The Pageantry Arts…The Great Middle Class Divide


Here is the elephant in the room. Why is it when we look out on to the field or floor what we see is primarily a middle class view of America? While watching the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving, someone posted on Facebook that the parade seemed very “white.” O.k. Why is that? In this post, I won’t pretend to have the answers. I won’t engage in political rhetoric. I won’t make a supposition that it’s a white vs. black issue. What I’m going to do is present facts. The facts will be from research bodies such as the Aspen Institute, Women’s Sports Foundation and the United Way. They are based in actual data collected over years of study and research. They are based in meetings I’ve been a part of in the past year with community leaders asking the question, “How can more children participate in sports and the arts?” It is time in our activity to begin to address why some children participate and some do not and it is time to have the conversation about what it is we really believe in as an activity, because if we don’t someone else will and we might not like the results of those conversations.

In this post, I’m going to make a case for data collection. Real data collection and not just numbers based on how many guards attend Dayton year after year. I won’t discuss private entities like drum corps or independent guards, as that’s a different concept; although important for this discussion as well. This post is mostly about the public school based programs and how they are represented around the nation.  In the research on extra-curricular activities conducted around the country for the past decade, the purpose has been multi-faceted, but tends to draw on similar themes. What are the potential health problems America will be facing in the next decade? Why don’t children feel a connection to their community or school anymore? How can we increase participation of girls in sports? How does poverty plays a role in youth extra-curricular participation? How does early exposure to physical activity better serve the physical health of the nation generations down the road?

This is what we know:
  • Since the beginning of the recession in 2008, 2.6 million fewer kids between 6-12 are signing up for, participating in, and staying in the basic little league level sports such as baseball, basketball, football and soccer.
  • Boys start participation in activities a full year ahead of females.
  • By the time children reach the age of 9, they are exercising less than 2x per week.
  • Income is the number one driving force behind early participation in activities and a child’s ability to stay in that activity for several years. If a family makes $100,000 year, their children usually start activities around the age of 6. If it’s less than $50,000 per year, they start around the age of 8.
  • We know that when children and parents are surveyed about sports participation; fun, making friends, feeling a part of the team, and getting playtime always ranks first above winning, getting trophies, and participating in tournaments. Survey after survey comes back stating that children actually DO NOT like the trophy’s like we as adults think they do.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has publicly stated that the “professionalization of parenthood” has created a mentality of parents who are pushing their children to have perfect resumes to gain college admission and college scholarships forcing the cost of activities to rise.
  • 20% of all high school females do not participate in any physical activity at school or home.
  • We know that all sports and activities have risen in cost in total contradiction to the income levels of families

I could go on and on. There is stat after stat after stat on how, when, and why kids participate in sports. There is even research that looks at adults who have cancer and correlates it back to their childhood participation in physical activities. So why does all of this matter? It matters because this information allows us to look at children across the socioeconomic and gender based spectrums and begin asking the questions of why and then how we can change it or make it better.

So, is it true? Does the pageantry arts have an issue with socioeconomics? Are poor children left out? Are girls participating in color guard as their first ever physical activity, because they finally found a gender based activity that combines their love for things pretty, with their desire to be active? Here is what we know.


When asked to make a case in a public forum on why funders should begin to give money so we can perpetuate not just the arts, but also the marching arts for children of all income levels, I was unable to find enough data to make a strong case. Months and months. Call after call and my team couldn’t find the necessary data. There is data for the arts and music. There is data for sports, but data for the Sport of the Arts is limited. The data necessary to make a case belongs to how we look at statistics at the government level through the lens of the U.S. Census. The questions to ask have to do with ethnicity, income level, gender, and single vs. dual family households. Data also must be fairly recent. It doesn’t have to be last week, but when your information is a decade old and doesn’t involve the most recent 2008 recession, then you can’t make a case.  When it comes to funding and making a public case you can’t guess. In 2012, The United Way commissioned a report called The ALICE Project. A.L.I.C.E. (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). This is the group of people most often called “the working poor.” Those of us who do community work like to call those folks “The Alice Group.” The Alice Group are the kids above the poverty line, but below middle class. Their parents are only surviving based on their salaries. They are trying and surviving, but income doesn’t allow for extracurricular’s. After the recession, the ALICE Group grew. In Florida where I live, a full 45% of all families are financially surviving and that’s it; nothing left over after rent, car payment and insurance. In Florida, the average family of four survival budget is $47,484. The stability budget in Florida for a family of four is $81,972. Study after study shows that those in the ALICE Group are edged out of activities and sports.  

All the major research released in the past decade on physical activity for kids usually leaves out band and guard. Cheerleading has just entered the data sets in some research. Dance has been looked at in rare cases and when it’s done, is focused on the children already participating and what the benefits it has on those kids. In fact, in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, hunting was listed as an activity and band never was. We can make a case for the importance of music and how it impacts the brain, but until we start tying the gender based aspects and financial based aspects to the physical part of the pageantry arts, then we will never be able to make a case for public dollars.

