Baton twirling is an activity involving the manipulation of a metal rod and the human body to a coordinated routine and is similar to rhythmic gymnastics or color guard (flag spinning). Twirling combines dance and gymnastics while manipulating a single baton or multiple batons. It is primarily performed with the accompaniment of music. Fundamental characteristics of the sport include the handling of the baton to create visual images, pictures, and patterns executed with dexterity both close in and around the body and the release of the baton into the air. The discipline requires the simultaneous blending of these fundamental characteristics, utilizing time and space to display both technical merit and artistic expression. Baton twirlers are called majorettes.
Baton twirling requires skillful coordination and extraordinary control of the human body. Additionally it requires a great amount of flexibility in order to properly execute baton, dance, and gymnastics elements. Choreography for baton twirling is designed to promote expression of the body through dance and movement to create a demonstration of strength, flexibility, physical fitness, beauty, aesthetics, and harmony in coordination with the manipulation of the baton.
Baton twirling started in Weastern Europe and Asia. It is thought it started at dance festivals where the goers used knives, rifles, torches and sticks to twirl with and toss. The sport progressed into the armies of some countries which twirled with rifles during marches. When the army was parading, they added a rifle twirler to the front of the marchers. The rifle was then switched for a "mace". The mace was much larger than the batons of today and imbalanced. They are still used by some marching bands at parades nowadays. The mace barer or "drum major" twirled the baton whilst leading the army or band. The maces were altered for easier twirling and now resemble the batons. They were given smaller ends of light rubber, made from hollow light metal and balanced to give accuracy to the twirler. It is thought it was the involvement of females ("drum majorettes") and the progression of twirling that prompted the lightening and balancing of the baton. The sport came to North America when Major Millsap’s created baton twirling when he established Millsap’s College in Mississippi after the Civil War.