Whitefish Christian Academy parent Stephanie Breck has a hidden talent — baton twirling.
The former competitive baton twirler now is teaching a free class on the activity at Whitefish Christian Academy.
The weekly baton twirling classes are geared toward preschool through fourth-grade girls living in the Flathead Valley. Beck is holding the class as part of the volunteer hours required of parents of academy students, but she has thought about eventually creating a club if there is enough interest.
Breck started baton twirling as a 7-year-old and progressed to performing in parades and competing with a traveling club until she was a senior in high school. She competed in state, regional and national competitions.
“By the time you get to levels of competition you’re combining gymnastics and twirling,” Breck said. Competitions involve individual and team events with one baton or up to three.
For now, Breck’s classes begin with the basics and a goal to make their first parade appearance in January.
“Our goal is to march with the WCA float that’s in the Winter Carnival parade,” Breck said.
She wants to eventually expand the class to include fifth- through eighth-graders.
“It really is a great thing. The sport builds self-confidence and self-esteem,” Breck said.
The activity also has physical benefits such as helping children develop hand-eye coordination and rhythm, Breck said.
The second baton twirling class of the year on Sept. 20 proved to be an exciting day for the 13 girls signed up to receive professional-grade batons.
When the last school bell rang, three eager students dashed up to Breck, who was sitting on a bench outside, asking if they were getting their batons. Breck nodded and patted a box beside her. The girls clapped, jumping up and down before running to change into white uniform shirts.
Breck initially introduced academy students to baton twirling with an in-school demonstration. This piqued 7-year-old Rayna Mercer’s interest, according to her mother, Shannon Mercer.
“That sold Rayna right there,” Shannon Mercer said. “Rayna came home really excited. I like that she can practice this at home.”
Out on the playground basketball courts, the girls lined up in rows, twisting their new batons back and forth when Breck gained their attention.
“Hold the baton like this,” Breck said holding a baton vertically in front of her. “Now tell me the parts of the baton that we went over in the last class.”
Breck pointed to the top, bottom and middle as the students called out the proper names “ball, tip, shaft.” She reminded them on how to care and practice with the batons.
“Batons are not toys. They can hurt people. When you practice make sure there is lots of room — no pets around or cars,” Breck said.
Breck then went through warm-up exercises and stretches before moving into the first baton twirl move.
“The wrist is really important in all of this,” Breck said. “Keep it flexible and loose because the wrist really has to move. The first thing we’ll learn is called a ‘roly-poly.’ Put your arms out straight. Put your baton under your chin. Let the baton roll down. Make a little pop with your wrists and catch the baton in your right hand.”
After Breck demonstrated the roly-poly, Josie Voeller, 8 and Grace Fremont, 7, attempted the move. Voeller and Fremont joined baton twirling because they thought it looked fun.
“I’m going to be with all my friends,” Fremont said.
Both girls did the roly-poly with success while a few batons dropped around them.
“Dropping the baton is all part of baton twirling,” Breck said before walking around to help. “Just keep practicing.”
Fourth grader Sofia Beers, 10, told her mom, Alessandra: “Mom, look.”
“I know you could do this,” Alessandra Beers said.
More students mastered the roly-poly and Breck moved on to the “figure eight” and “horizontal twist” before the second class came to an end.
Whitefish Christian Association Baton Twirling class is held from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. every Thursday at the school at 820 Ashar Ave. Classes are free and participants may register at the school office with a payment of $25 to order a baton. Students will be measured for proper baton length.
For more information, email Breck at email@example.com.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake Pre-K student Caroline Owens practices the "Roly-Poly" move Thursday afternoon during the first ever baton twirling class at Whitefish Christian Academy. Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 in Whitefish, Montana.