A baton hit the floor with a quiet thud.
The student glanced down at her dropped stick and then up at teacher Cherri Ciepiela.
“That’s OK,” Ciepiela said. “Keep smiling.”
The girls at the Southern Stars Twirling Academy in Cumming learn both tricks with the baton and lessons for life.
A dropped baton, Ciepiela said, is an example of a great teaching point.
“I try to teach them that just because you’ve dropped it once doesn’t mean you’ve messed up the whole, entire routine,” she said. “Just pick it up, keep going and do your best. Don’t give up.”
She’s been sharing the sport with kids locally for about 10 years, teaching primarily through the Cumming Recreation and Parks Department.
Ciepiela has been twirling since age 9, when an injury prevented her from pursuing her goal of becoming a competitive gymnast.
Her dad gave her a baton, and she got an instructor who had learned from some of the best.
Ciepiela went on to win competitions and perform with the high school marching band.
“I fell in love with the sport,” she said. “I was very shy, so I always enjoyed twirling because people would come up and talk to me.”
Now she shares that experience of coming out of her shell in teaching her young students.
For three current students, a performance Thursday marked the first time they’d displayed the skills recently learned in Ciepiela’s class.
Those girls, as well as Ciepiela’s two daughters, twirled at the Center at Charles Place senior center.
Learning to spin the baton “was easy,” said 5-year-old Isabella Christie.
Her 9-year-old sister, Jillian, who was also a first time performer, said she learned new tricks quickly once she got a feel for spinning.
Jillian Christie said she wanted to sign up after spotting the twirling class while leaving her gymnastics class at the recreation center.
Fellow student Mary Grace Kuch, 11, said she discovered the class in the Cumming program brochure and decided to give it a try.
Her friends might think it’s an unusual hobby, but her teacher was once a majorette in school.
Ciepiela said the activity is not currently available at the county’s public high schools, but she’d like for her girls to have the opportunity she did.
“Traditionally, baton twirlers were in the bands,” Cherri Ciepiela said. “I’m hoping to have a step-up program so the girls can eventually twirl in high school.”
This year, she’s worked with former majorette and Lakeside Middle School teacher Barbara Bouknight to get a club started at her older daughter’s school.
Ciepiela’s daughters have each taken top honors in state competitions. Christina Ciepiela, 13, started with the baton when she was about 4.
She enjoys the confidence she gains from learning new tricks.
Christina Ciepiela and her sister, Caileigh, 10, have similar aspirations for moves they’d like to learn.
They hope to master spinning three batons at once or twirling with fire.
What they’ve accomplished already impressed the audience at the senior center Thursday.
Ruby Adkinson complimented the girls on their talents.
“I’ve tried it before, but I never could do it. I always dropped it,” Adkinson said. “You girls were very good.”