CGE recently had the opportunity to interview Diamante Director, Mario Ramirez. Diamante is an independent guard located in Southern California. The WGASC is its home circuit. In addition, Diamante has been newly promoted to World Class at this year’s WGI championships in Dayton, Ohio. Although the success of Diamante is considerable, Mr. Ramirez continues to fully embrace our activity by designing and manufacturing color guard costumes under the label of ‘M.Ra Couture’ and instructing several scholastic color guards as well. At 27 years of age, he is certainly making his mark on the landscape of the color guard world.
Mr. Ramirez first began his color guard career in 1997. As a performer, he has been a member of numerous color guards including; Riverside City College, Solutions, Pacific Crest Drum Corps, Pacific Crest World Class, Yamato & Fantasia. Conversely, as an instructor Mr. Ramirez has worked with Schurr High School, Filmore High School, Santa Margarita High School, Black Nights, Mystical, Impulse and currently – Diamante.
To begin with, congratulations on a phenomenal season with Diamante. The show was truly beautiful and inspired. What motivated you to create a show such as “Requiem of Angels”? Where do you go for inspirations when the creative process begins?
Thank you very much; it was a great season for us all. “Requiem of Angels” was inspired first by the music. But I believe that instructors get their inspiration from many things in the world that surrounds them. But in case of this show, the music definitely came first. I was driving in my car at 3:00 in the morning and it was so dark and quiet…it seemed a like a perfect moment in time for me. I was listening to Mozart’s arrangement, Requiem in D minor, and I knew immediately that was the perfect vehicle for a show. From that point on, I started to form the concept of the show in my mind. The gathering (requiem) of angels were mediators between heaven and earth. The performers set the floor in a requiem, a gathering for the dead. As the bells begin, and their souls reached for the heavens, they set a calm mood to introduce an expansive range of movements and beautiful partnering. The vision existed for the angles to get to heaven at the end of the show.
What motivated you to start an independent guard called Diamante?
I was working with the Black Nights in 2005 when the program folded. Several of the performers were interested in starting a new guard and that is how Diamante was born. The name Diamante just came to me and it seemed like a great name for the new guard.
What is your position with Diamante?
Well, I guess you could say that I am Founder, Director, Choreographer, Costumer, Music Editor and Motivator. I do not write drill. Also, Diamante has several consultants that work with them. However, I am happy to fill many roles, because this is truly where my passion is. There is nothing better than seeing your vision come to life through the performers and experiencing their enthusiasm for the concept.
How many people are on the Diamante staff with you?
There are five people that are involved with the vision of Diamante. Austin Dean, Rob Gussman, Jack Pursul, TJ Doucette and Karl Lowe.
How did you manage to propel Diamante into World class in only 3 years of existence?
There are many components that placed Diamante where we are today. I would have to say that a lot of hard work from the members and the staff went into the program. Everyone has left their mark on the Diamante surface and having that many talented and dedicated people in the mix has helped a lot to place Diamante where it is today. Also, there are some logistical things like setting rules to govern the program and obtaining contracts from the performers. From a skill aspect, we spend so much time in technique blocks. Someone once told me that as an instructor, you need to spend the most time on your own weak point. For me, it is movement, so the guard spends a large amount of time in a technique block working on movement. However, we do work for hours in technique blocks across the equipment/movement spectrum. The last thing that I think has helped us is picking a more mature show with a modern and contemporary feel to it. Audiences relate to that.
Have there been any major obstacles along the way?
Yes. It seems that money and funds have been our biggest issue. It is difficult asking members to fundraise for the general account plus pay their tuition. They all have life responsibilities and incur expenses outside of Diamante. So, it has been hard keeping up with our budget.
What is something you have learned along the way that you wish you had known from the start about instructing a color guard?
