Friday, July 4, 2014

When baton-twirling was (sort of) a Greek thing in Stockton, California

On the Fourth of July, I usually think about small-town parades, one of my favorite things -- even though those beautiful, history-evoking celebrations are sadly few and far between these days. But today I am thinking specifically about baton-twirling. Seriously.

A few days ago the Stockton Record reported that the 56th National Baton-Twirling Championships will take place in Stockton, July 7-12.  And I immediately thought of Alex Spanos' autobiography, Sharing the Wealth.  I had been amazed to read that Alex and his siblings Stella, George and Danny had excelled at, of all things, baton-twirling -- and had also taken tumbling, ballroom dancing, piano, (ever so briefly) ballet, and tap dance lessons. Alex reported that "For some reason, baton twirling was his [father's] favorite." (p.27) Gus Spanos made batons from aluminum pipes and taught his kids how to twirl in their backyard.  Stella Spanos Graham tells me that her mother Evanthia made all their costumes. It was a familiy deal.

We know that the tap dance lessons eventually led Alex to Carnegie Hall with Bob Hope, but who still remembers the "Spanos Shows" at Stockton High School football game halftimes? "George and Stella," Alex wrote, "became so skilled that they entered and won competitions with routines that pushed the envelope of baton-twirling mastery. As a group, we won both regional and state baton-twirling championships." (p.40)  Danny and Alex were also drum majors at Cal Poly, where the four of them performed on occasion. Opa!

Neither Stella or my aunt Libby can remember any other Greek Stockton kids twirling batons in those days, but there is always a future...Baton-twirling is no lost art, and 500 participants will compete in the championships at the Stockton Arena next week from 8 am - 5 pm. There is no charge for admission, so maybe the entire St. Basil's Greek Dance Group (s) could observe. Who knows who the next Greek twirling champion(s) will be? Happy Fourth of July!

NOTE: Alex Spanos' book is chock-full of historical information and observations. He was right on point in his analysis of the Greek economic situation and how difficult reform would be. (pp. 213 and 224). But he also wrote: "I am convinced that there hasn't been a Greek child born who enjoyed Greek School." (p.26) Sorry, Alex, but I loved Greek School...even those old public school desks in the back room of St. Basil's downstairs hall off Lafayette Street.

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