Featuring Fundamentals: The Drop Spin

| January 12, 2007 | 3 Comments

FEATURING FUNDAMENTALS: THE DROP SPIN 

The most fundamental of all fundamentals, the drop spin was probably the very first spin most of us learned on the flag.  It’s the one fundamental that seems to be universally performed daily by groups from the most beginner to the most competitive.  It’s useful in developing strength, wrist flexibility and grip.  The skills developed through rehearsal of this move translate to countless more advanced skills.  This article discusses accepted techniques for performing drop spins as well as tips for teaching these spins to beginners, identifying and correcting common problems, and taking the rehearsal of these spins one step further as your performers advance in skill.

 

Drop Spin Technique

(NOTE**Photos will be added to enhance this article soon.  Right now it is text-only.)

In any discussion of technique it is important to note that specific techniques for each fundamental move vary unit to unit and instructor to instructor throughout the country.  The primary goal in choosing and defining a particular technique for your group is to find a method that provides consistent performance of the skill by the individuals in the group while minimizing risk of injury.  That said, there are several ways that drops spins are taught and performed.  This article speaks only to one or two commonly-used techniques.

The Basic Mechanics

The drop spin is usually performed as a two-count move.  The spin can be started from a variety of positions with the most common being either right shoulder arms or a “ready-position.”

  1. To begin a right hand drop spin, both hands are on the pole with thumbs facing upward, right hand placed above the left.
  2. The performer then lets go with the left hand, turning that hand clockwise until the thumb is facing down.  Then, with the right hand they rotate the pole in the counter-clockwise direction “dropping” it into the open left hand (the left hand should be lower on the pole than the right hand).  At this point (count 1) both hands are now again on the pole with both thumbs pointing down towards the ground. 
  3. Then, the performer lets go of the pole with the right hand, turning that hand back to the “thumbs up” position and continuing the counter-clockwise spin with the left hand.  When the pole reaches vertical they grab it with the right hand again on top and both thumbs are now pointing upward again.

This skill should also be practiced with the left hand leading.

“In the Silk” vs “On the Pole”

There are two different techniques that groups commonly use in performing drop spins.  These are a matter of instructor preference in most cases.  Some groups choose to center their spin with one hand always grabbing “in the silk” and the other hand on the pole so that both hands meet exactly at the center of the pole.  Of course, this is dependent on your silk being exactly half the size of the pole.  Other instructors prefer that their students’ hands not touch the silk at all during the spin, instead opting for both hands to grab only on the bare pole.  In this case, you avoid hands getting tangled in fabric, but the spin is not exactly centered on the length of the pole.  Neither way is necessarily better than the other.  What is important is to define YOUR preference so that each person in your ensemble is performing the skill exactly the same way.  In either case, both hands should grab the pole together with little space between the fists.

Positioning the Spin

The next consideration is how the spin is positioned relative to the performer’s body.   First, the arms should be extended out from the body and slightly downward so that the point of rotation is centered near the performer’s hips or just below his or her belly button. 

There should be enough space between the body and the hands that the performers do not need to move their elbows up and down to perform the spin.  Elbows and arms should be relaxed with a slight bend, and the elbows pulled slightly away from the body (not “locked” and pressed against the performer’s sides).  Elbows should only rotate slightly isolating most of the movement in the wrist.

Pitch

During the drop spin, the pole should remain vertical and parallel to the performer’s body.

Rotation

The rotation of the pole through repetition should be smooth and continuous with an even speed throughout and passing through the vertical “down checkpoint” on the odd counts and the vertical “up checkpoint” on the even counts. 

Identifying Common Mistakes and Tips on Correcting Them!

There are a few very common mistakes to look out for in teaching and rehearsing drop spins.  Below are some descriptions of these common mistakes along with tips on how to correct and avoid these potential problems.

Flapping Wings! (And other placement problems)

Many students lift their point of rotation up toward their face in an effort to watch their hands.  This results in elbows moving up and down almost like they are doing the chicken dance!  Simply remind the student to lower their point of rotation and push their hands slightly away from their body.

Another common problem with placement is that some students will drop their hands on count 1 but then lift both arms upward when moving to count 2.  Ideally, the arms should remain relatively stationary throughout the spin with only the hands moving.  If you notice students moving their arms simply demonstrate the error for them and let them know they are doing this.  Awareness usually leads to correction.

If you have access to a mirror or reflective window in your practice area you can use this to help correct placement problems.  Simply have students stand in front of the mirror.  With masking tape, mark off a box on the mirror that represents the area they must keep their point of rotation within.  This helps them to visually see a boundary they must stay within while performing the skill until their muscles are trained to stay there.

Rolling Up the Silk

Probably the most noticeable problem that beginning students have with drop spins is having the silk roll up around the pole as they are spinning.  This is usually caused by bending the wrist as the flag is passed from one hand to the next.  The wrist should actually remain mostly in line with the forearm, rotating but not bending inward.  Demonstrate the appropriate way to perform the spin and show them what it is that happens when they bend their wrists as they pass the flag (causing the pole itself to rotate).

If you are having students place one hand “in the silk” during the spin, you can use this to help them avoid rolling.  Have them pinch the seam of the flag casing between their thumb and middle finger when they begin.  Then have them perform the spin slowly, making sure the keep the seam facing out to the side.  As they pass the pole from one hand to the next they continue to pinch the seam.  This will help give them a visual reference point to avoid rotating the pole.

Some instructors also choose to teach students how to unroll the silk as they are spinning by gently twisting the pole with their fingertips during the spin if the silk starts to wrap.  However, this sort of thing is not necessary once they learn the correct performance of the skill.

