The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    Pledging allegiance to her flag

    submitted photo

    Perhaps a quote scripted in the film Drumline summarizes what it was like marching for the Colts, a Division I drum and bugle corp from Iowa: “They don’t tell you about all this when they recruit you.”

    Members auditioned, rehearsed, performed and found ways to entertain themselves while riding the bus, although senior Emilie Rabbitt would agree “all this” was all that.

    Now, how does the real life story differ from that in Drumline?

    Rabbitt, an aged-out, or retired, color guard member, noted while the movie features a band playing during halftime, the Colts, featuring horns, drums and guards, are the main attraction.

    Story continues below advertisement

    “There’s actually more (than) what you see in Drumline,” she explained of the group’s show, which placed sixteenth of 22 teams at semifinals.

    “Our show was incredible …” she said. “The top three, they’d blow you away.”

    A panel chosen by Drum Corps International judged corps on color guard, general effects, marching and music at quarterfinal, semifinal and final competitions. To make the finals, corps had to rank in the top 12.

    The top eight corps made a PBS broadcast that will air at 11 p.m. Friday on channel 2.

    “That’s actually one of the things that a lot of people see that makes them do drum corp,” Rabbitt said.

    Why she did corp

    Rabbitt started color guard during high school in Sun Prairie; at the time, a friend’s brother marched in the band and asked her to join.

    While working the summer after graduation, Rabbitt realized she probably would never perform again. Upon deciding she missed it too much to stay away, she marched her way into a local corp called Capitol Sound, one of four she’d eventually join.

    Rabbitt joined the Colts – a corp based out of Dubuque, Iowa – mid-season in July. The corp stayed in Iowa for about the first two weeks while instructors taught them the show they’d perform.

    When Rabbitt performed, she spun flag, one of three key pieces of equipment guards use – flags, rifles and sabers. She recalled a time the corp used giant tree limbs 6-feet, 8 inches tall.

    She said it was the funniest item she’d ever worked with, other than the spandex bag she once donned during a show she deemed “a momentary lapse of reason.”

    “I really get to specialize on my piece of equipment,” she said of her basic baby, the flag. “It’s my best friend.”

    She joked it’s also been her boyfriend, although Rabbitt dated a drummer this summer and proudly reported she learned how to play snare while riding the bus.

    The corp lived on coach buses and slept sitting up until they reached a middle or high school around 3 or 4 a.m. where they’d crash between performances. It would typically be their home anywhere from one night to one week.

    Members slept on the floor for a few hours and then rose to a breakfast prepared by volunteers, usually aged-out support staffers who cooked and drove.

    “I’ll probably end up cooking for the corp,” Rabbitt said, as the 21-year-old may no longer march because she hit the age cutoff.

    Of the staff, she added, ” … they make sure we’re not only working hard, but enjoying what we’re doing.”

    Her many families and supporters

    Rabbitt said she enjoyed spending time with members whose love for marching and each other ran core-deep.

    ” … it’s like having this family of 135 brothers and sisters,” she said. “You live with them, you play with them on the field every day, you work your butts off every day. You’re a huge family.”

    Senior Phil Snyder – the horn sergeant and fellow aged-out Colt here on campus – marched in the corp for four years and agreed the experience of working together as one big team and, ultimately, family was incredible.

    Rabbitt said her family was helpful and supportive. In high school, her dad helped run concession stands at Badger games, manned fruit sales and worked on anything that had to be built or maintained. Her mom sewed uniforms and flags.

    When she joined drum corp, her parents were unable to be that active, although they’d cook for the corp.

    Although they stressed she should work to pay for school, they saw how much she loved marching.

    “They saw it was my passion, and they were really supportive of it,” she said. “They were going to let me move to California!”

    Rabbit initially began marching with a corp ending up earning bronze this summer; however, a knee injury sent her home to Madison, which she said was the best move she ever made.

    There, she made friends she still keeps in touch with, and her friends from corps she’s performed with and from corps she competed against are spread all over the country, as well as in England, Holland, Japan and South Africa.

    “I’m online at least an hour a night,” Rabbit said, the drive being that she wants to communicate electronically with those who once upon a time were only a bus seat away.

    She said her other friends were supportive as well.

    “Actually, it’s kind of funny,” she said. “They joke about not wanting me to go, but my best friend is the one who (told) me about the spot in the Colts this year.”

    Despite the support she receives, Rabbitt said she’s usually nervous performing a home show.

    “You have people there and you don’t want to mess up,” she said, “but most of the time, really, the crowd sort of pumps you up.”


    Rabbitt said the corps rehearsed all day and performed at night, although the performances weren’t her favorite part of the day. Instead, it was when the group came together for the first time following breakfast. They rehearsed for about another three hours, ate lunch and continued rehearsing.

    “We would practice in sectional rehearsal, (then) in drill rehearsal full corp, cleaning our drill – what you see us do on the field,” she explained. “And in the afternoon, we’d usually have an ensemble rehearsal … when everybody is together, marching and placing segments of the show and the whole show.”

    The corp ate dinner and prepared the performance that followed warm ups.

    While the corp’s actual performance, “From the Heartland,” lasted 10 to 12 minutes, an entire show can last anywhere from a couple of hours to all day, as there are usually four or five corps who also perform.

    Corps performed classical, jazz or popular music – popular being songs from the 70s or 80s. Rabbitt said one corp played “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.

    Her passion for corp and dance

    Music and art run in Rabbitt’s family – her mom was an art minor, her dad played in a band while she was growing up and her Eau Claire-native grandmother is a professional violinist and viola player.

    “I grew up in a family that really valued the arts,” she said. Rabbitt recalls attending a dance recital at the age of four. It was when she decided on a career path: ballet.

    Rabbit took ballet, tap and jazz and later enrolled in modern dance when she came to UW-Eau Claire.

    While Rabbitt was a dance minor, she ultimately decided pursuing dance as a course of study wasn’t the right path for her to march down. Now, she’s studying economics and global studies,

    “It’s something I do for the joy of doing,” she said of dance.

    She’s been part of the Concert Dance Company, is a member of Alpha Phi Omeda and is LGBTSA’s secretary treasurer.

    Rabbitt noted while she hasn’t joined dance team, the on-campus ice skating club, or gymnastics, they’re related to corp.

    And, of course, participating in each requires a passion.

    “Everybody has their passion, really,” she said. “This is just kind of mine.”

    Leave a Comment
    More to Discover

    Comments (0)

    The Spectator intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. The Spectator does not allow anonymous comments and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
    All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Activate Search
    Pledging allegiance to her flag