Military drill and the dance?

Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Wed, 14 Feb 1996 03:04:08 -0600

The continuing discussion on dance vs. drill has been fun. Thanks, Mike
Cahill, Warren Spivak, Ruby Rohrlich, Thomas Kavanagh, and everybody else
who has chipped in to the thread.

It seems clear to me that just about everyone who has talked about
military drill in this thread lacks practical participant/observer experience
with the phenomenon. I'd like to chime in as a veteran of two years'
active duty in the regular U.S. Army and four or five years service in Ready
Reserve units of the U.S. Army Reserve.

Aside: That was the old, brown-shoe Army of the Korean War. I enlisted
as a conscientious objector to serve in the Medical Corps. Military
logic that's too complicated to explain here sent me to basic training as
a military policeman at the Provost Marshal General Center, Camp Gordon,
Georgia. The way the Army works, that was the only way I could be given
a guarantee that I would get to serve in the Medical Corps. The M.P.'s
were particularly strong in emphasizing marching drill in their training,
and I got so good at it that I became my platoon's guidon bearer.
Marching veterans will know what that means; to anybody else, it doesn't
really matter.

The manual of arms contains the specifications of marching commands and
appropriate responses, and soldiers are drilled until they give exactly
the right response to each element in the command vocabulary. (The
distinctive commands "column right", "right wheel", "by the right flank",
and "right oblique" and others that involve some kind of turn to the right
are followed by quite different moves from a body of marchers after
"march", the command of execution, is given/spoken/shouted.)

Basic marching has the instrumental purpose of covering a lot of ground in
a predictable amount of time. In the U.S. army, it's based on 30 inch
paces at a rate of 120 paces per minute. "Double time" uses the same 30
inch pace, but increases the rhythm to 180 paces per minute.

A modification handles the geometry of swinging a rank of marchers as if
they were turning on successive pivots. As each marcher completes a full
turn and takes one full step into the new direction of march, that marks
the time to begin marching at "half-step", with 15" paces. The "inside"
marcher of each rank serves as the pivot for the rank, and is the first to
begin the half-step. As that happens, the "outside" marcher in the same
rank is still several paces away from coming into the new line of march,
and continues full 30" paces until fully reaching the new direction to
begin the half-step. As the pivot, inside marcher steps off by half-step,
the marcher directly behind steps on the same pivot point, turns, takes
one full step, and then begins the half-step to pivot the new rank of
marchers. When the whole body of marchers completes the turn, the command
"forward march" is the signal for everyone to return to full, 30" paces at
the same time.

The manual of arms, and the training of officers, says something about how
drill also has the serious purpose of inducing uniformity of response.
Each army has its own rules about, e.g., how far the arm is to swing,
forward and back, while marching, and a great deal of attention is paid to
getting everyone to follow those rules exactly. Doctrine that goes
unquestioned by everybody except me holds that uniformity of response in
marching leads to uniformity in following all military orders.

So far, that's fully in line with what everyone has been saying about
marching being quite different from dance.

>From the point of view of the MARCHER, however, marching IS dance. Great
care is taken to establish a very precise rhythm, like the 120 paces per
minute of the U.S. Army. A leader -- in training, a drill sergeant --
"counts cadence" to establish and maintain that rhythm. Call and
response rhythmic shouting or singing picks up the beat, with counted
counter-rhythms playing against the constant ground of 120 to the minute.
That's just the beginning of the dance. The rhythmic movement *feels*
like dancing, and becomes pleasurable in and of itself.

There's more fun in marching than that. Imagine a group of marchers in
ranks that are four across. At the command that the manual of arms calls
"to the (four) winds, march", the left-hand file turns left, the second
file makes no change, the third file marches to the rear, and the right-
hand file turns right. All continue marching until the command "to the
rear, march" signals everyone to reverse direction. The leader then
demonstrates skill and full knowledge of the drill by timing the command
for everyone to return to the original line of march so that the whole
group once more forms straight ranks, four across, marching in the
original direction. The whole body has spread to the four winds and
returned to the original formation as a body once more. Through it all,
the whole group has maintained a synchronized group rhythm even as the
four ranks diverged from each other, and when they reform as a single body
they're all still in step with each other. Watch a group of marchers do
that, and you'll see them smile when it works as it should.

Beyond its instrumental use, then, marching can be both dance and play.
Its complex movements are enjoyed in their own right. (Ask an old
soldier, sometime, to think through all the commands of a formal retreat
parade involving the several companies of a battalion. Most of us, many
many years after experiencing and repeating this ritual, can recite the
whole sequence of commands and describe the actions still. Okay, to
demonstrate, hey, old soldiers, you're formed into company ranks, 16
across. What commands follow "Pass in review"?)

I haven't even touched on the specialist variations of "Jody marching",
with precise, synchronized, uniform but self-mocking movements, or some
of the flashy spinning, tossing, and maneuvering of rifles indulged in by
drill teams.

Honest, from the participant's point of view, when the subject is
marching, we're talking about dancing here. And that was even true for
me, a dedicated, Quaker pacifist.

Talking of dancing: Ruby, Ish Kabibble played in Kay Kayser's band. His
wise fool act was a staple of Kay Kayser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge.
(True, it was his stage name . . . ) For the younger set: Kay Kyser's
band was not a bunch of hunters and gatherers. They were a DANCE band.
And dance bands were orchestras that provided music for social gatherings
called "dances". They were called that because a major activity at these
rituals involved male/female couples in movements coordinated with the
musical rhythms . . .

Or, as we say in our house, PAAAC: Pee Triple-A Cee, or Pedantic
Accuracy At All Costs.

mike salovesh, anthropology department <>
northern illinois university PEACE !