Pitch Problems

As mentioned above, pitch problems are when the pole is not kept parallel to the body (or vertical) throughout the entirety of the spin.  The primary way to identify this problem is to walk down the side of the rehearsal block.  This is very difficult to see from the front.  So take some time each day to walk along the side of the block and make sure poles aren’t tipping forward at the top during the spin.  Pitching forward is usually caused by one or more of the following errors: 1. the angle of the wrists are tilting forward 2. the student may be pushing his/her hands too far forward and downward or 3. the student may need to relax and lift his/her elbows up and slightly away from the side of the body.  Help the performer to identify the specific reason they are pitching forward.  Awareness usually leads to self-correction.

Speed of Rotation

Another mistake to watch for is inconsistent speed of rotation.  Ideally, the entire 360 degrees of rotation should be at a consistent speed.  Some students tend to push a little harder on the downward part of the rotation (count 1) and a little slower coming back up.  Again, simply making them aware that they are doing this will help them to fix it.

You can also try breaking the counts down further to add additional checkpoints within the spin.  For example, have the students perform the move in four counts instead of two with checkpoints being: 1 – horizontal (with the silk left, right hand on pole), 2 – vertical down (both hands on pole), 3 – horizontal (with the silk to the right, left hand on pole), 4 – up vertical (both hands on pole)

Rehearsing the Drop Spin

Drop Spins, along with a series of other fundamentals, are often performed at every single rehearsal throughout the season. 

Many instructors begin the season with several sets of low repetitions.  For example, try starting with sets of 10 to 30 spins until students have mastered the physical skills needed as well as a good understanding of appropriate technique.  After all, you don’t want to encourage a large number of repetitions with incorrect technique or you will have some really hard habits to break! 

As students become more comfortable you can increase the number of repetitions switching the focus from mastering the basics to strength-building.  As you make this switch, however, it is important to keep two things in mind. 

1.      The first is always safety.  Repetitive Motion injuries are common in our activity.  Make sure that students have stretched and warmed up their wrists, arms and shoulders prior to rehearsal.  Make sure not to jump dramatically in repetition – say from 30 to all-of-the-sudden 250 in one rehearsal.  Allow a gradual increase in reps to give time for muscles and strength to develop.  Avoid excessive repetitions altogether.  Instead, focus on trying to determine the minimum number of repetitions needed to achieve the goals you are working toward.

2.      The second thing to keep in mind is not to assume that once the students have mastered technique they will never need corrections.  Performers relax, sometimes get lazy, or sometimes lose focus.  Make sure to always be an active observer during fundamentals.  Look for any mistakes that might have crept in.  Let your performers know that you expect them to focus and commit to proper technique every time and help them by catching tiny mistakes before they become bad habits.

One Step Further 

Once your students have mastered the basics you can take your fundamentals rehearsal one step further by varying exercises or layering other skills with your drop spins.  Here are some ideas!

  1. Varying Speed:  Try rehearsing your spins at different tempos.  Sometimes it is much more difficult for students to control spins and keep a consistent speed at slower tempos than it is to master a faster tempo.  With slower tempos there is more “time” between the “claps” (also referred to as space between the downbeats) and thus more room for variation.  Define additional checkpoints within the beat to help them develop an awareness of where their pole should be at various points within time by breaking down or “subdividing” the beats.  For example, Instead of just counting, “1, 2, 3, 4…” you can subdivide the beat further into “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and” or “1 e and a 2 e and a 3 e and a 4 e and a.”  This is a skill that the musicians in the band have learned with regards to playing their music and the color guard can also benefit greatly from an understanding of the space between the “downbeats.”
  2. Adding Body & Movement:  For most performers, the biggest challenge once they learn to spin their flag is to then march while spinning!  Adding marching fundamentals beneath their spins (once they have mastered both the spin technique and movement technique separately) can move them toward successful marching and moving with all variations of routine. 
    1. Step One: First start with simple marking time while they spin.  Add in a forward march or backward march.  Continue adding skills like marching stops and starts.
    2. Step Two: Once performers are comfortable with forward and backward movement try adding shifts to either side.  These require that the flag and shoulders stay parallel to the front sideline but the body and feet turn underneath.  Have the students practice the transition from forward or backward movement to a shift by performing an 8 count marching block beneath their spins.  One variation is:  Mark Time 8, forward 8, shift left 8, backward 8, shift right 8, mark time 8, halt. 
    3. Step Three: Simple Jazz Running.  After students have mastered both the drop spin AND the jazz run separately try putting the two together.
    4. Step Four: Combining Dance Fundamentals with Drop Spins – Since it is often difficult to find time during short rehearsals to work through every necessary fundamental exercise, many instructors combine these skills to “kill two birds with one stone,” AND to help students get used to spinning and moving simultaneously.  Some ideas include layering on a tendu exercise, working through a series of passés, adding a combination of plié and relevé, or even side chassés beneath your basic drop spins.  Be sure to teach the dance fundamentals and spins separately first.  Then once students have achieved a comfort level with each separately, begin to layer.  This will make teaching their drill and routines much easier in the long run!

 article written September 2006

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Category: Equipment Technique, Instruction

About the Author (Author Profile)

Catina Anderson is the founder/editor of the Colorguard Educators blog. Color guard has been part of her life for almost 25 years. She began coaching in 1994 and worked with the Broad Run High School color guard in Northern VA from 1998 until 2010. She has also written for Halftime Magazine and served on the Executive Board of the Atlantic Indoor Association. A former teacher, she enjoys sharing what she has learned and hopes to encourage others to share as well. Together we can create even more positive experiences for performers and help to collectively strengthen marching arts activities worldwide.

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  1. Missy says:

    Please make a series of fundamentals like this. I am a brand new color guard coach, with no color guard experience. I am afraid of teaching my students (who are also beginners) the wrong technique; and I am having trouble finding resources for basic skills.

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