Thursday, January 9, 2014

African American & South African Batons, Flags, and Other Twirling Videos

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases videos of African American & South African baton, drum major maces, flags, and rifles, and hoops twirling (spinning).

Two brief excerpts about the Kongo roots of baton twirling and a brief excerpt about African American juggling as a source of American baton twirling are also included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to all those who are featured in these videos and thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

From Africanisms in American Culture edited by Dr. Joseph E. Halloway pp. 12-13
"Robert Farris Thompson's essay (chapter 10) contributes to our understanding of Africanisms found in African American aesthestics, revealing that the majority of African retentions in African American folk art are Bantu in origin. Thompson shows that the impact of the Kongo on African American culture contributed to the foundation of black American aesthetics and musical culture in the New World. The Kongo influence contributed to the rise of the national music of Brazil (the samba) and to one of the most sophisticated music forms in the United States (jazz).

Thompson demonstrates that Kongo influences are widespread.

...The African Haitian ritual dancing based on a dance form found in northern Kongo was adopted by the baton-twirling "major jonc" called rara. Its members twirl batons and strike a Kongo pose when confronting a rival group. it is hypothesized that in Mississippi. where many Kongo slaves resided, such groups had a major impact. Mississippi has become a world baton-twirling center".

From publisher Asar, 27 January 2012
"The book Africanisms in American Culture edited by Dr. Joseph E. Halloway documents some of the Africanisms that have survived in the Americas during and after the enslavement period. A good number of the surviving Africanisms that have survived are in the form of poses...

The most dramatic incursion of a Kongo gesture in Haiti is the reemergent biika mambu stance. This stance is frequently called telama lwimbanganga in Northern Kongo. This pose is identifiable as the left hand on the hip and the right hand forward. This became the drum majorette pose that gave way to baton twirling in the United States.

In Kongo, placing the left hand on the hip is believed to press down all evil, while the extended right hand acts to “vibrate” the future in a positive manner. Important women used this pose at dawn to “vibrate positively” the future of town warriors. Advocates used its power to block or end a lawsuit (Halloway 2005: 298). One will notice that this is the pose for the famous Supremes song, “Stop in the name of love.”

.... The telema stance has to do with power and mediating force (power grasped and evil contained).

Juggler's World: Vol. 39, No. 2 "Joe Taylor And Other Early Black Jugglers"
"With the [Negro League baseball team the] Indianapolis Clowns, he [Joe Taylor] was the pitcher, tossing balls, clubs and dinner plates around the diamond and rolling a baseball around his body.

The tradition of the minstrel show, performed by people without the need of burnt cork makeup, digs deep into the roots of American family entertainment. Though black jugglers remain a rarity, it is important to remember the solid influence that blacks have played in the field.

The Harlem Globetrotters certainly represent the oldest continuous object manipulation troupe in the world. The statistics on their travels and audiences read like world census reports - their impact on the world's acceptance of tom-foolery juggling, to say nothing of blacks and serious basketball technique, is immeasurable.

He [Joe Taylor] toured for two years with the New York Broadway Clowns basketball club before being drafted and serving in postwar Germany. On his return, he played with the Harlem Magicians Basketball Show and later the Indianapolis Clowns Baseball Team. With the Indianapolis Clowns, he was the pitcher, tossing balls, clubs and dinner plates around the diamond and rolling a baseball around his body.

As he matured, he stayed in touch with other jugglers. He visited Montandon when he passed through Oklahoma and wrote a piece on comedy ball rolling for Montandon's "Juggler's Bulletin Annual." While in Germany, he met with Max Koch and sent back an interview with this human Mecca of the juggling world for readers of the "Newsletter."

And that's about all we know of Taylor, the IJA's first black member. The "Bulletin" and "Newsletter" can take a little pride in the fact that they publicized him. And Taylor can take pride in having left Wellington Street to take a run at having his skills, rather than his color, recognized by the world.

