UA baton twirler takes silver, earns international acclaim

By: Ashton Eley
Published: Sunday, September 2, 2018
University of Arkansas twirler Savannah Miller performs Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, during the Razorbacks' game against Eastern Illinois at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
University of Arkansas twirler Savannah Miller performs Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, during the Razorbacks' game against Eastern Illinois at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

Two-time silver medalist Savannah Miller puts her all into her baton twirling whether she's performing in a Razorbacks football halftime show or in the world twirling championships.

Miller, a UA junior, is a feature baton twirler at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Early last month, she won the silver medal in the 34th World Baton Twirling Championships in Florida, earning points for her technically difficult and impassioned performance to an a cappella rendition of "Amazing Grace."

She finished close behind reigning world champion and five-time gold medalist Tomoe Nishigaki of Japan.

"She was just incredible, and it was incredibly well-received," Mark Nash, one of Miller's competition coaches and primary choreographer, said of her performance. People look to her "to catch the next trend," he said. "And she only gets better year after year."

Miller's performance has racked up more than 3 million views online -- another victory in the relatively new and evolving competitions.

"It's still a goal of mine to win gold," she said. "But right now, I'm just happy my routine went viral on social media and that it's impacted so many people not even related to the world of baton twirling. That has honestly been better than winning a gold medal."

Miller has been twirling since she was 3 years old and has earned more than 20 national and international titles, including U.S. Twirling Association Grand National Champion in solo, U.S. Twirling Association and National Baton Twirling Association Collegiate Champion, Grand National Twirling Champion and Miss Majorette of America. She received a silver medal at the 2016 world championships.

At age 3, Miller said, "my mom took me to a studio in Kansas City, Mo. -- where I'm from -- to see what I liked at that young age. The instructor stuck a baton in my hand and, I don't know, there's just something I fell in love with."

Her sport combines dance and gymnastics, with an extra measure of precision to twirl the baton.

In addition to the technical skills involved, twirlers must express artistry and emotion through their body movements during their routines, according to the World Baton Twirling Federation.

Miller's performances are usually sassy and theatrical, but for the world championships, she and her coaches decided to change up her routine.

"It was a whole new direction and a unique challenge for her," Nash said. "I applaud her for being so capable. I feel like she can do anything. I think she is the hardest worker ever."

She worked for two months fine-tuning the new routine, training eight to 10 hours a day on top of her 18-hour college course load as she pursues a journalism degree.

Miller said her performance was a way to share her faith with the world.

"I wanted to give the audience something that allowed them to connect emotionally. This song 'Amazing Grace' I think everyone can relate to no matter what your religion is," she said.

Nash said Miller is gracious, grateful and hardworking, and he thought the song choice and her routine reflected that. But, the quiet song added a measure of pressure. Any mistakes -- a drop of the baton -- would be amplified.

Twirling on the field is not as technically challenging, Miller said.

Her twirling during halftime shows has also won her high praise.

"She is really dedicated and has an exceptional work ethic. You don't get to this point on natural ability alone," said Benjamin Lorenzo, University of Arkansas' director of athletic bands. "She is a really great, all-around ambassador for the band program and the university."

Miller also helps train the next generation of twirlers. She has taught dance and baton in the U.S., Canada, the Czech Republic, France and Norway. Miller said she plans to study abroad in Rome for six months and has been asked to teach in other countries while in Europe.

By teaching, she's pursuing her goal of becoming a competition judge, and she's not sure if she will compete in the 2020 world championships.

"I love to give back as much as possible to the sport, and this is a great way to do it," she said.

Metro on 09/02/2018


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