History of The Bottle Dance, In Honor of Pat Pierson

Sep 5, 2021 | Santa Clara Vanguard, Blog Post, Alumni

Imagine a long row of dancers, hands interlocked and arms held at an unshakeable ninety-degree angle. As the unmistakable strains of the “Wedding Dance” from Fiddler on the Roof swell, the line moves forward as one. Step. Drag. Step. With the lock of each passing step, the crowd grows nearer to a fever pitch.

For fans of the Santa Clara Vanguard, it’s not hard to conjure images of the Bottle Dance. There are few drum corps moments as recognizable and beloved.

The Bottle Dance was first performed in 1973, to the celebrated melody from Fiddler on the Roof as a part of the corps’ concert piece. The moment became so iconic that Vanguard incorporated it into its program in 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1982, and during the corps’ 25th and 50th anniversary shows in 1992 and 2017, respectively. 

The idea for the arresting movement of the Bottle Dance is attributed to award-winning designer Pete Emmons, along with Vanguard founder Gail Royer, who set the wheels into motion. But any history of the Bottle Dance would be incomplete without the formative work of Pat Pierson and Scott Pierson, who collaborated to bring Emmons’ vision of the Bottle Dance to life. 

As the VMAPA family mourns the loss of Pat Pierson this week, it seems fitting to remember her grassroots contribution to an indelible Vanguard moment. With her husband Scott singing the music, Pat — who was an accomplished dancer and educator — worked out the motions of the Bottle Dance on the living room floor of their apartment. She later taught the distinctive choreography to the 1973 rifle line, who originally struggled— but ultimately triumphed— with the dramatic break from their typically militaristic style. 

The results were well worth the challenge. From the first official performance of the Bottle Dance, the crowd was hooked. “The ‘rush’ of either doing or playing the Bottle Dance and watching the audience at the same time is something that is quite unique in the human experience,” Scott Pierson once said, of the incredible effect the moment his wife helped create. “Who would have thought that those movements would become one of the single most iconic moments in the history of drum corps?”

As friends and family mourn the loss of Pat, VMAPA sends its deepest condolences to Scott and the entire Pierson family. We also give our eternal gratitude for bringing Pat into the Vanguard family and giving us a gift that will continue to breathe life into Vanguard and its fans for years to come, as Pat’s spirit lives on through it.

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