So, what about this income issue?

“There are fundraisers! If they want to participate bad enough, then they will fund raise.”
“The parents are lazy.”
“The kids are lazy.”
“Some parents just want a free ride and when they don’t get it they complain.”

These are common arguments and some of them are true. There are lazy parents. There are people who want a free ride. However, they are generalizations, with little support based on science. This is what we know based on what’s called “community asset mapping” and surveys through the Afterschool Network, CDC, and Women’s Sports Foundation.

  • The further a child lives from the school, the less likely they will participate in an extra-curricular activity, because of transportation issues.
  • Standardized testing has impacted the importance of physical activity at the middle school and high school levels.
  • There are more single parent households making less money than 20 years ago
  • Extra-curricular activities have risen in cost, with less connection to the community than 30 years ago
  • Fundraising is difficult for parents below the poverty line and in the Alice Group, due to the fact that fundraising is often done with family and friends and many of those in poverty don’t have family and friends with the disposable income to sell to.
  • Many fundraisers occur at times when parents are working weekend and shift work hours. 
  • More families live further away from family than they did 20 years ago, leaving out the help necessary to help with transportation.
  • Oh…did I mention that transportation was a problem?
  • Transportation, transportation, transportation

What needs to happen?
  • We first need to find out what the cost of the pageantry arts are compared to other sports and how it has or has not risen within the current economy, as well as then comparing those numbers to the average middle class income today.
  • We need to find out if the bands and guards out there are gaining or losing kids and why
  • We need to find out what works. What models out there draw kids in and what pushes them away?
  • We need to survey parents and ask the tough questions about what helps them make decisions on their ability to allow their child to participate? What struggles do they have?
  • We need to comprehensively look at the budgets of public school marching bands, guards, and other competitive units and find out which budgets include travel out of state and how it impacts the participation of the kids.
  • We need to look at the professionalization of the activity such as professional costume companies, drill writers, designers, and equipment companies and find out how the costs have or have not risen and if that has impacted the budgets to the point of excluding kids.
  • We need to officially connect the dots of the marching arts to a reduction in obesity
  • We need to identify how many girls are participating across the board in color guard so we may make a case for probably the largest gender based sport in America
  • We need to find out how many kids out there identify as gay, because the marching arts are a safe haven for children of all races, nationalities, and sexual orientation’s.
  • We need to study not just large, national based teams, but local and community based organizations to garner public support for more local tax dollars.
  • We need to look at ethnicity
  • We need to make the case…with numbers…that the more kids that are on the marching band field, then the less kids there are sitting at home watching the Kardashians, getting fat, playing video games, and causing a disruption in the classroom and on the streets. With those numbers we need to do a better job at saying what we all know. “Yes…these kids graduate at higher rates, are more disciplined, healthier, and make better grades.”
  • We need to work together to figure out a way to help local bands and guards brings costs down so more kids can play.
  • We need to stop frivolous proposals that are self-serving and introduce proposals that focus on the big picture that all children deserve the opportunity to participate.
  • We need a seat at the table when major bodies of research is conducted and demand to be included in those numbers.
  • We need a place where all data is kept and easily accessible to those who write grants and advocate.
  • We need to teach directors and coaches how to advocate with their administration and local school board for their program.
  • We need to re-imagine the activity that includes a competitive component, but also a community component for children with limited means

Research takes years and its painstaking work. It’s necessary work though, if we believe in what we do. The numbers I’m talking about can’t be found by just one study through some survey monkey created in an office somewhere disconnected from the reality of community work. We need to hire and recruit real researchers and encourage arts and physical wellness PhD candidates to take on our activity as a dissertation. The pageantry arts is a multi-million dollar industry. The money could be found if we wanted it to be found. We need to start getting the data to make the case for more children to participate. Period. Keep this in mind also. Public dollars fund much of our activity. “Oh but Shelba, we get nothing from our school.” Oh yes you do. You do if one dollar, just one dollar goes to pay for the band director, guard coach, a set of silks, a musical instrument, the gym you practice in or a school bus to carry the band to a football game and back. Once we realize that we have a vested interest in how tax dollars are spent to fund our activity, then we will start the process of protecting it and making sure all children have access to it.

Imagine a world, where all kids who wanted to had the opportunity to participate in music, band, and guard. Envision an activity with wider levels of diversity, bringing along different cultures of music and dance. Try to dream of children having access to the marching arts in elementary schools and after school programs across the nation. What if we could prove with numbers that what we do creates healthy children who value their community and love going to school, because in that school and community is an opportunity for fun, teamwork, mentoring, and the interaction with people who care? Think about it. Now let’s start a real dialog.