Story: Marching teams and cheerleaders

Page 1. The beginnings of marching as a sport

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With their short skirts, white boots and high hats, marching teams provide one of New Zealand’s most distinctive sporting spectacles. Marching as a competitive pursuit for girls and women was invented in New Zealand, and marching teams have been popular both with participants and the crowds watching them in parades and displays.

Inglewood in the vanguard

Marching began in Inglewood in the mid-1940s when Peggy Klenner put a notice in her shop window: ‘Wanted. 16 smart girls to form an Inglewood Marching Team. Only girls without glasses will be eligible. Please apply within.’1 She was overwhelmed when more than 100 people indicated interest. By the mid-1950s the Inglewood Vanguards team, coached by Bernie Plumb and led by Rachel Josephs, was topping the Taranaki competition and winning places at the national championships.


Marching displays by girls and boys were a popular feature of school concerts and social gatherings as far back as the 1880s. During the South African War (1899–1902) young women dressed in uniforms and performed military drill at patriotic fundraising events. These activities may have influenced the later emergence of formation marching by teams of young women. Marching competitions became a feature of workplace annual sports days from the late 1920s. Teams of workers from shops, offices and factories, and YWCA teams, devised their own uniforms and spent hours perfecting elaborate and highly synchronised manoeuvres.

Wartime developments

During the Second World War, with encouragement from physical welfare officers in the Department of Internal Affairs, marching teams were established throughout the country and marching developed as an activity in its own right. Recreational marching was seen as useful in keeping up workers’ morale and promoting physical fitness amongst young women. Drill sergeants and officers in the Home Guard provided instruction in march formations using military forms adapted to a more ‘feminine’ style. Brass and pipe bands provided the music.

Militaristic cult?

There was an ambivalent and at times hostile attitude to marching from the cultural elite. For writers A. R. D. Fairburn (in 1952) and Bruce Mason (in 1976) the enthusiasm with which New Zealanders embraced the spectacle of young women performing military-style drill was disturbing. In their eyes it smacked of a cult and an over fondness for militarist trappings.

New Zealand Marching Association

The New Zealand Marching Association was formed in August 1945, and the first national championships took place the following year. In its early years championship events were attended by senior public servants and politicians. Such direct government interest in marching’s success was unusual. Soon marching had a high profile.

Marching rules

Marching teams eventually consisted of 10 members, including a leader who issued whistle commands. The team’s aim was to give the impression of moving as one, with energy and discipline. In competitions, as well as being assessed for the precision of their marching, teams were judged on the suitability of their uniforms.

The appeal of marching

As a summer recreation, marching offered girls and young women an activity that was physically exacting rather than strenuous, requiring skill and concentration rather than sweat and strength. There was no need for specialist equipment or grounds before a team could get started. Team membership provided social opportunities and a sense of belonging.


Team members and their supporters could be inventive when designing uniforms. Compared to the boxy gym frocks worn at school, hockey and netball uniforms and the even more hated rompers, marching outfits could be attractive. Intended to create a dramatic impression, with sharp angles and straight lines, they were as much a costume as a uniform. Tartans, epaulettes (ornamental shoulder pieces), lanyards (ropes and cords), towering busbys (tall fur hats), cockaded hats (decorated with a knot of ribbons), Glengarry bonnets (traditional Scots hats) worn on an angle, chevrons and braid, white boots and gauntlets or gloves helped define team identities.

Team names

Team names provided similar creative scope. They drew on a mix of Scottish, parade-ground and Hollywood inspirations. Often names were expressed as a diminutive. Cavaliers, Guards, Grenadiers, Sargettes, Glennettes, Weldonettes, Kilties and Brockettes are some of the best known.

  1. Quoted in Charlotte Macdonald, ‘Moving in unison, dressing in uniform: stepping out in style with marching teams.’ In Looking flash: clothing in Aotearoa New Zealand, edited by Bronwyn Labrum, Fiona McKergow and Stephanie Gibson. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2007, p. 191. Back
How to cite this page:

Charlotte Macdonald, 'Marching teams and cheerleaders - The beginnings of marching as a sport', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 July 2024)

Story by Charlotte Macdonald, published 5 Sep 2013