Not just a feature: DCI takes marching beyond a halftime show

The International Drum and Bugle Corps (which is a part of Drum Corps International, or DCI) is a coalition of professional competitive marching groups that have been competing for decades. Chances are, if you’ve never donned a uniform to march underneath stadium lights, then you’ve never heard of this sport. DCI requires physical strength and technical talent that is often overlooked by the athletic world, though some members of the prestigious organization are students at our very own West Chester University.

Though competitive marching bands predate DCI, the organization got its start in 1971 with its 13 original corps. Nationwide there are now 22 corps, each with 154 members, including hornline, colorguard, auxiliary percussion and drum majors. For those who are new to this, those are (??) people who march intricate drills with instruments in hand, people that do insane choreography while twirling rifles, people who stand on the sideline and play the impossible and people that wave their arms to make this all happen.

Though competitive marching bands predate DCI, the organization are students at our very own
West Chester University.

Corps perfect and perform an average of 13-15 minutes of intense drill work and music, which will be judged against other shows throughout the summer season. The shows have a theme that is determined by corps itself. Anything from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to the meaning of a word can be conveyed by a show. Hornline in the corps includes trumpets, mellophones, baritones and tubas, but this does not prevent drill writers from including high-speed and technically difficult movements for the instrumentalists.

Pennsylvania’s alma mater is The Cadets, a corps based out of Allentown that holds the second-most world titles in the league. This allows West Chester University students to audition and in the tradition of incomparability, many students are admitted. Junior Destinee Bebout is one of nine Cadets from West Chester University that marched the 2019 season.

“I didn’t know what Drum Corps was until my first camp. One of my coordinators at Ram Band asked me to audition at the Cadets, and he taught me everything I needed to know. I’ve always loved the excellence and discipline in the marching arts, and DCI was that to the Nth degree. The dedication to the process is something you can really easily buy into,” said Bebout.

The Cadets are not the only DCI corps with WCU talent; the 2019 season saw students in corps such as The Bluecoats, Boston Crusaders and Santa Clara Vanguard. These groups are part of the DCI World Class, the NFL of marching, but for those who are not ready for the commitment or balancing busy schedules, there are other divisions of marching.

“There are also different categories of Drum Corps. DCI World goes on tour for an entire summer together, DCI Open tours for a few weeks during the summer and DCA is all-age and only meets on weekends,” says Bebout.

Bebout credits corps such as these as one of the reasons she was able to excel and improve for the 2019 season.

“I knew from the second I was there that being a Cadet was so much more than just being a part of the organization. I was eager to know more and be more. I didn’t make it into the Cadets my first time, so I spent a summer with their (now folded) DCA corps, Cadets2. In 2019 I came back and had the opportunity to be with the Cadets, and it was incredible,” she said.

Just like any other sport, members work as a team and come to rely on each other. Drill patterns are created by marking “dots” on the field; every member is assigned a dot and is responsible for memorizing the location of the dot throughout the show. DCI shows often mark over 200 dot locations throughout one show. This kind of intense teamwork and the long hours it takes to assemble the show requires not only physical growth, but mental growth throughout the season.

“The way I’ve seen myself grow and mature from being a Cadet has been really rewarding. I’ve become a different person from buying into their process and tradition. I’m really proud of that,” says Bebout.

‘The way I’ve seen myself grow and mature from being a Cadet has been really rewarding.’

What makes DCI even more intense is that they are “junior corps” —  this means that none of the members are over 21 years of age. High schoolers and college students not only carry their class load, but also travel the country to march with these outstanding groups. Bebout herself will be hitting her “age-out” next year, making the 2020 season her last opportunity to march with The Cadets.

Chances are that whatever marching band blessed your high school’s football field was a far cry from a sport. However, DCI takes traditional marching drill to the next level. Having experienced the rigors of the season herself, Bebout can testify to the athleticism involved.

“The amount of training that goes into pre-season and during tour is not something light. We ran a lot, and definitely sweat a lot. Most people get abs, lose 20 pounds and get what we call a ‘body by drum corps.’ We have to drink gallons of water a day to stay healthy and have medical staff with us all summer. It doesn’t really matter if it’s not a sport or not, but it’s definitely a form of athleticism for sure,” she said.

Drum Corps International may not be on ESPN or have Sunday night specials, but it is a sport. The drill and choreography is hard enough to challenge any athlete, not to mention the musical talent that is required. DCI may not be your new summer sport, but it can be a proposition to rethink what we consider athletics.

Caroline Helms is a first-year student majoring in English.

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