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The Dance of Fascism: Drill Teams and Religious Fundamentalism

~Crystal Davis

Showtime International. www.showtimeint.com/ cruise_winners.htm April 5, 2004

Victoria Stutters Jr. High Dance/Drill & Victoria Ballet Theatre. www.gpbwebworks.com/ strutter.shtml April 5, 2004

I spent the last three years in Denton, TX, a small town one hour north of Dallas, TX.   This being my first time in Texas there was definitely culture shock.   As a dancer who is also interested in ethnography, I found the drill teams in Texas quite intriguing.   At first I didn't even know that a drill team was.   In North Carolina, where I'm from, the drill teams for girls that I had knowledge of were small rhythmic stepping teams that had minimal status as extra curricular activities in most schools that I knew.   The drill teams in Texas, however, are big business.   These drill teams that span not just Texas but other parts of middle America are essentially dance teams comprised of huge numbers of pre-teen and teen girls.

            I knew these drill teams were popular because many of my dance colleagues in Denton had gotten much of their past dance training and current income from participation in performing, choreographing, or judging these drill teams.   The first time I saw a drill team perform was unlike anything I've ever seen before.   At a local outdoor festival, a massive group of regimented young girls marched onto a stage to the orders of a call and response.   There was a separate call for the girls, once in their place, to take their beginning pose.   I stared in amazement at the uniformity and precision with which the young girls entered, danced, and exited.   Now I have been committed to dancing all of my life.   In North Carolina I attended a similar dance studio situation wherein we also had competitions and local performances similar to these drill teams.   But why was I so astonished by the overwhelming precision in entrances, exits, and timing?   There was something about such prevalent and pervasive precision and uniformity that elicited feelings of overwhelming awesomeness for me.   The magnitude of precision that was displayed with so many young women looking so alike doing exactly the same thing at the same time gave me an intense feeling that I had never experienced before.  

But what was that feeling about?   I knew that part of that feeling was fear like that felt when something is so incredibly overwhelming and huge in comparison to my little microcosm of a world.   It was a feeling similar to that I experienced when faced with huge mountains or ocean tidal waves that make one feel so very small and insignificant in the world.   There was definitely a power in this notion of drill team.   But what was it all about?

Like the dance studios I grew up learning dance in, there was an attention to making definite shapes and hitting those shapes sharply at a very specific point in the music.   Also similar to my past dance studio experiences, all music was counted. But with drill teams it was counted and documented down to the detail.   My friends who choreograph for drill teams all over the state of Texas often had to produce written notes that detailed count-by-musical count exactly what occurred in the dance.   So each dance was documented in detail on paper and stored for future reference if needed for clarification after the visiting choreographer left.   The movement vocabulary remained the same with the exception of the occasional insertions of new pop culture dance moves (often seen in music videos) into choreography.   Girls often had regimented training routines that remained the same.   Training did not always involve education but more often repetitive drills that the girls trusted would enable their impressive performances of accuracy.   What I also found intriguing is that many times the drill teams were so massive that girls were assigned numbers or groups in order to address an individual if needed.   Because of the sheer size of many of the drill teams, the girls often only knew a few girls in their drill team. Victoria Stutters Jr. High Dance/Drill & Victoria Ballet Theatre. www.gpbwebworks.com/ strutter.shtml April 5, 2004

 

University of Virginia Information Technology & Communication www.people.virginia.edu/~ds8s/ julia-md/jmd01n.htm April 5, 2004

 

I began to think about these aspects of a drill team in the context of political structures.   In reading about the characteristics of fascism, I was astonished at how many similar aspects both fascism and drill teams maintained in order to function.   In Fascism and Theatre: Comparative Studies on the Aesthetics and Politics of Performance in Europe, 1925-1945 , Günter Berghaus states, "It appears to be a typical trait of fascist regimes that they sought to translate their political creeds into a theatrical language that drew heavily on the traditions of ritual and mysticism" (Berghaus, 4).   But what is the theatrical language and ritual or mysticism of drill teams in Texas? University of Virginia Information Technology & Communication   www.people.virginia.edu/~ds8s/ julia-md/jmd09.html April 5, 2004

                     The theatrical language is that of the trained and disciplined body that fits into the uniform social code of the team.   There are no individuals displayed explicitly within the drill team experience unless there is a team leader.   A uniform, whole entity is what the drill teams of Texas so impressively display for an audience.   Even over time as the girls grow up and graduate the images and performances of a drill team unit remain the same over generations of young girls from a community.

