or front of an audience. Competitive twirlers may compete solo or as part of a group.

Baton twirling requires specific knowledge of manipulating the baton and where to hold the baton. Twirlers start learning the skills as early as age 2, but usually in grade school although some begin as late as high school.

The baton can be described as a rod, usually a lightweight metal such as aluminum, with weighted, resilient ends, typically rubber stoppers. The baton's rubber ends attach to the rod and can be replaced. On one end, there is a large tip called the ball. On the other end, there is a small tip called the tip. The baton must be balanced at its center point.[1]

The rod can be one of several thicknesses. Thicker, heavier rods are said to be better for rolling, while thinner ones are better for finger rolls. The rubber ends can have different designs or weights depending on the manufacturer. Common types are the star, tulip, and simple round tips. The length of the baton from tip to tip should be one inch longer than the distance from the user's armpit to the tip of the user's middle finger. The baton is manipulated from three positions, depending on the trick: from the ball, one hand from the tip, and mostly from the center of the baton.

The baton rod is wrapped with tape for decoration or added grip, using tape specially employed for that purpose. The tape can be anything from electrical tape to tennis tape.

In addition to twirling baton(s), twirlers are known for manipulating multiple pieces of equipment, including fire baton(s), machetes, fire machetes, hoop batons, streamers, flag batons, swing batons, rifle, lighted batons, double flag baton, glow batons, and sabers.

All equipment used by twirlers of the NBTA, USTA, and WBTF is show-quality equipment engineered to be easily manipulated in a twirling routine. Therefore, the rifle, saber, and machetes are not real weapons but props created specifically for twirling. However, fire batons are, in fact, real flaming batons. The twirler will soak the ends of the fire batons overnight in a flammable substance, commonly kerosene, tiki oil, or gasoline. After the ends are soaked, the twirler must shake off any excess liquid. Finally, the ends of the baton can be set on fire using a lighter. After the twirler has finished performing, the flames can be put out by tossing the baton very fast or placing it in a fire blanket.[2]

A twirling group called The Prime Time Twirlers in The Villages, Florida.

Baton twirling requires skillful coordination and great control of the human body. Additionally, it requires great flexibility to execute baton, dance, and gymnastics elements properly.[3]

The foundation of baton twirling is the thumb toss. This trick is accomplished from the middle of the baton. The baton is held in one hand at the waist. The baton is rolled over the thumb, and a slight hand movement lifts it. The thumb toss can be increased in difficulty with one or more spins done under the toss, cartwheels, front walkovers, illusions, or many more tricks. The baton can be tossed from either hand, but proficiency in both hands is preferable. For example, the baton can be caught blind behind the head, at the side, under a kick, under one or both legs, or in an illusion. Other tosses include the open hand toss and flat spin toss.

The sport of baton twirling has many tricks common to all twirlers. The elbow roll is a common trick. Continuous elbow rolls go over one elbow, dip the second elbow, dip at the back, and over the first elbow again. This process can keep going as long as the baton stays in motion. Other common tricks include fishtails, open throats, open neck rolls, mouth rolls, and more.

The routines have a predictable pattern of organization despite a unique organization of tricks based on ability. Typically, the twirlers have an initial routine constructed in each type of routine as they are ready. That routine is changed over and over during their career. For example, in basic march, the twirler places one hand on the left hip and cradles the baton in the other. Next, the twirler lifts the leg into a chair height, bends the leg, and lowers the foot back to the ground to the beat of "Stars and Stripes." Strut is an expansion of the basic march. It also counts the hitting of the foot off the ground based on the beat of "Stars and Stripes," but other dance moves with the coordinated baton are incorporated into its X pattern.

Solo routines need specific music or beat to follow. Instead, the twirler attempts to constantly improve the routine with greater consistent speed, complicated tricks, and improved bodywork. The routine has specific sections from the vertical, horizontal, finger, and roll sections. It can include a walk up and back with poses, but the walk can be a tour jeté, leaps, skip, step ball changes, or a simple march.

Modeling is completed in a T pattern with slow, graceful spins and turns. Depending on contest rules, the routine can be done in a short/party/long dress or costume. Modeling can also include an interview, depending on the contest. Other routines can consist of two batons, three batons, flag batons, show routines, or hoops.

Pageants are a large part of competitive baton twirling. Basic skills pageants are the introductory level, where the contestant performs basic march, modeling, and solo. Beginner and Intermediate pageants include modeling/interview, strut, and solo. Advanced pageants have modeling/interview, show twirl, and solo.

Baton twirlers perform at football games, basketball games, competitions, parades, and other events where entertainment is needed.[4] It is commonly known that after a twirling season has come to an end, each twirling company/studio will host a recital to showcase the talents obtained over the season.