A Sampling of Early Black Jugglers

George Rowland: Probably the best known, most successful black juggler, and one of the earliest; he was one of the first "dressed up" tramp jugglers, playing the circuits in the early decades of this century.

Thatcher, Primrose, and West: included baton twirling in their act.

"The Great English:" Hoop roller, popular around 1910.

The Billy Kersard Colored Minstrels: employed a juggler of balls, hats, cigars, and plates.

Will Cook: toured with the Black Patti Colored Musical Comedy Co.

Albert Drew: juggler and wire walker with the A.G. Allen Colored Minstrels.

Arthur Prince: Club and hoop juggler with the Huntington Colored Minstrels.

Coy Herndon and Silas Greer: With the New Orleans Colored Musical Comedy troupe. Herndon was reported to be one of the best hoop rollers ever"...

Example #1: Saint Dominics High School Drum Majorettes 2005 LARGE DRILL [South Africa]

Quepeedoo Uploaded on Aug 14, 2010

Example #2: SOUTH SHORE DRILL TEAM - Bud Billiken Parade 2010 [United States]

South Shore Drill Team, Uploaded on Mar 2, 2011

South Shore Drill Team doing it at the Bud in 2010!
The Bud Billiken Parade is an annual Chicago, Illinois parade commemorating the beginning of the school year for children and youth.

From my YouTube video searching it appears that this South Shore Drill Team [from Chicago, Illinois] and the other Chicago, Illinois drill team showcased in Example #4 are rare examples of African American drill teams that do rifle [and other types of] twirling routines. Click for a pancocojams post of the South Shore drill team that includes a video of that unit of that group doing flag and other types of twirls routines.

View Video #6 & Video #7 [added January 9, 2014] for videos of a predominately African American troupe of baton twirlers.

Example #3: 2013 Mokete Wa Leru [South Africa]

Ngedwani Mgcina Published on Apr 23, 2013

Majeremane (Selemo se secha)

Mehlomakhulu 2013
Hat tip to slam2011 who shared the information that "Selemo se secha" means "Happy New Year" in Lesotho, a South African language on this pancocojams post-

Example #4: GOLDEN KNIGHTS DRILL TEAM 2013 [United States]

Ronnell Johnson, Published on Aug 11, 2013

Click for a brief video of toddler in this group's uniform practicing twirling a rifle.

Example #5: NC A&T - Halftime (Post-Game) 9.7.2013 [United States]

Thomas L. Jones, Jr. Published on Sep 8, 2013

The Aggie band salutes legendary artists Madonna and Lady Gaga during the post-game festivities against Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. I'd also like to point out that all songs are in their original keys: "Edge of Glory" - A Major, "Borderline" - D Major, Express Yourself/Born This Way" - G Major, "Crazy for You" - E Major, "Poker Face" - Ab Minor...
NC A&T = North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University, Greensboro, North Carolina.

ADDED VIDEOS [January 10, 2014]
From searching YouTube, it appears that many (if not most) contemporary African American marching bands and African American drill teams have changed the definition of majorettes from "female baton twirlers" to "females who perform certain styles of dancing and/or marching/step movements to certain types of music", which rarely includes snare drums.

It's very difficult to find any video of a HBCU (historically Black college and university) or an African American high school unit (or predominately African American high school unit) that features baton twirling. Here are three such videos that I found:

Example #6: Intro the KSU Majorettes [United States]

ksumajorette. Uploaded on Sep 5, 2010

Kentucky State University added the auxiliary twirling group to the Marching Thorobreds in January 2009 thanks to the efforts of Sophia Marie Thompson [captain of that group].
"KU" = Kentucky State University, a historically Black university. From the comment section, this unit was just started in January 2009. Other commenters indicated that these were basic baton twirling techniques.

