Embracing the Air Blade

| October 3, 2008 | 3 Comments

One veteran instructor’s personal journey towards acceptance (and her tips for instruction!)

“Miss Cortez, are we going to spin the Air Blade this year?”

My initial response to this revolutionary piece of color guard equipment was negative.  I enjoy spinning weapon.  Double time is taught to the rifles because the busted-blood-vessel-ratio to achievement level is about equal.  Mystery bruises should be part of the color guard experience.  The whimsical Air Blade didn’t satisfy the necessary brutality.

Besides, after watching one of my favorite drum corps spin the Air Blade, and the YouTube video used to showcase the Air Blade, I was convinced that the infinite many ways to handle the equipment wasn’t something I wanted to fit into my already limited rehearsal time.

I prefer an equipment book with specific checkpoints; cheater tape is used for hand positions that fit the metronome counts.  It is highly desirable to have an equipment book that is clean and well-executed by the first performance.

Other excuses I used:

  • “The team is practically new this year with 82% first years,”
  • “Every other team will be using the Air Blade because it is the latest trend.”
  • “I don’t know if I want to put this equipment on the field and use it just like a rifle…”

A delightful call from the band director’s wife changed my path…

FACING MY FEAR

Here is a sample of my initial fear:

  • How do I teach this Air Blade?
  • How do I teach it right the first time?
  • In my opinion and experience, unique equipment and props can have an “either / or” effect on your show design.  It will either look fabulous or look like your hard-working team can not maturely accomplish the task given to them.  As a coach, you could walk away from the season thinking, “I will never try that again.”
  • Coordination and careful planning is a must when spinning something unusual.  Maybe you have seen the huge T-flag wrap around a Tuba and felt sorry for the bad contest moment?  Maybe you have witnessed the wonderful windy-wrap of butterfly wings that had your soloist looking like a cocoon?”

My desperation during the phone conversation didn’t wane her.  She believed that I could be a champion of the Air Blade.  Besides, she is one of my biggest fans and the Air Blades were practically delivered during the phone call.

The whole team is spinning Air Blade for the opener.

A mountain was in front of me, research was minimal.  I had to create my own set of basics, choreograph a routine, and overcome the hurdles of teaching Air Blade technique.

CREATING TECHNIQUE

If you have spent any time spinning the Air Blade, it is easy to notice it is comparable to a circle.  Eliminate the need to define a front, back, top or bottom and the choreography opens up with infinite many ways to create routines that incorporate integrating the equipment with unique grips.  The mountain decreased in size and intimidation was eventually overcome.

Hurdle #1: What is the Anatomy of an Air Blade?

With a new piece of equipment in color guard, this could potentially become the Tower of Babble.

The hurdle was overcome by naming the many parts of the Air Blade with easy-to-remember, logical names.  The terms of Tip, Bottom, Large Curve, and Small Curve are comparable to using “North, South, East and West” when giving directions.  The actual hand placement point where the Bone meets the box is communicated “Bone 2 Small Curve.”  Here is what I taught:

 

Air Blade with descriptive labels

 

Hurdle #2: What are the Basics of an Air Blade?

Rifle Spins, Drop Spins, Carves, 27 Points in Space, “Guitar Hero” Carve, Tosses

  • Right Hand Rifle Spins: Considering that there isn’t a front or back, typical rifle right-hand position is demonstrated with the “Small Curve to the floor, Tip to the right” or the “Tip to the left.”  “Push and Squeeze” is used to demonstrate one spin.
  • Right-Shoulder Drop Spins: Tip Up, Small Curve to the left, Left hand on Box 4 Small Curve, (Thumb up), and Right Hand on Box 2 Large Curve (Thumb up).  Drop it into the left hand grasping at Bone 2 Small Curve
  • Carves and “Guitar Hero” Carve:  Just grab it where you want to and carve the air, the trick is defining the body and the equipment in relationship to the body.  The “Guitar Hero” Carve was fun to teach.  Put the equipment down and “Air Guitar” with huge straight-arm circles.  Teach the point in space that you want to initiate the “strum” and end the “strum.”  Pick up the Air Blade with the right hand-thumb up, Bone 2 Small Curve to the right, Tip down.  Stand in a Left Lunge, put the Air Blade straight out from the shoulder and strum down (continue as far as your imagination will take you).
  • Tosses: Explore, define release points, just as you would use rifle or saber.  Endless possibilities are in this piece of equipment for tossing.  Define catch points using the Box/Curve terminology and notice how quick the tosses get super clean.  I was impressed and the team had only been on equipment 4 hours.

