Michael Harry Jones leads the 2007 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade. He’s the dude who can toss a baton better than Suzanne Sugarbaker
When he’s not working in the graphics department of a local printing company, Michael Harry Jones is like an old-skool club kid.
He’s a master at twirling batons. Jones even has a glow-stick set, and he can spin a pair of fire batons.
On Sunday afternoon, Jones is officially the first person who’ll lead the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade (following two pre-parade performances). Jones will march in front of the Oak Lawn Band.
Jones has been a part of Big D Pride since 1980 when the Oak Lawn Band first formed to march in Dallas’ third Pride parade. He’s also a regular at Houston Pride events.
Earlier this week, we caught up with the twirler to dip into Dallas’ proud past.
Majorette credentials: Feature twirler, Waxahachie High School; United States Twirling Association Senior Boys State Champion (1966), USTA Nationals, second place, 1966; Twilrer for the University of Michigan Marching Band, 1966-68.
What’s the art of baton twirling all about? The thrill of live performance you never know what’s going to happen. And giving spectators a few moments when they feel happy and proud because I caught a high toss.
Do you remember your first Dallas Pride parade? That first year, 1980, was great. As we lined up on Throckmorton between what’s now Hunky’s and Crossroads Market, the lesbian parade marshal was just beaming. She kept repeating, “Y’all are the hottest thing here!”
What tricks can you do? Mostly, the high throw. Also, grapevines (a continuing finger twirl), two-finger twirls, flashbacks (a toss from one side, caught on the other). A two-baton toss-toss-catch-catch. But I don’t do rolls anymore.
I remember the day (in ’85 or ’86), when I discovered that if I threw the baton from the middle (thumb toss), I could catch it. While an end toss can go higher, there is such a lessening of control in direction and angle, and the catch isn’t so sure. As I got older, it was helpful that my own physical exertions could just be directed to the high throw, both for success and crowd approval.
I’ve had several “no drop” parades, in both Dallas and Houston.
Do your hands and arms get tired? The punishment from the downward force of the high throw can be extreme (broken blood vessels and bruises). In 1993, I returned to Ann Arbor and twirled for the first homecoming parade entry of the GLBT Policy office, which I helped form in the late ’60s. And since then, I’ve padded my hands. Earlier this year, in Houston, was the first time I twirled with biking gloves.
Worst twirling accident: Chipped teeth. It could’ve been the worse: My baton teacher occasionally farmed me out to dance recitals when I would twirl fire in velvet-curtained school auditoriums. I’d taken a friend with me to soak the fire batons. After my number, I was going back out for a bow, and the janitor said, “You can’t go back out there. Your friend spilled the gasoline!”
Complete this sentence: In 10 years, I hope Dallas’ Pride parade will be: An inclusive citywide celebration. Something the whole town can look forward to.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 14, 2007