Color guards can be found in most American colleges, universities, high schools, and middle schools, and independent Drum Corps They use various equipment, including flags, rifles, and sabres, along with dance, to enhance the music of the marching band show. Usually, marching bands and color guards perform during football games at halftime. During marching band competitions, the guard adds to the overall score of the band and is also judged in a category usually called auxiliary.
Color guards have since evolved into a separate activity known as Winter Guard, which is an indoor sport usually performed during the winter or spring, where the guard performs unaccompanied by the band, to a piece of pre-recorded music. Winter guards compete independently in such circuits as Winter Guard International (WGI).
In a Marching Band or a Drum and Bugle Corps, the color guard is a non-musical section that provides additional visual aspects to the performance. The marching band and color guard performance generally takes place on a football field. The color guard performs alongside the marching band at football games and most guards regularly compete in competitions during the fall. The purpose of the color guard is to interpret the music that the marching band or drum and bugle corps is playing via the synchronized work of flags, sabres, rifles, the air blade, and through dance. The color guard uses different colors and styles of flags like swing flags and tapered flags to enhance the visual effect of the marching band as a whole. Color guard also may use backdrops to bring color and scenery to the field if the concept of the show is hard to interpret. The number of members in a color guard can range from a single person to over 50 members. This is often dependent on the size of the band, school or corps, the allotted budget, and the talent available among the potential members who try out.
In drum and bugle corps, there used to be a requirement for a traditional presentation of the colors during the competitive show (called the "Color Pre"), but this fell out of favor around the early 1970s. High school marching bands kept it in until the late 70's. A recent example of a Color Pre in show was the 2002 San Francisco Renegades Sr corps, used during "America the Beautiful" to open their program, but such a presentation was not a required part of the show.
There are many different types of spins and tosses that can be done with the flag. Each spin or toss creates a different illusion and can be used for different tempos. Basic color guard moves include Jazz runs (a Jazz dance move used as a graceful way to run across the marching band field or the gym floor), "right shoulder" (positioning the flag with the bottom of the pole by your belly button and your right hand by the flag's silk tape) and "stripping the flag" (holding the flag silk with your fingers so you won't reveal the color(s) of the flag.) Flag poles and silks both come in different sizes, and there are different shapes and textures for silks, as well. Flags frequently have weights -generally 1 in. carriage bolts or the like- in the bottom and top of the pole to make it easier to toss the flag into the air. However, even with the weights, weather conditions such as wind and rain can affect a flag's spin and disrupt a toss if not correctly taken into account.
Winter guard is similar to outdoor color guard (marched with a drum corps or marching band), except the performances are indoors on gymnasium floors through the winter season. The traditional marching band music heard during fall season is replaced with a recording of various musical genres. A common theme in many shows is loss or something that converys great emotion. The gymnasium floor typically is covered by an individually designed tarp (called a floor mat or floor by members) that generally reflects the show being performed on it. Occasionally the floor only acts as a backdrop so that the audience is drawn towards what the members are doing. The members may perform barefoot, but wearing jazz shoes or modern dance shoes is also common. There are several winter guard circuits for participating in competitions during indoor season.
Winter Guard International (WGI) is the "Sport of the Arts", in which teams of highly skilled individuals work to create and perform complex sequences of dance, music, and use of special equipment, such as sabres, rifles, and flags, to compete by division. This organization refers to winter guard as the "Sport of the Arts" due to the equally athletic and artistic nature of the activity. Co-founded in 1977 by six people, the goal of WGI was to organize and standardize the activity by creating skill levels, scoring systems, venues, and competitions.
Today, groups participating in a WGI event are placed into one of eight categories; Middle School, Regional A, Scholastic A, Independent A, Scholastic Open, Independent Open, Scholastic World, or Independent World. WGI hosts many regional competitions which lead up to the World Championships, a three-day event in which hundreds of winter guard groups come together to compete. WGI Championships is held in Dayton, Ohio.