Since she was 4 years old, Aimee Barmore has felt the urge to twirl.
The public relations senior has spent the past four years as the featured baton twirler for the University Marching Band. This is the last year she will be at the University showcasing a sport that is growing in popularity worldwide.
Barmore began twirling for the band as a high school senior while attending Bloomington-Jefferson High School. She is no stranger to crowds, having performed at everything from Convocation to University football games, which sometimes house more than 60,000 people. Barmore will perform Saturday with the Marching Band for the first home Gophers football game, against Colorado State University at the Metrodome.
“When I’m performing, it doesn’t even dawn on me that people are watching me,” she said.
Barmore learned to twirl at a young age from her mother, who was teaching a baton twirling class in a Texas community where the family lived at the time.
“Twirling was huge in Texas; there were so many competitions down there,” said Barmore, who used to twirl at Texas A&M basketball games.
Twirling with the Marching Band allows her to take the next step after competing, she said.
“When I was a little girl, I dreamt of being a twirler at college with a scholarship,” she said. Barmore didn’t receive a scholarship to twirl, but she is at college, twirling.
Tim Diem, director of the University Marching Band, said Barmore brings another element to the band.
“She does something nobody else in the band does,” he said. “Aimee is kind of a catchall; everyone likes to watch a baton twirler.”
Besides being physically one of the best twirlers in the United States, Diem said, Barmore integrates herself into Marching Band performances well and is definitely the main attraction when the band participates in parades.
“She has this flair for performing; when she’s on, she’s really on,” Diem said.
Sometimes for Barmore, creating a great show means losing an arm hair or two. When twirling fire, she uses special batons soaked in gasoline. Barmore has twirled fire at University hockey games and most recently at the State Fair Talent Competition earlier in September. There is no protective gear worn when twirling fire.
“(The batons) are hot, the heat singes the hair on your arms when you do it,” she said.
Her mom worried about the consequences of using possibly flammable products when Barmore started using fire in her routines.
“When I first started twirling fire, my mom was like, ‘no hairspray, no bug spray,’ ” she said.
But Barmore is not the first to twirl.
Sandy Wiemers, president of the United States Twirling Association, said the sport of baton twirling has seen a resurgence in recent years.
Wiemers was the organizer of the World Baton Twirling Championships, held in August at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The event hosted 500 twirlers from countries around the world, including Japan and Canada.
Wiemers said people’s perceptions of the sport often change when they see a baton twirling performance.
“I think some people are very surprised to see the level of athleticism and the dynamics that are involved in this sport,” Wiemers said.
Barmore said that while baton twirling is mainly seen at high school and college football games across the United States, there is a push to make it an Olympic sport. But some question whether twirling is a sport.
“It is for sure a sport,” Barmore said. “The twirlers are athletes. All the hard work, strength and endurance that goes into twirling – people don’t understand.”
Twirling competitions feature individuals and group twirling performances. There is also an event called STRUT, in which twirlers do leaps, jumps and other dance moves while the baton remains static in their hands, Barmore said. At twirling competitions, the costumes are fancy and the makeup is heavy.
She attributes the rise in the popularity of the sport to twirlers beginning to teach children interested in the sport.
Barmore is carrying on the tradition of twirling as an instructor at Dance Xchange studio in Edina, Minn. The sport of baton twirling teaches students sportsmanship, poise, social skills and confidence, she said.
Barmore stressed that twirling is something very special to learn because very few people can twirl.
“It’s a different kind of sport,” she said. “It’s not something you see every day.”