Twirling is more than entertainment

DeWayne Bartels
Pictured is Nicole Keller from Germantown Hills, a student of Twirl-N-Talent.

When Melissa Lankston begins new baton twirling classes at Twirl-N-Talent next Tuesday it will be the continuation of a passion for the Germantown Hills woman.

“Baton twirling became a passion for me early. I was a competitor at 4,” she said.

Lankston began twirling at 3. Just how much experience she has though she will not say.

“Without giving away my age it’s been a very long time,” Lankston said, laughing.

A start

Lankston, as a youth, traveled across the United States competing at the state, regional, and national level. Along the way she earned awards and titles in the National Baton Twirling Association and the World Twirling Association. She studied dance and baton under teachers and choreographers in Chicago, Los Angeles,  Omaha, and Las Vegas.  

In high school she found something enjoyable in baton twirling beyond competition.

“My first encounter with teaching was in high school.I taught a neighbor on the driveway,” Lankston said. “I was then asked by the local parks and recreation group to teach this. I did it in college.”

Lankston has been teaching baton twirling for 20 years in both Illinois and Iowa. She said seeing that she could truly make a difference in lives she decided to make baton twirling her life’s work.

“I felt this was my calling. I started teaching out of a dance studio and then opened my own place,” Lankston said. “Making a difference in a child’s life was what motivated me.”

In the process she met her husband, got married had a child and when he was transferred to the Peoria for work they settled in Germantown Hills.

She had a studio in Iowa and kept it going for year. She sold it but kept teaching in Iowa.

She opened a studio in Washington but sold it, too.

Now with two children she continues to teach baton twirling in Iowa and Illinois.

Important work

“I do it because I believe I can use baton to help a child,” she said. “We build self-confidence. Baton twirling is a unique skill. We can make a child feel special.”

Between the two groups she is teaching about 60 students.

But, it is not just about learning. Competition and performance is also part of the mix.

Lankston said her students have captured individual and team titles. They have performed and competed in the Disney Dreams Come True Parade, the Disney Spectro Magic Parade, as well as more than 100 other local parades in Iowa and Illinois.

Her students have performed at University of Iowa basketball games, River Bandits baseball games and many other community events.

Her twirlers have been national pageant winners in the Miss America Pageant system as well as the National American Miss and Miss Co-ed Pageants, Advanced Miss Majorette of Iowa winners, and Bill Riley State Fair Talent winners and finalists.

Lankston said this work is important. She said her students are challenged physically. Her students, she said, develop excellent eye-hand coordination.

The students, she said, also have their mental abilities tested.

“They have to learn to think fast on their feet,” Lankston said. “They also have to memorize and improvise.”

Because of those benefits, Lankston said, baton twirling is for anyone.

“You can do it just for fun or you can do it to compete. It depends on the child and the parent,” Lankston said.

“It’s both a sport and an art. Twirlers have to have the strength of a football player. You have to have the speed of a track star. And, you have to have the agility of a gymnast ... It’s an art in that you entertain a crowd. It’s very dance-oriented.”

Lankston laughed when it was suggested she did this for a living.

“I do this to support my hobby of baton,” she said.  “I do it for the sheer joy. Nothing is better than when I see a child master a routine and their eyes light up."

Twirl-N-Talent classes start Sept. 7. If interested call 219-6726 or e-mail Melissa Lankston at melissa@twirl-n-talent.com.