The Southernettes performed in front of hundreds during Friday night’s Salem Christmas Parade, where the older members of the group ignited holiday spirit with every twirl of their fiery batons.
“It’s intimidating at first,” said coach Natasha Flores of the performance. “All of the girls freak out at first, but they love it. It’s what they all aspire to do.”
Saturday morning, the group of 35 girls took to the stage during the city’s annual Gingerbread Festival at the Salem Public Library, where they performed other, less flammable, routines in time to classic Christmas tunes.
The Southernettes are Salem’s only baton twirling corps, and are composed of girls throughout the Roanoke Valley.
Fifteen-year-old Zoe Rickman is a student at William Byrd. Her friend, 15-year-old Destinee Blank, a Northside student, convinced her to join the corps nine years ago, and the two have been on the team longer than anyone else. Blank said, for her, it is a family affair.
“My aunt, when she was younger, she did this,” Blank said. “She showed me, and then I showed her, so we’re in it together.”
Both Rickman and Blank said that using the fire batons is their favorite aspect of performing.
“It’s not scary now,” Rickman said.
Both spoke highly of coach Flores, who they said remains encouraging and animated throughout every practice and performance.
“She’s so funny,” Blank said. “She’s always saying, ‘not too shabby girls!’”
Flores also grew up a Southernette, and has been the coach since 2002. She began twirling when she was just 4 years old, and continued all the way through her high school graduation in 2001. She practiced with coach Marceline Dooley, who founded the Southernettes in 1960.
Flores said there is just something about the tradition of the sport that makes it like no other, and she hopes it will continue its resurgence in the valley.
“It’s a competitive sport, and it’s just different. It’s unique,” Flores said. “There’s not a lot of people who are baton twirlers. Baton twirling was really big back in the day.”
The group meets once a week at the Salem Senior Center for practice, and offers beginner through advanced programs for girls ages 4-18.
The Southernettes participate in several parades in Roanoke, Salem and Vinton throughout the year, as well as special events like the Gingerbread Festival and Tons of Fun at Tanglewood Mall. They will also have an end of the year recital in May to finish off their season.
To learn more, or to find out how to join, contact Salem Parks and Recreation, or email SouthernettesBaton@gmail.com.