Competitive solo twirlers in the United States compete through several organizations. These organizations include the United States Twirling Association, Twirling Unlimited, Twirltacular, National Baton Twirling Association, and more. Each of these organizations has its own rules.

The United States Twirling Association (USTA) offers only competitive routines unique to this association. Moreover, these routines include L military marching, 32-count presentation, rhythm twirl, freestyle, and show twirl.

Twirling Unlimited, TU, has restrictions on the number of turns and continuous elbow rolls in developmental levels, but they allow gymnastics moves. TU separates the age groups as 0–6, 7–8, 9–11, 12–14, and 15+. The 0–6 and 7–8 age groups are combined for certain events.

The National Baton Twirling Association, NBTA, does not have developmental restrictions but does not permit gymnastics. NBTA age groups are 0–4, 0–6, 7–9, 10–12, 13–15, and 16+. NBTA nations are called America's Youth on Parade, held for 50 years.

AYOP has been held at Notre Dame's Joyce Center for 46 years. The event allows the soloists and groups to qualify for the world competition. AYOP is a week-long event with a mixture of open events and pageants, for which the twirler has to qualify at Miss Majorette state/regional events.

Both organizations' solo events are divided into Novice, Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Elite levels. Advancement is based on a set number of wins.


Japanese teenage girl in 1940s sweater, skirt, and blouse twirling two batons and smiling, backlit by the sun against a nearly-cloudless sky.
Baton practice, Manzanar War Relocation Center, 1943. Photographed by Ansel Adams.

Baton twirling started in western Europe and Asia.[5] The sport came to North America when Major Reuben Webster Millsaps created baton twirling during his establishment of Millsaps College in Mississippi after the US Civil War.[6]

Although many member countries have their national organizations, at the world level three governing bodies are recognized: the World Baton Twirling Federation (WBTF), the World Twirling Association (WTA), and The Global Alliance of National Baton Twirling & Majorette Associations (NBTA). The WBTF and NBTA host World Championships and the International Cup (WBTF), whereas the WTA continues to honor the sport's origins with additional events that the WBTF does not include.[7] The WTA was founded in 1960, by champion baton twirler Victor Faber.[7]

The WBTF was founded in 1977. Current member countries include Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Catalonia (Spain), Croatia, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Scotland, Seychelles, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.[8]

Current member countries of the NBTA include Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United States. Under consideration are: Australia, Estonia, Japan, Slovenia, and South Africa.

Japan Baton Twirling Association competitors, 2015

Competitive baton twirling[edit]

Competitive baton twirling is classified by two factors, skill, and age. The NBTA, USTA, TU,[9] and WBTF separate twirlers by their skill levels, which range from novice, beginner, intermediate, to advanced; advancement to the next skill level is determined through the number of first-place wins that the twirler has accomplished against other twirlers. Wins obtained with no competitors in said division typically do not count toward advancement. Next, the twirlers are classified by their age through a standard scale that is as follows: 0-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16-21 22+. This classification scale ensures that the competition between twirlers in each division is fair.[10]

When competing, a twirler's attire will typically be a leotard or a skater dress that is embellished with sequins, rhinestones, fringe, and other ornate designs. Twirlers are judged on their attire during competition, especially in events such as best in costume, so it is important that they wear a costume that fits properly and looks good during competition. Footwear ranges from instep cougars, and jazz shoes, to majorette boots. Typically, instep cougars are seen on both the competition floor and during practice. Jazz shoes are primarily used during competition, as the soft bottoms can easily be torn during practice. It is common to see the heels of jazz shoes covered in rhinestones. Majorette boots can be seen during competition; however, high school and college majorettes typically wear these on the football field and during other performances.

One of the most competitive titles in the twirling field, Miss Majorette, is a title that is given to the top baton twirlers of each state. As mentioned earlier, twirlers will be classified based on their skill and age, which allows for a Miss Majorette title in each rank. When competing for this title, twirlers will begin by competing in T or Circle T Modelling, Interview, Solo, and X- Strut. After a twirler has been named Miss Majorette of their state, they will advance to compete for the title of Miss Majorette of America in their division.

Every year, the ESPN Wide World of Sports hosts Twirlmania international championship competition at Walt Disney World. Competition is available for soloists, teams, high schools, colleges, and recreational groups of any age or gender. Some countries that have participated in the past include the U.S., Japan, Russia, Australia, and England. Competing ranges from baton twirling to pompom and dance. Competitors also get to march in a Disney parade as well as participate in a fun, family-oriented weekend. Awards range from trophies to plush stuffed animals to cash (up to $4,000) and gifts by sponsors. Some categories include Dance Line Team, Collegiate Team, Pom Pom Team, Drill Team, Basic & Military, and Miss Twirl Mania Pageant, to name a few.