Well, there are many things! I would have to say how to plan a show is one of the first things that comes to mind. When you are a young instructor, you just want to place everything that you know onto the floor, but the planning or pacing of events is essential to a good show. Also, I wish I had known more about the judging sheets. I really knew nothing about ‘vertical orchestration’ and other things like that. So, I found myself learning them real fast. Another thing I learned was to highlight my performers in their own specialties. I used to think that everyone in the guard needed to excel at the same level all the time. While this is partially true, I have also learned that utilizing each of my performers in what he/she does best and then placing them in a moment within the show that focuses on them….it works! Finally, if someone had sat down with me and told me exactly how much everything costs to put a show together, I would have been shocked! Expenses such as insurance, budget, floor and drill design all added up faster than I thought possible.
What is the rehearsal schedule for Diamante like?
Starting in September we rehearse on Wednesdays from 7pm-10pm, Sundays from 10am-6pm, with 1 weekend camp a month; Friday 7pm-10pm & Saturday 10am-10pm.
What is the average age of performers in the guard?
They range from 17-21 years old. But I would have to say the average age is about 19. We draw performers from many diverse geographic areas in California. This year we even have a performer from Florida.
Will your program dynamics change now that you have been promoted into World Class?
At this point, the budget will go up a bit for additional consultation. Also we will be adding an additional rehearsal. I am hoping to rent time in a dance studio and have the entire guard take a custom dance class once a week/month.
What is the audition process like for Diamante?
We hold 3-4 weekend clinics during the summer months. Auditions usually occur during the first weekend of September. Usually we work on movement for 4 hours and flag for 1 hour. After the first elimination we work in lengthy segments on rifle and saber.
You also instruct at the scholastic level. What is the name of the high school you work with?
Santa Margarita Catholic High School
How do you compare teaching Diamante with a high school guard?
The two are completely different for me. When I instruct at the high school level, I am focused on teaching color guard, but it is also about teaching responsibility, life commitment, honor to team members and respect for one another. I like to think that I have a responsibility to mold my high school member s into an adult. This is something that they will take with them far beyond their time in color guard to any point in life. With Diamante, all of this is expected from the members.
You have been instructing for quite a few years. What keeps you involved in this activity?
It is definitely the creative side of the activity that keeps me involved. There is nothing like watching a concept or idea come to life through a costume or performance. Also, it is the most amazing thing to watch my kid’s faces or the way they feel when they come off the floor …it is an awesome thing.
What is the most important advice you could give a beginning/novice instructor?
Never forget why you started. People do it for different reasons…do not go away from your reason because if you do, you will never realize what kind of instructor you could have become in the activity.
Let’s talk about your costume design company – M.Ra Couture. How did you start your company?
I have a degree in Fashion from the Fashion Institute of Design Merchandising (FIDM). Earlier in my career as an instructor, it would take too long for costume companies to get me costumes, so I just decided to start making my own. I have been making costume for schools since 2002. It all started with one school and word of mouth started bringing in more and more clients. I think what makes me different from other costume companies is that I focus the fit and sizing per performer, so it makes my product more individualized. I also design and manufacture flags, capes, fans, head pieces etc. M.Ra Couture currently has customers all over California and Arizona. It is just another creative aspect of the activity that I can make come to life, and that is what inspires me.
What are your dreams for your future in this activity – where do you see yourself in 5 years?
As far as my costume company, I would love to have a website and a catalogue just for M.Ra Couture. As for Diamante, I would love for the group to be a strong World class color guard. As for me, I hope that someday I will be in the Color Guard Hall of Fame.
Color Guard Educators Thanks Mario Ramirez for taking the time to share his experiences and structure of the Diamante program for the interest and benefit of our readers. We congratulate Diamante on their 2008 WGI Independent Class Silver Medal and concurrent promotion to World Class. For more information on Diamante go to www. Diamantecg.com Thank you also to contributor Chris Casteel, a member of the CGE Advisory Board and an adjudicator for several circuits as well as the education director for WGASC.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Chris Casteel is an adjudicator with the Winter Guard Association of Southern California (WGASC). She was an instructor in the activity for approximately 20 years before moving into adjudication. She teaches Language Arts and Writing at a middle school in San Marcos, CA and is also a mentor teacher for the school. She holds a BA degree in Education, a California Teaching Credential and a Masters degree in education. Thanks to Chris Casteel for sharing her ideas and for WGASC for allowing the republication of her articles on this website for instructors outside of the WGASC circuit.