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Winter guard

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Winter guard is an indoor color guard activity, derived from marching band or drum & bugle corps. Unlike traditional color guard, winter guard is performed indoors, usually in a gymnasium or an indoor arena. Performances make use of recorded music rather than a live band or orchestra.

Winter guard ensembles commonly perform at judged competitions officiated by local and regional associations using criteria developed by Winter Guard International.

Team roles[edit]

The members of a winter guard team ("the guard") are drawn from many different specialties, which sometimes overlap: there are equipment instructors (sometimes one for the unit, sometimes broken out into the individual sections), dance instructors, and drill instructors. The equipment instructors create the choreography performed with equipment and teach it to the guard. The dance instructors create and teach the choreography in the show. The drill instructors focus on the position of the guard members relative to one another and to the boundaries of the performance area, in addition to where each member goes at which specific time during the performance.

A winter guard team usually has a captain, who is one of the performing members who leads and represents the guard. The captain may assume minor administrative duties and lead the team when instructors are not available. The captain is also the representative of the guard during awards ceremonies or retreat.

The number of members on a winter guard team varies widely from a few to about 40.

Performance conventions[edit]

The duration of winter guard shows depends on the class in which the guard is performing. In competition settings, each winter guard team is allotted a set amount of time to set up staging (including a vinyl floor if the guard is using one, and any props associated with the performance), place all equipment, perform the show, and remove staging, props, and equipment. Setup and tear-down typically run two minutes each, and performances run around five minutes. Judges impose penalties on teams that run past the allotted time.

Unlike traditional Color guard (flag spinning) teams, which perform outdoors on a football field or parade route accompanied by a marching band or drum corps, winter guard teams perform indoors to recorded music.

In competitions, winter guard teams are judged in the areas of talent, precision, creativity and horizontal orchestration (how all thte elements create the larger picture/effect). Performances incorporate equipment, props, and dance moves.

Judges must keep a running commentary on a tape recorder or digital recorder. The judges record the score on a designated sheet to be reviewed by the individual guard instructor(s). After every one in a class has competed and their scores have been tallied, if the instructor(s) so choose they may meet with all the judges to discuss in depth why they received the score they did, ways to improve, what they are doing right etc. the goal of all parties involved, is to have the performers, staff and the programs grow and learn.


Three primary types of equipment are used in winter guard: flags, rifles, and sabres. Such equipment is used in shows to demonstrate a team's technical ability. Rubber tape, such as electrical tape, is often used to cover the equipment and give it a uniform appearance and protect it from damage as it is tossed, caught, and dropped.


The most fundamental piece of equipment in color guard or winter guard shows is the flag. While winter guard flags take many different sizes and shapes, a standard size is a six foot pole (wooden, metal, or plastic) with a four foot "silk", often of a custom design. Smaller flags called "swing flags" are shortened poles with large silks connected to them. These flags are often incorporated into the artistic element of the performance, even though they are not practical for tossing or spinning, due to the weight and length of the silk. Other flags may range from 5 feet to 7 feet depending upon the intended effect of the piece of equipment. Longer flags are not practical to spin or throw but serve more as holders for large pieces of material.


Shaped similar to actual rifle firearms, the rifles used in winter guard are made of solid or hollowed-out lightweight wood and weigh 2–5 pounds (about 1–2.25 kilograms). Most winter guard rifles have a length of 30–39 inches (about 76–99 centimeters) and are composed of five parts:

  1. The neck of the rifle. The neck is where the trigger would be on a firearm rifle. Right-handed hand-spins are performed using the neck of the rifle as the axis for the spin, and the neck is also used in common tosses.
  2. The bolt is a long silver strip of metal or plastic connected to the body of the rifle by screws, made to look like the bolt on a firearm.
  3. The body of the rifle, is the middle section and the majority of the mass of the rifle.
  4. The strap, a long leather strap that reaches from the butt end of the rifle to about two-thirds of the way to the nose of the rifle. The strap has functional and visual purposes, and it is also used to produce a snapping sound.
  5. The swivel is the metal piece that attaches the strap to the body of the rifle. This is the most common location for left-hand placement when executing a regular left-handed toss.
  6. The final part of the rifle is the butt, the heavier, back end of the rifle.


Sabres are elegant pieces of equipment used in winter guard. The length of sabres can range from about 30–39 inches (about 76–99 centimeters). They can either be plastic, metal, or plastic covered metal- though metal is more commonly used. Some metal sabres on the market are intricately decorated with engravings or etchings along the blade. These more intricately designed sabres tend to be more expensive.

