Dancing with the Phantoms is a full-time job
Freckles dash across Megan McHugh’s nose, evidence of the hours she has spent in the sun just a few weeks into her summer vacation.
For 12 hours a day, seven days a week, McHugh has spent the first month of her summer dancing with the Phantom Regiment color guard. It’s a dream life for this Rockton woman, who has been performing in drum and bugle corps like the Regiment since junior high school.
Only now, just weeks after graduating from Hononegah High, McHugh finds herself as the only local chosen to perform with the Regiment — one of the best corps in the world. Phantom Regiment has a long-standing history of being a highly competitive corps, bringing performers from around the world to Rockford each year as part of its team.
“To come here is such an honor because you really have to be on top of your game,” said the 18-year-old daughter of Evan and Kimberly McHugh.
As it happened, the McHugh family knew all about the Phantom Regiment long before they ever left their longtime home in Colorado for the Rock River Valley a few years ago. Megan’s dad, a former drum corps member, knew of the Regiment and told his daughter of its legacy.
“This is one of his favorite corps, so when we moved to Rockford, he said, ‘You should try out,’ ” McHugh said.
But at only 15 years old, she was a little young for the Regiment. So instead, she spent her summers performing with the lower-ranked Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps out of Milwaukee. In the winters, she joined an international team near Chicago.
Being in a top-notch color guard means putting in hours of hard work and staying mentally tough, McHugh said.
“It’s a lot of discipline and mental responsibility,” she said. “A lot of people can come out and run around, but you can’t let it get to you when they yell at you, or when your teammates are frustrated, you have to keep a positive attitude.”
When the Regiment takes the field for performances — it has nearly two dozen this summer — McHugh will be among 44 color guard dancers in the corps. They are joined with more than 100 drummers and other musicians who play instruments and march into choreographed formations. Everyone on the field — including the veterans — has made it through two sets of auditions to prove their mettle.
McHugh says her color guard background, plus years of dance and gymnastics lessons, have helped her become the best performer she can be.
“It’s really good to have a nice dance background because a lot of parts of color guard are based on ballet, jazz or modern dance,” she said.
The tough practice schedule — from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days — might be rigorous, but McHugh says it has taught her discipline, manners and the ability to take direction. Plus, it prepares her for the best part of being in the Regiment: performing for a crowd.
“Doing the shows is the most rewarding part,” she said. “It’s a feeling that’s just hard to explain unless you’ve done it.”
Elizabeth Davies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.