When the Big Red Marching Band marches across the sold-out Schoellkopf Field, two sequined twirlers perform alongside the musicians, tossing up to six batons in the air while dancing and tumbling beneath them. Former world champions Jennifer Radi ’01 and Dale Whittaker ’01 have been twirling together for a decade, learning the craft as children in upstate New York and going on to win hundreds of trophies and medals in competition. As they kick off their last year of twirling at Cornell, they discuss their achievements with The Sun.
Q: Both of you have been twirling for most of your lives. How did you first get involved?
JR: My mom, Christine Radi ’78, is a twirling teacher and judge and was actually the first full-time female twirler with the Cornell Big Red Marching Band! I would watch her teach, and at the age of four, I asked if I could try, too.
DW: When I was young, I got bored quite often, and I wanted to get involved in an activity like gymnastics. My mother found an ad in the newspaper about baton lessons, and I began going once a week when I was seven. Years later, my coach said that she was sure I was going to quit after about two weeks because I was the only boy in a group of about 150 girls. In general, it’s a female sport, so as you can imagine, most guys who start drop it quickly for fear of being made fun of. At age 11, I was about to quit when the coach, Jennifer’s mom, asked me to take private lessons and compete.
Q: What are your major twirling awards?
JR: I won 46 National and World Championship titles in 1-baton, 2-baton, 3-baton, strutting, and duet twirling with my younger sister Stephanie. I was also the captain of the New York state and world champion “Christinettes” team. As a member of Team USA, I was a medalist in the National Baton Twirling Association World International Championships in Holland in 1990, France in 1993 and won gold in Italy in 1996. I won the World Open 1-baton championship for 11 consecutive years and the World Open 2-baton championship for nine years.
DW: I was the New York state men’s solo champion and the men’s national champion for all but one of my competitive years. I attended the NBTA world competitions in France in 1993 and in Italy in 1996. At the former, I received two third place medals and a fifth place medal. In Italy, I received two first place trophies and a third place trophy. Until this past spring, I was the reigning senior men’s world solo and dance twirl champion.
Q: How do people react to your performances?
JR: People are usually amazed at how the sport of baton twirling has evolved. Most people think of the old-time majorettes marching in a parade; they have no idea that current twirlers practice long hours to perfect tricks that involve throwing the baton high into the air and spinning under it multiple times, or performing dance and gymnastic moves before catching it in a variety of positions, or rolling it continuously over various parts of the body! Twirling is an activity that involves thousands of young people around the world and it is a thrill to be a representative at Cornell and perform in front of the people cheering in the stands.
DW: Due to the fact that I am a male in a female-dominated sport, the reactions I get vary, probably vastly from the reactions Jennifer gets. Toward the beginning, I was teased and taunted at school. However, at competitions I was received quite well as I seemed to have a smooth twirling style. Most males lose flexibility when they enter puberty, but I retained much of mine which gave me a definite edge over the competition. Towards the end of high school up to the present, I feel people have been a lot more accepting. I walk around campus sometimes and overhear people saying things to the effect of “Oh, that is the male twirler — he is so good.”
Q: How is twirling at Cornell different from when you were competitive?
JR: When I was twirling competitively, I was putting on a performance for whoever was watching, but at the same time, I was competing in front of judges. In competition, there are tricks and movements that must be seen within a routine, and I had teachers from around the country, in addition to my mom, who choreograph the various routines. In contrast, twirling here at Cornell is all a performance, where I have a lot more freedom in choreographing the routines and putting on a show for all the people watching, which makes it a lot more fun and rewarding for me as the performer!
DW: Competitive twirling is a whole different world from twirling here. The typical competition area is a hardwood floor with a high ceiling and a confined competition space of about 10′ x 10′. At Cornell, rather than having a coach, we make up our own routines that are somewhat limited due to outdoor conditions such as the turf, the wind, the cold, the rain and sometimes even the snow!
Q: How many hours do you practice a day?
JR: When I was competitive, I practiced every day for about two hours when I got home from school, except when I was preparing for Nationals, when I would do two practices a day. Here at Cornell, I practice when the band practices, so three to four times a week for two hours.
DW: In the prime of my competitive career, I would practice between two and three hours a day. I will soon be increasing my twirling time here as I will be returning to France several times in the course of the next year to train a team in Paris and to compete.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
JR: I plan on going to med school next fall and I also plan to continue teaching baton twirling and judging competitions.
DW: Currently, I am uncertain of my plans after graduation, though I have toyed with the idea of moving to France to become an English teacher. As far as twirling goes, I may do some coaching on the side.
Archived article by Sun Staff