Sabres have two main parts: the blade and the hilt. The blade has a pointed but dull end, and the length of the blade is dull as well. Some winter guard team members wrap their sabres in electrical tape, as they do with rifles. As with rifles, a piece of black or non-white tape placed near the center of rotation is used as a "spotter", making it easier to locate the fast-moving blade while it is rotating in the air. Sabres are used only by more advanced guard members. It is harder to manage than a rifle because of its long and thin structure.


Guard members incorporate many different styles of dance into their shows. The most common styles of dance used are modern, lyrical, jazz, conservative, and ballet. The different styles of dance are chosen depending on the different types of music chosen and the themes of the shows. Dance is usually incorporated into the equipmentwork, and is performed seamlessly throughout the show.

Winter Guard International[edit]

Major competitions worldwide are sanctioned and managed by Winter Guard International.

Winter Guard International (WGI) is a non-profit organization that functions as the governing body of winter guard activities. The phrase "Sport of the Arts" is frequently associated with WGI. WGI describes winter guard and winter percussion by saying "it brings music to life through performance in a competitive format."[1]

WGI national competitions are held annually in the United States. The WGI staff, board, and steering committees work are tasked with furthering the winter guard program. They authorize official regional competitions that are used as qualifier competitions to be accepted to compete at WGI World Championships ("Nationals").

Divisions and classes[edit]

Because not every color guard has the same skill level, population, or resources available, WGI uses a class division system to help remedy this. There are two divisions, Scholastic and Independent. These divisions include the classes (in descending order) Independent: Independent World Class, Independent Open Class, Independent A Class. And Scholastic: Scholastic World, Scholastic Open, Scholastic Class A(abbreviated SA1), Scholastic Class AA(abbreviated SA2), Scholastic Class AAA(abreaviated SA3), Class B, Cadet Class, and Cadet Novice Class.

Guard teams can be chosen to move to a higher class, but they can only move down a class after a period of inactivity or after a WGI review. For every competition, any team which achieves a score higher than a predetermined threshold is automatically moved up, or "bumped", to the class above its current position, even mid-season.

The Scholastic division is made up of guards that have members that all attend the same high school or a feeder school of that high school. There are many colleges and universities that sponsor their own winter guards as well, but these guards typically compete as Independent guards. Scholastic guards vary greatly in their ability and resources because they are more dependent on support from sources other than the members themselves, such as their school's band and school funding.

In the Scholastic division, there are three classes: Scholastic A, Scholastic Open, and Scholastic World. More divisions may exist at the local/regional level, such as Regional A, Scholastic AA, AAA, B, or Novice. In many places there is also a middle school class, often called Cadet. Scholastic A teams tend to be a step above the regional level and are the lowest level to compete in WGI. Scholastic Open teams are an intermediate level for competition. The Scholastic World division includes the highest caliber of winter guard teams.

The Independent division is composed of winter guard teams that do not associate themselves with a school (the exception being university teams). Additionally, these kinds of guards can be much more selective of their members, choosing to be gender-specific or to only have certain numbers of members.

In the Independent division, much like the Scholastic division, there are the three classes: Independent A, Independent Open and Independent World. The breakdown of skill level and placement mirrors that of the Scholastic division. Members of Independent A and Independent Open guards "age out" after their 22nd birthday, meaning guard members whose 22nd birthdays fall after March 31 of a given year may perform that season. Independent World teams may compete with members of any age.

Winter guard circuits[edit]

Although the goal of many winter guards is to compete in the WGI World Championships, most guard competitions take place in regional winter guard circuits. These circuits are loosely organized and may not be formally affiliated with WGI. In many cases the circuits may predate WGI by many years. For example, the Midwest Color Guard Circuit celebrated their 50th anniversary season in 2007.[2] They may also have different competitive structures with additional classes to those in WGI. Circuit classes often will include beginner or novice guards such as Cadet, Novice, B, Regional AAA, Regional AA, Regional A, and Regional Open. Circuits generally score using WGI standards and judges whether they are formally affiliated with WGI or not.

In addition, the winter guard activity is growing outside of the United States. In Europe, Color Guard Nederland (Netherlands) (CGN) and Winter Guard United Kingdom (WGUK) have recently affiliated with organizations from France and Germany to form the European Indoor Arts Alliance (EIAA) with the goal of creating a European Union-wide platform for the growth of the color guard activity in Europe, where the scholastic branch of the activity does not exist.


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