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EIU 360

Igniting the Spark

Featured twirler shares experiences on field and beyond.

For Nicola Colucy, baton twirling isn’t a dying art. Rather it’s her lifestyle, her passion. It’s what she lives and breathes.

It’s not only something she started at an early age, but it influenced her college decision.

The sophomore kinesiology and sports studies major wanted the recognition and honor of being a featured twirler, and that’s exactly what brought her to Eastern Illinois University.

As EIU’s first featured twirler in more than 20 years, she twirls with the Panther Marching Band. She’s been nationally recognized for her achievements, and she’s determined to continue her twirling legacy at EIU — and beyond.

Igniting the Spark

It all started for Colucy in preschool. She was playing when a friend’s mother commented that Colucy had natural talent for twirling.

That initial remark sparked Colucy to take private lessons and join a competitive twirler team. She quickly fell in love with baton twirling, an obscure yet challenging sport, that requires the use of a metal rod or rods in organized dance routines.  

“I love twirling because I love performing and being on the spot,” Colucy said. “Some people are like wait, I have to talk in front of people, but I love that.”

At age 14, her commitment for twirling was tested. “In high school I fought to be the twirler because they never had one before,” Colucy said. “I had to convince athletics and the administration to recognize me.”

In northern states, it’s uncommon for high school and college marching bands to include twirlers, she said, while southern bands may have twirling lines.

Like in high school, Colucy wanted the distinction and recognition of becoming a featured twirler in college.

After sending video packages of herself, Colucy finally got her answer during an EIU Open House from the assistant director of bands.

“Dr. [J. Corey] Francis came up to me during the open house and said ‘yes, I accept’,” she said. “At that moment, I was the new featured twirler and I was in total awe.”

Bedazzling Down The Field

Colucy loves when she’s on the O’Brien Field performing. In half-time shows, Colucy performs her own routines in coordination with the band and Francis’s direction. For the routines, Colucy researches other twirler routines online to give her inspiration and insight.

In the past, Colucy used three types of batons including rose, star or sharp-end ones, which cost about $20 a piece. Yet for half-time shows, she’s concerned about the wind making her use only the rose batons to ensure more control over the rod.

As EIU’s featured twirler, Colucy said her own bag and costume is definitely bedazzled. “In twirling, we rhinestone everything,” she said, laughing.

As Colucy grows as a twirler, Colucy continues to work on her tricks such as an illusion. An illusion is a cartwheel with one foot and no hands. Each week, Colucy practices three to four hours a week with the band and in her spare time.

She also started working on stunts with EIU cheerleaders, where she climbs on top of the cheerleaders’ shoulders and twirls.

In the stunt, Colucy said her legs need to be straight, which hasn’t been the case yet. “I am supposed to stand up straight and twirl,” Colucy said. “In twirling I stay straight, but now I’m in the air.”

In the future, Colucy plans to incorporate a little fire into her routine, too.  The fire isn’t going to be approved on the field until she proves she can’t drop a single baton. “Dr. Francis said I have to prove I can’t drop a single baton,” she said.

It’s A Family

Colucy isn’t alone in her passion for twirling because she has the guidance of EIU’s former featured twirlers to fall back on.

Stephanie (Simon) Felber 85’, an alum and featured twirler, gives Colucy lessons and even videotapes possible routines for her.

The pair stumbled upon each other at a twirling competition. Felber was judging an on-field competition when she recognized Colucy’s EIU jacket. An on-field competition is when a twirler represents their school and twirls to their fight song.

Not only does Felber judge competitions, but she also is a coach of the Twirling Twisters, a team Colucy competed against when she was younger.

“All of a sudden, I realized the lady who is the coach of Twirling Twisters was EIU’s featured twirler,” Colucy said.

After the encounter, Felber reconnected with Johnni Zabka, a ‘90 EIU alum and former featured twirler too.

Surprisingly, it already turned out that Zabka and Colucy were Facebook friends since Zabka’s daughter twirled in competitions with Colucy.

The trio ended up performing together at Homecoming and marched in the parade with Felber’s Twirling Twister team. “We are a little family,” Simon said, laughing.

Like Felber, Zabka continued to keep twirling part of her life and coached her own elite twirler group paired with St. Charles Color Guard. “Baton twirler is just who we are,” Zabka said. “It’s like riding a bike; you never really forget.”

Both women chose EIU because of their determination to become a featured twirler.  Felber even tried to keep the art alive at EIU by placing an advertisement in a drum major magazine for a featured twirler.

The advertisement grabbed Zabka’s attention convincing her to apply.  In the end, it would lead her to step on campus for the first time from Pennsylvania as EIU’s featured twirler.

Both of Zabka and Felber were happy to keep their passion alive past their college years and see the legacy continue through Colucy.

Colucy agreed. “It’s cool how they kept with it.” Colucy said. “It inspires me.”

Her Legacy and Beyond

This summer, Colucy earned the distinction as the 13th top baton twirler in the nation at the 45th annual America’s Youth on Parade national baton twirling competition.

She has also been recognized as the 2014 Intermediate Miss Majorette of Illinois, the Illinois State Champion and the Midwest Regional Champion in the National Baton Twirling Championships.

In the future, Colucy would like to teach baton twirling to further grow the sport. She already spends her summers training the next generation of twirlers, and wants to ensure EIU’s twirler legacy grows.

“It doesn’t matter how my day is,” Colucy said. “I go to twirling practice and I always seem happier.”

To read more about Colucy’s passion, go to www.nicolacolucy.weebly.com.

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