            The ritual or mystic element of the drill team is a little more complicated.   Roger Griffin in the same anthology states, "To be more precise, the genus 'fascism' is assumed to be definable in terms of the core myth which is common to its different permutations, and which underlies its diagnosis of, and remedy for, the social and political 'crisis' of the present order of society" (Berghaus, 12).   That "core myth" for many Texas communities is "One nation under God . . ."   There are large populations of evangelical Christians or religious conservatives in the state of Texas, many of which believe that Christianity is the one and only solution to the social and political ills in this world.   Stemming from this myth of Christianity as the ultimate political solution also comes the political debates about abortion, which was not even a political or legal issue until the late 1800's.   In his article, "Church-State Separation: Endangered Species," Edd Doerr states, "Abortion was legal and common in this country until the late nineteenth century, when state medical associations lobbied restrictive laws through state legislatures as part of efforts to reduce competition in the healing professions" (Leedom, 336).   Another aspect of this myth is the myth of educated religious leaders with full academic credentials.   Alan Albert Snow states in his article, "Dr. Jesus and His Degreed Disciples,"

 

Bastrop, Texas Network . http://www.bastroptexas.net/aroundbastrop/events/county_relay2_2001.htm April 5, 2004

"Investigating the educational backgrounds of many of the high-profile ministers from the Rev. 'Dr.' Billy Graham to the Rev. 'Dr.' Jimmy Swaggart finds that most of them have either the minimal Bachelor's degree of no academic education at all.   The doctorates that they all have are almost always 'honorary' and were given to them by either a church board of directors or a little Bible school.   After writing to several of these churches and schools, I have also received by return mail the same credentials and degrees that are used to legitimize and legalize many of the public ministries that are running and ruining the lives of millions of uninformed and unquestioning religious devotees" (Leedom, 390).

So many of the moral battles and Christian institutions providing both political and spiritual guidance to many Texas communities are founded on myth.   These myths however create purpose and a nationalistic unity in Christian communities that subscribe to it.   This acceptance within a nationalistic whole is also an aspect of fascism.   Griffin states, "Fascism therefore operates as an identificatory ideology, encouraging total symbiosis with the ideological community (as opposed to an integrative ideology, which liberalism and socialism are in theory, encouraging individual conscience, a spirit of inquiry and the tolerance of difference)" (Berghaus, 15).   This idea, found within evangelical Christian churches, of the individual being defined or identified by her or his acceptance of the community's ideologies also applies to the drill teams.   In the structure of the drill teams an authority provides training, activities, and the belief system that serves to unify such a massive group of individuals.   This is instead of the individuals of the drill team feeling free to integrate their individual beliefs into open and flexible guidelines under which each person could maintain their individuality.

           

Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets Association. http://www.txagcca.org/the-corps/pictures.asp?pict=2002w20 April 5, 2004

In conclusion, the drill teams of Texas serve as a theatrical language in which fundamentalist Christian churches can see their ideologies actualized.   Whether or not drill teams knowingly or intentionally subscribe to the tenants of evangelical Christianity, the aesthetic style of precision and uniformity reinforce what fundamentalism deems proper about their ideologies.   Fundamentalist or evangelical Christianity supports interpretation of Biblical scripture that is literal or precise, not fluid, contextual, and open to interpretation by each individual.   Because of the tenant that there is only one correct and literal interpretation of how Christians should live, individuals must adhere to that code of conduct.   This is the same for the young girls in many drill teams.   The girls must adhere to the one choreographic text exactly as written in order to conform to the code of conduct imposed on the group.

Works Cited

  • Berghaus, Günter, ed. Fascism and Theatre: Comparative Studies on the Aesthetics and Politics of Performance in Europe, 1925-1945 . Providence: Berghahn Books, 1996.
  • Leedom, Tim C., ed. The Book Your Church Doesn't Want You to Read. San Diego: The Truth Seeker Company, Inc., 2003.
Victoria Stutters Jr. High Dance/Drill & Victoria Ballet Theatre. www.gpbwebworks.com/ strutter.shtml April 5, 2004

 

 

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