The World Championships have the following events:

  • Freestyle Senior Women & Men
  • Junior Women and Men
  • Event accompanied by a compulsory/short programme event
    • strut
    • solo
    • dancetwirl
    • pairs
    • trios
    • show choir
  • Single baton, 2 batons, 3 batons

Teams, pairs, trios, and show choirs can be co-ed.

For several years, the powerhouse countries (France, Italy, Japan, and the United States) have dominated the world championships. In order to promote more events and other smaller countries' ability to have international champions, the International Cup was introduced. Athletes are categorized into B-level athletes, A-level athletes, and elite. The powerhouse countries don't take B-level athletes to give the smaller countries an opportunity to have international champions. Because every country doesn't have dancetwirl as an event, and because of the variety within the freestyle event, the artistic twirl was introduced to replace freestyle and dancetwirl at the International Cup.

Since 2005, the two competitions have been run concurrently over a week. In 2009, the competitions began running separately, with the International Cup falling on uneven years and the World Championships on even years. New events such as Freestyle and Pairs across different age levels and divisions were added to the International Cup.

The following cities have previously hosted the competitions:

  • Solo one baton to music, novice beginner intermediate advanced (levels) 0-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16+
  • Two batons to music, novice beginner intermediate advanced 0-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16+
  • Showtwirl multiple batons with a prop and music novice beginner intermediate advanced 0-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16+
  • Basic march novice beginner intermediate advanced 0-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16+
  • Military march novice beginner intermediate advanced 0-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16+
  • Modeling novice beginner intermediate advanced 0-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16+

Events and age divisions and levels may vary due to baton association.

International Cup[edit]

Year Event Winner Country
2009 Elite Junior Men Yoshimaru Shirakawa Japan
2009 A Junior Men Matthew Johnson Canada
2009 B Junior Men Curt Burrows USA
2009 Elite Senior Men Keisuke Komada Japan
2009 A Senior Men Jack Giordano USA
2009 Elite Adult Men Schuichi Kawazu Japan
2009 A Adult Men David Doyne Ireland
2009 Elite Junior Women Yukako Shingu Japan
2009 A Junior Women Blinera Sallitolli Catalonia, Spain
2009 B Junior Women Jamie Hogan USA
2009 Elite Senior Women Tomoe Nishigaki Japan
2009 A Senior Women Torri Cicchirillo USA
2009 B Senior Women Catreena Hale USA
2009 Elite Adult Women Arisa Tanaka Japan
2009 A Adult Women Kyla Wilson Canada
2009 B Adult Women Aryn Bigler USA

Special Athlete's Award[edit]

In 1998, the WBTF introduced the Special Athlete's Award of Recognition for athletes that competed at 10+ World Championships. Not all are Champions.

Year Winner Country
2008 Carina van Beers The Netherlands
2008 Joaquin Bermudez Catalonia, Spain
2007 David Doyne Ireland
2007 Shuichi Kawazu Japan
2007 Toshimichi Sasaki Japan
2005 Akemi Kimura Japan
2005 Kathy Hewitt England
2003 Chiharu Tachiban Japan
2003 Kellie Donovan USA
2003 Sebastien Dubois France
2003 Tamara Hoevenaars The Netherlands
2002 Elissa Johnson USA
2002 Emery Harriston USA
2001 Bridgette Bartley USA
2001 Chiara Stefanazzi Italy
2001 Elin Hjartaaker Norway
2001 Jenny Hannah USA
2001 Mark Nash USA
2000 Bertrand Royer France
1999 Christian Altenburger Switzerland
1998 Celine Tanner-Imhof Switzerland
1998 Chiho Honjo Japan
1998 Christian De Backer Belgium
1998 Kevan Latrace Canada
1998 Lucinda McMaster Canada
1998 Noriko Takahashi Japan
1998 Toshimichi Sasaki Japan


  1. ^ Fred Miller, et al. The Complete Book of Baton Twirling, 1978.
  2. ^ "Star Line Baton Co, Inc. | Home".
  3. ^ "The Sport". World Baton Twirling Federation. 2014. Archived from the original on October 28, 2014. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  4. ^ "Choosing the Right Twirling Baton". 8 August 2019. Retrieved 2019-09-04.
  5. ^ "One theory on the history of Baton Twirling". Archived from the original on 2009-04-21. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
  6. ^ "Baton Twirling History". Archived from the original on 2009-10-20. Retrieved 2009-10-25.
  7. ^ a b "World Twirling Association". Archived from the original on 2009-04-23. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
  8. ^ "About Us". World Baton Twirling Federation. 2014. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  9. ^ "Twirling Unlimited". Twirling Unlimited. Retrieved 2023-09-05.
  10. ^ "Home of NBTA-USA".

External links[edit]