Usta News

Black History Month Spotlight: Gabriella Medvick( Fri, Feb 26 00:02:AM)

Gabriella Medvick is a multi-organizational competitor and former collegiate feature twirler from Ohio.
Twirling History

I began twirling when I was six years old with a small parade corps in Ohio. Over the years I competed in DMA, WTA, TU and USTA. I held several state, regional and national titles across all organizations. I competed at two WBTF International Cups (Jacksonville and Almere).  I was the University of Connecticut Feature Twirler from 2014-2018.

Twirling Successes

During my 3.5 years at UConn, I was the first Black feature twirler. I competed at Twirl Mania three times, making the top ten all three years. In 2017, I won the Tinker Bell award for sportsmanship, my proudest twirling achievement.  

My time at school was spent working full-time, achieving a 3.2 grade point average, attending the Disney College program and studying abroad in London. After graduating a semester early, I lived in Boston and worked with a non-profit theater company before stepping into one of the nation’s most competitive marketing internships as an Oscar Mayer Hotdogger, driving the iconic Wienermobile around the country. After my tour, I began working for Cirque du Soleil as a stage manager on Michael Jackson One.

Twirling Impact

Despite my twirling successes, the twirling world left me with some deep-seated identity issues that I was forced to face through years of microaggressions. While I don’t feel that it’s my job, as a black woman, to educate others, I believe that sharing my story and my experiences may help the sport of baton twirling look at its standards and change the arena for girls who look like me moving forward.

I twirled competitively from the time I was seven until I graduated high school at age 18. My choice to stop competing was HEAVILY frowned upon and I was made to feel like choosing college and my future career was the worst thing I could do for my life. But to put it simply, stepping away from the competitive and often racist side of baton twirling was the best thing I ever did for myself and my love of the sport.

For over 10 years, I faced thousands of microaggressions at every practice, competition and event. I was made to feel that being myself was what was keeping me from winning the top titles, but the thing keeping me from top titles was coaches whitewashing me to be something I was not. I never twirled for a black female judge, and in most cases was the oldest black girl in the gym. I had no one to look to or ask for support. The community is larger now, but from 2000-2018, a black face was few and far between. When there were two black girls in the gym people could not be bothered to tell us apart, despite looking nothing alike. I watched as white girls did “Africa-themed” freestyles, but I was told I needed to twirl to French music and be “French” because my “coloring was French.” TO be clear, my coloring is black.  

A color lipstick was chosen for my entirely white team and I was belittled to the point of tears when I refused to wear it because it clashed so harshly with my skin tone. I refused to wear tights for years because they didn’t match my skin tone. Someone asked me “why do your legs look funny?” when wearing discolored tights and I was embarrassed, especially since I didn’t have an answer or a solution.  While other girls could have sleepovers before contests or travel with other parents, I always had to be within arm’s reach of my mom, because no one else could do my hair and imitate the “fake hair” look because there was no fake hair to match my curls. A coach asked me not to go practice outside because if my skin tone was darker I’d "clash" with my pairs partner. Judges wrote “your costume goes well with your skin tone” on more than one score sheet. The list of problematic things I faced that I just had to shrug off because only about 12 other people in the whole country were going through it is too long to write.

Closing Thoughts

I was defined by my skin color. While my black culture is a huge part of who I am, it does not solely define me as a person and it never defined me as a twirler. Twirling taught me SO much. Time management, discipline, independence and so much more, but it also taught me that I cannot shy away from who I am anymore and the twirling world cannot continue to allow this atmosphere of unchecked racism to be the norm.

I carry the memories of every terrible thing people said to me right alongside every positive memory I have of the sport that I love. I had negative experiences – I believe every single Black twirler and twirler of color have had similar experiences – but my entire twirling experience was not negative. The life lessons I took away from the gym acted as a springboard to push me to have an amazing college experience and now a great career journey. I truly can thank twirling for all of my accomplishments and my strongest and longest-lasting friendships.

That does not change the fact that the sport needs to diversify and become more inclusive. This does not stop at Black History Month, and it does not stop at race. The twirling world is designed to see those who are "different" fail, and that has to change.