Example #7: Mcd 35 Majorettes 2008-2009 [United States]

msgee351 Published on Oct 23, 2012

An Old video from 35 vs a school in Alexandria I think. I cant remember. Missing our first co-captain this night Monique!!!
"Mcd" = McDonogh. I think this is a high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But I'm not sure of that.
There is also a 2012 video of this group performing baton twirls.

Example 8: McMain Majorettes 2012 [United States]

tayariane, Published on Nov 11, 2012

Homecoming 2012
I think that this video is of a high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But I'm not sure of that.
Click, and for two videos of African American troupes with the word "majorette" in the group's name who didn't perform any baton twirling in those videos. The first video, from 2011, is entitled "Lovely Lavish Ladies, Majorettes of MTSU *Game 1*" "MTSU" is Middle Tennessee State University. It is a non-historically Black university.

The summary of the second video, published in 2013, indicates that "Bellevue Middle School Majorettes take it back to the old school with a drumline, while all the other majorettes at the jamboree used CD's."

Cane twirling is another form of twirling that is performed by certain historically Black Greek lettered organizations. Click for videos of cane twirling.

Thanks to all those who are featured in these videos or who have been quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Although not directly relevant here, as it doesn't concern African Americans, can I add that juggling in the modern sense seems to have entered Western culture in the early 19th c. entirely as a consequence of a tour by a single troupe from India? Prior to their time the word meant sleight-of-hand tricks, not skilfully tossing and catching objects.

    I know it seems unlikely, and I assume some sort of demonstration of throwing-and-catching must have featured in European entertainments before this late date. Nevertheless, the sensational impact of the 'Indian Jugglers' (and their subsequent imitators) triggered the semantic shift which gave the word its modern meaning. Trust me on this. I have the OED on my side.

    1. Greetings, slam2011!

      Well since you have the Oxford English Dictionary on your side...Lol!

      No seriously, I suppose that esteemed reference source might have been wrong a time or two, but I appreciate you sharing that information with us.

    2. Also, this post includes also includes examples of majorette baton & drum major mace twirling from South Africa.

      I'm interested in other examples of twirling from Africa and the African Diaspora - which very broadly could encompass all of the world including India, but I'm referring to a much more limited definition of "African Diaspora".

    3. Here's an excerpt from a related pancocojams post
      "Debunking The Myth Of An African Connection To Black Fraternity/Sorority Cane Performances
      In my opinion, explanations that cite African sources for the custom of Black Greek lettered organizations carrying canes, or including tapping, twirling, or throwing canes are contrived later day postulations that seek to connect that performance activity with the African American pride in African heritage sentiments. An example of what I believe to be "made up provenance" is this statement from "Why Do Kappas Carry Canes?" By Natasha Jackson-Arnautu, eHow Contributor
      "Although the cane has several historical points of significance, the most feasible for Kappa Alpha Psi is rooted in African rites of passage. In African villages, the cane was a symbol of manhood . The young men on the cusp of manhood would carry canes to show elder men they were ready to be accepted into the tribe as an adult."
      "African villages" is far too vague for me. Africa is a HUGE continent with numerous different cultures. Which African villages is the author referring to and which rites of passage rituals??

      That said, even in a very brief look-see on YouTube, I've found a video of Hausa men (from Northern Nigeria) dancing while carrying a wooden stick, and I've found a video of Gbagyi men (from central Nigeria) dancing while carrying a tool that I believe is a short garden hoe.*

      However, just because traditional African dancing included/includes dancing with a stick doesn't mean that those dances have anything whatsoever to do with male rites of passage. And just because such dancing did and does occur among various Africans in various cultures throughout the African continent doesn't mean those customs were the source of Black Greek lettered organizations cane performances.

      *Click for video #2 and video #5 on that post.

    4. For an example of real provenance, I'd refer to the chapter on "Kongo Influences On African- American Artistic Culture" by Robert Farris Thompson that is found in the book Africanisms In American Culture, edited by Joseph E. Holloway (Indiana University Press, 1990. I'm specifically referring to the telema gesture or pose (the left hand on hip and right hand held forward) which is familiar to people in the United States as the pose that the R&B group the Supremes used in their performance of their hit song "Stop In The Name Of Love".

