Usta News

Black History Month Spotlight: Angela Butler-Rodriguez( Thu, Feb 18 00:02:AM)


Angela Butler-Rodriguez is a former competitive twirler, a USTA Certified Coach and the owner, instructor and director of Sensation Baton and Dance Company in Porterville, California.

Twirling Background

I began twirling at the age of four with Rhondi Cope and Diane Wilson in Porterville, California. The Porterville community had a lot of baton twirlers back in the 70s and 80s. I was the only black child amongst a predominantly white and Hispanic community. I always wanted to twirl. I was fascinated by the ability to throw the baton up in the air higher and higher and catch it. My parents noticed something special in me and put me with anyone who would work with me. At age five, I was in the front of the Porterville Twirlerettes group all by myself. I led the group of strong twirlers in our local community parades. I loved the cheering crowd and feeling a sense of pride in my community as I marched down the street. When I was six I was entered in talent shows and bounced around to several teachers in the area of gymnastics and dance to enhance my twirling. When I was 10 years old, I met Jerry Alvarez and auditioned to learn from him in Fresno, California. All that time I didn’t know there was competitive twirling. I had no clue there was a sport of twirling so I was very excited to be able to learn and twirl on a competitive level. I had wonderful experiences climbing the competitive ladder of twirling quickly because I was surrounded by champions. I continued to twirl, eventually becoming the first-ever solo twirler for the Monache High School Marauder Band. This was such a special time for me, leading the band for four years and gaining this experience. I had pride in my ability to be the very best I could be and I represented my school very well.

I started my twirling business at age 16, ready to share my talents with others. It was a struggle because I expected them to be just like me; driven and fearless. But that was not the case. Everyone is different. So I continued to learn how to teach, finding a love in molding young lives. The little ones are my favorite. They are fearless and have a hunger like no other. I eventually went to college, continuing my business. Commuting back and forth, developing fundamentals and focusing my attention on my dance career, ultimately gaining my bachelor’s degree in theater arts and dance. Now, some 44 years later, I continue to share my love for baton twirling and dance with my community and many others where I can teach and spread love and joy to all my young athletes. I’ve always wanted to share my talents with others. Whether it was performing or teaching, twirling has always brought comfort and joy. I’ve always loved the challenge.   

Twirling Successes

I was able to dance at the Kennedy Center with my college dance troupe and perform in Hawaii with my band. I won many competitive awards; I was the valley champion in Strut and Dance Twirl. Though I was never first, I placed among the best at the state, regional and national level. I had to compete against Traci Ando. And there were other amazing athletes. But I believe my greatest success was being able to twirl on the Disney channel representing the Rodriguez family on FAM JAM and bringing baton twirling to the big stage of television. It was a very proud moment! I was able to have my daughter and family share in this experience. It will be cherished forever. This program offered the ability to showcase talents. I was so blessed to have this opportunity. If you want to see it, it’s now streaming on Disney Plus.   

Twirling Role Models

During my competitive experience with USTA, I was fortunate to be around greatness. Mark Nash, Annetta Lucero, Diana Viera, Tracy Ando, Janae Dorn, Bonnie Palacious and others inspired me. But Tracy was my best friend and I respected and loved her as a teammate and competitor.

How did twirling shape who you are today?

There were many times baton twirling brought bruises, tears and frustration but it made me tough. I learned that things are not given. You have to work hard for everything. It taught me I’m not going to always win, but did I make improvements and gain to better myself.
Did you feel valued and appreciated for the gifts you brought (bring) to the twirling world?

This twirling world is not valued. I continue to push twirling to be elevated. I feel value when I see twirlers. People underestimate how hard baton twirling is and don’t realize the dedication and practice it takes to master baton twirling. I practiced hours upon hours to master back of the neck rolls. I try to help my twirlers understand that baton twirling requires dedication and that you have to stick with it and continue to strive to be better every day. To be a twirler you have to be tough, daring bold and graceful.

Black History Month

I am so thankful for the opportunity to share my story. Black history means so much to me as a twirler because there were very few black twirlers when I was competing. I want everyone to know that I didn’t think of myself as different. I was an athlete. Being black did not slow me down from achieving my very best. Being black did not limit my ability to strive to be a champion. Being black was a part of who I was. It was my glow. My Empowerment. My strength. Black history is a part of my legacy that I can contribute to this sport.   

Barriers to Black Twirlers

Baton twirling or dance or any extracurricular activity is expensive. We need more coaches of color in communities of color – athletes can’t identify if they don’t see themselves. The lack of community and kindness towards each other while at competitions between competitors and coaches needs to be addressed. There needs to be more advocacy among black twirlers and to feel accepted in the baton community so they would can comfortable extending their talents throughout various organizations.   

Inclusion and equality in our sport and our world   

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work and words continue to serve as examples of strength, compassion and his commitment to equality, justice and inclusion.  A message for inclusion is the ultimate invitation to creating a better story for athletes of color. Although I was a Black athlete in a predominately white sport, I never felt excluded. All of the athletes supported each other no matter what the color was. We were athletes striving for the same goal, to be our very best on and off the floor.

Closing Thoughts

I have learned through the years to not compare myself with anyone else. I try not to let the environment around me affect the way I feel about the decisions that I make. My greatest accomplishments are my children. I have a son that is an amazing football player and loves to dance. I have a daughter that followed in my
footsteps and won many awards in competitive twirling and hip hop dancing. I am their biggest cheerleader. When my daughter decided to stop competitive twirling, I realized that we have to let each person decide what their path is. Happiness is key in every decision in everyone’s life. If you are not happy in your current situation change it. I carry Jesus on my shoulder in every decision I make. I am a spiritual person and give all glory to God. Life is not easy, but believe in the power of forgiveness and love and we all can walk with peace in our heart.