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A student has been showcasing rare skills at Franklin Field and the Palestra.

“It’s a lot of motion in the wrist.”

So says baton twirler Anya Stewart C’27 about an uncommon talent she insists “really isn’t as difficult as it seems to be.”

Anyone who has watched her at Franklin Field or the Palestra might disagree.

Stewart, who last semester began performing at football and basketball games and other campus events with the Penn Band’s recently reformed color guard, is “an amazing talent, on the level of what you might see in the Big Ten,” says assistant band director Kushol Gupta C’97 Gr’03.

Stewart’s passion for a sport that combines dancing and agility with manipulating and throwing multiple batons began during a summer camp about a decade ago. Invited by a childhood friend, “I went, and I was obsessed,” she says. Her mom found a local team back home in Orlando, and the rest was “history.”

Twirling is big in Florida, where several colleges have programs and international competitions are often held. Stewart was used to practicing team choreography and frequently traveled for competitions growing up, but she decided to leave her home state to attend Penn, which according to Gupta has had only two other baton twirlers in the past 30 years (Karin Kuo W’05 and Sherri Gambill EAS’06 WEv’12).

“It just had a lot of the opportunities I was looking for academically,” says Stewart, who reached out to band director Greer Cheeseman EE’77 and student band leaders to make sure that she could twirl here.

As the only baton twirler in the color guard, which uses flags and other props during dance routines (and was reintroduced at Penn in 2021 after a more than 10-year hiatus), Stewart has “creative free rein over my routines and costumes.” She performs tricks she learned in high school and finds inspiration from Instagram, trying out different styles and seeing what suits her best.

“Baton twirling definitely incorporates a lot of elements from dance and gymnastics,” Stewart says, adding that she can twirl up to four batons and is unfazed by some of them being lit on fire. “It’s so much fun to go support our athletic teams, and to spend time with my band family to spread joy to the general Penn–Philly community.”

Enrolled in the School of Engineering, Stewart wants to major in bioengineering (with a focus in neural engineering) and minor in American Sign Language.

She sees her interests in engineering and twirling as complementary. While her engineering assignments and exams can be stressful, twirling gives her a “creative outlet” where she “can take a break away from studying.” Just the same, she’s embraced the demands of a rigorous academic field. In high school, Stewart typically practiced five or six days a week; at Penn, she practices twice a week—excluding gamedays—for two hours. “I knew going into Penn that twirling wasn’t going to be my career,” she says. “And so it’s nice to kind of have that scaled back.”

But every time she’s on the field or court, she feels the pull of the “wondrous” opportunity to perform for the Penn community. “I try to go to every event I can,” she says. “I derive so much joy from being around everyone else.”

Hannah Chang C’27

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    2 Responses

    1. Brenda Cooper

      I twirled with the band during my tenure at Penn in the mid-80’s–we did not have a color guard at that time, it was just me and another twirler (and just me after she graduated). So much fun, especially the away games! Glad to see there are still parts of the country where twirling is still thriving. I started twirling at a young age, competing in both parades and indoor competitions (including nationals) until college (and I still have my batons). It’s definitely an athletic activity and teaches life skills such as collaboration, team building, discipline, resilience, and leadership. Best of luck Hannah!

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