      Robert Farris Thompson reports that that same gesture is correlated with authority in Kongo culture, and "in Haiti it is a prerogative of the important major jonc "who juggles with a metal baton." [p. 161]

      Robert Farris Thompson also writes that "The Congo pose can thus be traced through various streams of documented influence. Telama lwumbanganga became pose Kongo in Haiti, then pose Kongo became the drum majorette pose in the United States. Almost all the early baton twirlers in and around New Orleans were black, or so it has been asserted by informants in New Orleans...Today the world center of baton twirling is said to be Mississippi-just east of Louisiana and not far removed from the influence of New Orleans. Constance Atwater's Baton Twirling: The Fundamentals of an Art and Skill was kindly shared with me by John Szwed. In this text teaching people how to strike poses, Atwater observes that the proper mode of presentation involves placing the left hand on one's hip and twirling the baton with the write hand. Szwed, arguing as early as 1971 that baton twirling-now considered all- American and even Anglo-American- might conceal deep African roots, inspired a reinvestigation of this important cultural phenomenon. [162] quoted without the foot notes citations]
      I wrote a post for my cultural blog on "The Kongo Influence On Baton Twirling", but for some reason I either purposely or accidentally deleted that post and can't find it's unpublished version. I'm sure that post was based on above quoted that Robert Farris Thompson chapter excerpt. I'm not sure if it also included any videos or video links to that Haitian Rara pose. I know that I came across at least one YouTube Rara Music video that included that pose, but at this time, I haven't found it again. This comment, at least in part, stands in place of my deleted post on that subject.

  2. I don't know about 'rites of passage' but the 18th c. watercolour 'The Old Plantation' ( shows African Americans using a baton during a dance - or rather, the male dancer has one.

    Perhaps if only men herded livestock in the African homelands, the stick was a recognised male accoutrement and naturally formed part of their dancing?

    1. Hello, slam2011.

      Here's the hyperlink for that painting:

      I don't know if men were the only herders of livestock in Africa.

      It seems from videos I've watched that anything that could be carried including sticks, farm tools, baskets, instruments, and material were used by males and females in traditional African dancing.

  3. I forgot to say you're right, no reference tool is infallible - but I rate OED highly, even though I know it needs updates. At least one of their instances of 'first usage' is out by over a century, to my certain knowledge; but then it's a lot easier to find examples of early usage in the age of google than it was when many of their entries were compiled. Certainly their editors know a lot more about etymology than I ever will.

    1. Hey, slam2011, I also rate OED highly, and was just having a little fun with you.

      My bad. :o)

    2. No, mine - I must sound very touchy. I wanted to distinguish between me speculating off the top of my head - something I enjoy, and do a lot - and me having a good source. For example the herdsman-stick-gender thing was just speculation :)

  4. Here's a link to one video of a Haitian Rara procession that includes multiple scenes of some men twirling a baton: Rara de Leogane

    These men wore outfits [costumes?] that were distinctive from the other persons in the crowd. In most of the scenes the men are twirling the baton with their left hand with their right arm somewhat extended like they are balancing themselves. However, at 18:27 there is a segment that shows one of these men with distinctive outfits twirling the baton with his right hand and holding his left hand on his hip.

    The video is narrated in French which I don't understand. But it seemed clear that these baton twirling men performed some religious function as they also passed their batons around the back of the neck of individuals (from the left to the right) in what appeared to me to be some type of blessing.

    The same video shows men blowing a whistle, carrying or flicking a whip carried in their left hand often with their right hand extended to hold the crowd back. The whip flicking appeared to be clearing the ground before the whip holding man and the crowd moved (danced the samba) forward.

    I recall reading that this whip flicking function also has religious significance.