Drill teams, or dance teams, are high school sports teams that compete and perform at other events such as half-time shows.
During high school drill team competitions, the teams perform routines in different categories. One category is a character-themed one that is, “A thematic routine which focuses on the portrayal and development of a character through movement, music and uniform,” according to Utah High School Activities Association guidelines. The teams, particularly teams in southern Utah high schools, commonly perform culturally-themed routines in the character category. These types of routines are wrong and, frankly, offensive.
The Region 9 drill team competition for 2018 took place in the Dixie State University M. Anthony Burns Arena January 31. During the character performances, routines included a Maleficent and a clown-themed routine. It seems that non-American cultures also qualify as characters in the drill team world. Dixie High School performed an Egyptian-themed routine, which included Egyptian-inspired clothing, dance moves, music and dancing camels. Another seemingly offensive routine by Cedar High School featured remixed Indian music, Indian-inspired poses, red and green Indian-type uniforms, and sparkly imitation headpieces.
A thin line exists between celebrating culture and appropriating culture. Cultural appropriation is defined as a concept dealing with the adoption of parts of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture in a society.
Jeff Richards reviewed the drill team competition for the St. George News and wrote, “… Dixie placed second with its exotic number featuring belly dancers and camels …”
Exotic is not a term I would use to describe the routine, and I’m not alone with my sentiments on culturally insensitive “character” routines performed by predominantly Anglo students. The Cedar High School drill team received criticism in 2016 for a routine depicting Native American culture and dance. They also imitated Native ethnicity by wearing black, braided wigs. In the same year, Canyon View High School performed an African-style piece and Dixie High School placed first with a Chinese-themed routine as their character performance.
Although cultural appropriation has been a hot topic for discussion for a few years, it seems that mainstream population continuously disagrees with what constitutes cultural appropriation. A non-American culture is not a character, it is not a toy for white people, including drill teams, to play with, and it is not a tool for entertainment, especially in a nation where things like white supremacy, racism, xenophobia and nationalism are prevalent.
America’s history with the “us and them” attitude is simply too bold to ignore, and the criteria for cultural disrespect is not something for any person to decide in any situation. The usage of cultural themes in drill team performances is disrespectful.
Too often are non-American cultures depicted as stereotypical in American media. Not only does this affect the attitude of white Americans toward other cultures, but it also affects the way bi-cultural people identify in U.S. society.
Although my culture wasn’t used for the drill team routines, I know if I watched a drill team dance to stereotypical mariachi music while wearing ponchos and flashy sombreros, I’d be livid. Empathy is key when dealing with foreign cultures.