“In the Toaster”

| January 26, 2011 | 1 Comment

If you’re teaching a Regional A or Novice program there are many important details that compete for your attention.  But as I watched the Novice class perform at a local competition last spring, one technical issue jumped out at me over and over: many of the students were not staying “in the toaster” with their shoulders and equipment work when it was required.  Shortly after that show I wrote a technique article for Halftime Magazine’s March/April 2010 edition with a basic explanation of this concept for the beginner performer.

Here’s how my friend Darcie Gudger describes the toaster concept to her performers:

“I tell my kids that they are the bread in the slot.  The ‘game’ is to not get zapped by the heating coils on the sides.  We have fun with it.  I love making sound effects of getting zapped. I can then tell the kids which way the toaster is facing – audience or end zone – depending on the plane I’ve written my work in.”

The ability for students to keep their shoulders aligned to the appropriate direction (most often square to the audience at the Novice/Regional A level) is a technical achievement that will help your show instantly improve in cleanliness.

If you’re finding that your students are struggling with this concept, here are three important pieces to the puzzle:

1.  Make sure they understand the concept.

Describing this concept with the analogy of a toaster helps students visualize their body facing.  But don’t be afraid to introduce them to the more technical concept of “planes” in space, and that each phrase of choreography they are taught utilizes these various planes – either the 2-dimensional vertical or horizontal plane, or one that carves through space.  (Bonus! You can even brag that you’re helping them ace their future geometry classes by giving them a head-start on vocab!).

2.  Provide a physical demonstration.

Individual Check: If you haven’t already done so, have your performers stand a short distance from a flat, vertical surface to check whether they are in the 2-dimensional plane.  This provides them with a tool to train their muscles to stay in the toaster when learning new skills.  If they aren’t in the toaster they will hit the wall and have immediate feedback that they need to adjust.

Ensemble Check: Sometimes it’s important for students to see how being out of the toaster affects the appearance of the ensemble as a whole.  Have three or four students demonstrate a short phrase of equipment work facing front.  Then angle one or two slightly and have them repeat the work to show the dramatic difference in cleanliness when someone is even slightly out of the toaster.  Point out the difference in the amount of silk/color visible to the audience when you’re in the toaster vs. out.

This may help to emphasize the importance of the individual skill to the ensemble.  Sometimes actually “seeing it” may also be what is needed to convince skeptical performers that even a small deviation from the 2-dimensional plane makes a big difference.  It can be difficult to imagine that a tiny difference will be noticeable from the stands until you see it for yourself.  You can also reinforce this idea by using videos from your first performance to show sections where this skill is not yet being achieved.

3.  Strengthening and Flexibility Exercises

Sometimes a beginner performer isn’t achieving this skill because they lack the strength and/or flexibility in their wrists to control the equipment.  This is where your daily training program is vitally important.

You must make sure you are stretching and rehearsing basics at every rehearsal.

It’s difficult to stress just how important stretching and practicing basics really is.  No number of reminders, no level of nagging will work if you haven’t helped your performers train their muscles to be able to control the equipment.

Avoid the temptation to panic and jump directly into show rehearsal without devoting time to basics and stretching.   Work on stretching the wrists and then stregthening the forearms with flourish exercises and drop spins.  Once students have mastered these skills “front and center,” change things up – have them turn their feet and jazz walk to one side while keeping the equipment parallel to the front; repeat in the other direction.  Isolate the troublesome skills or even troublesome phrases of choreography in block and provide repetition.

You can take it a step further while teaching new sets of drill.  After performers have mastered marching from one set to the next, ask them to march the set doing drop spins or flourishes.  This will require them to make individual decisions about body facing specific to their drill sets before they’re required to focus on complex choreography.


Before you know it, your performers will become aware of their own “toasters” and you can move on to other skills that require constant reminders (posture anyone??).  The improvements will have an impact on all four areas of your winterguard adjudication (and most especially in the equipment and movement captions).

If you have a great idea for teaching your students to stay “in the toaster” I hope you will consider sharing it with us in the comments below!  Happy Spinning.!

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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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