Hurdle #3: How do I Choreograph a Routine that Demonstrates the Revolutionary Air Blade?

Air Blade WeavedThe boxes allow the performer to puncture spaces that have been impossible on Rifle.  Using the Air Blade as an extension of the arm to perform across the floors created a huge visual that is now used to initiate the show.  To achieve this look, weave the hand through box 4 and grab bone 2 (with the elbow at bone 3), small curve wrapping the body.

Tosses can be higher with fewer revolutions.

The bonus feature: My personal injury level decreased greatly while choreographing the routine!

A strong desire to integrate the Air Blade onto a flag pole kept me working until I designed something that is manageable by a beginner.  Partner-work with the Air Blade and a flag pole is creating a pleasant surprise during our halftime show.  A new texture is explored in partner work that ends in a manageable equipment exchange.  I found that exchanging the Air Blade is more achievable than it is to exchange a rifle.  The Air Blade’s weight is incredibly consistent and the performers have more confidence in expectations of what they are about to catch.

Now onto the final hurdle…

Hurdle #4: How do I change the color?

Yellow Air BladeOur band uniforms and plumes are white; the equipment blended in with the plumes, the audience could not see the Revolutionary Air Blade equipment book that has been so tediously studied.

Spray paint made specifically for plastic has achieved the job without adding weight.  One can of paint covered 10 Blades perfectly.  For less than twelve dollars the team is able to show off their new skills.

AND THEN THE REST IS HISTORY…

A predominantely young team is making a big impression with their revolutionary equipment book.  The word “Air” has been eliminated in our rushed rehearsals.  They are lovingly called “The Blades”; during a rained-out performance the whole team giggled relentlessly when told to “Air-Air Blade.”  The joy is endless in the world of color guard.

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Category: Design, Equipment Technique, Equipment, Floors & Props, Instruction

About the Author (Author Profile)

Jennifer Cortez is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and University of Central Florida where she received a BS in Mathematics with a Minor in Computer Sciences and a BS in Educational Psychology. Formerly a mathematics teacher for Brevard County Schools, Ms. Cortez is presently an aerospace software test engineer at Kennedy Space Center . She was Color Guard Captain for the USM Pride Marching Band and is a Drum Corps International Alumnus (Southwind ). A mother of twin-teenage daughters and a third grade son, Ms. Cortez has 23 years of Color Guard Choreographer experiences and 19 years Color Guard Coaching experience. She has been the Color Guard Director for the Eau Gallie High School Color Guard for 9 years.

Comments (3)

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  1. Jocelyn says:

    Thanks for the article I too have had a negative reaction to the Air Blades. They don’t look like a rifle to me. They look like a prop. And a somewhat cheese-y prop at that. But, from reading your article I just may want to give them a try. Maybe when we have a budget for them. lol! I wonder what kind of program your school did when they used them? They look like they would only really fit a futuristic program.

  2. Sonny JV says:

    I’m going to bite the bullet and buy my guard Air Blades. You spray painted yours with gold paint. How did that work out in terms of the paint actually staying on the equipment and not ending up on everyone’s hands? I’m thinking of buying a light blue-ish spray paint but I’d hate to have it end up all over the gloves.

    • Jennifer Cortez says:

      @Sonny JV – yes, the paint transferred from the air blades that were painted by a volunteer (no clear coat, over sprayed). Use clear coat to finish and seal. Super thin coat to change color. Up close the airblade looks pixelated due to the thin coat. Distance viewing plus movement provides the solid color effect.

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