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There are three main styles of marching, with most bands using either corps or military style. (We’ll address the third style—show—in a moment).
Both military and corps style use short, measured, rolling steps, with individuals’ feet barely leaving the ground. But military bands use longer strides: six steps to 5 yards, compared with corps’ eight steps every 5 yards.
Another big difference: Military bands march in precise, straight lines, while corps band members weave across the field, often forming curving and complicated patterns. Corps is the most popular style these days, with military preferred by some schools in East Texas and at Texas A&M University, which boasts the largest military-style marching band in the nation.
In contrast, show-style bands are characterized by high steps—with individuals’ knees reaching a 90-degree angle—and often, on-field dancing. A number of predominately African-American schools, such as Prairie View A&M University, prefer show-style marching.
In general, marching styles have changed greatly in recent years, becoming far more sophisticated. Directors often use computer software to design their bands’ shows, plotting the simultaneous movements of hundreds of members, each of whom may appear as numbers and dots on a computer screen. (Argyle-based Pygraphics Inc. claims to make the most widely used band drill design software on the market.) Some band directors purchase their marching shows from other directors and show designers. Duncanville High buys its show from the band director of Texas Christian University, said Tom Shine, who recently retired as Duncanville’s band director.
While state marching band contest winners most often come from schools using corps style, there have been exceptions. Overton won the state Class 1A marching band title in 2001 using military style, said Ronnie Page, who served as assistant director at the time.
Audiences at some schools are not likely to favor a change from a style to which they are accustomed, some directors contend.
“In Carlisle, they like military style. I think we’d have a revolution if we said we were going to corps style,” said Scott Rhame, longtime band director at Class 1A Carlisle High, which is located in the namesake town in East Texas. Rhame left Carlisle at the end of last year and now serves as eighth-grade band director at Chapel Hill Middle School.