Passing the baton, beloved twirl instructor set to retire after 50 years

Passing the baton, beloved twirl instructor set to retire after 50 years
Baton twirlers taught by Dina David are a regular part of the annual Freedom Day Parade. David will retire in July after 50 years of teaching. File photo by Promise Yee

OCEANSIDE — Dina David has taught two generations of local girls, from ages 3 to 18, to twirl baton.

David began teaching baton classes at Oceanside recreation centers 50 years ago. To honor her last year of instruction, Oceanside City Council recognized David on Aug. 19. Her current students stood beside her as she accepted the award. Many of her former students were in the audience.

David said twirling teaches girls teamwork, confidence and sportsmanship. Girls learn to march and twirl to the beat of patriotic tunes in parades. Top twirlers also compete in competitions, in which gymnastics and dance moves are used in performance routines.

“You’re learning life skills,” David said. “Don’t procrastinate until the night before to practice your routine. Keep eye contact, smile, those are important things.

“They learn confidence in themselves, poise in front of a group of people, sportsmanship and kindness.”

David said she felt it was her patriotic duty to teach others to twirl when she was a competitive twirler in high school. She added she continues to strive to instill a love of our country in her students.

“Baton twirling is an American art form,” David said. “You’re always twirling to marching band music, and wearing red, white and blue.”

David said the sport has changed from when she twirled as a girl in a knee-length skirt and boots. Now dance outfits and athletic shoes allow a greater range of motion, and lighter batons enable more performance moves. David explained the difference a lighter baton makes.

“You can do a lot more things with it, rolls on the arms, neck and elbows,” David said. “When you toss it, it stays up in the air longer. You can do more tricks waiting for the baton to come down.”

David currently teaches baton at Melba Bishop Recreation Center and Joe Balderrama Recreation Center. She is also a kindergarten/first-grade teacher at a private school.

Her impact goes far beyond the baton dance studio. She has a close, mutually respectful relationship with students and their families. David said she always addresses parents as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and their last name, and they show her respect and trust in return.

David has her students’ best interest at heart, and has driven girls home from baton lessons after dark if their parents worked late.

Baton parents have also helped her. One time when her car would not start, a father of a former student recognized her and quickly came to her aid. When his friends asked who she was he replied, “She’s OK she’s my daughter’s baton teacher.”

Through the years David said she has seen families struggle with job loss, immigration laws and gang influence. At the same time they have cheered on their daughters and been good parents.

David said she keeps class fees low, and provides scholarships so every girl who has an interest can learn baton.

“It is important for a lot of girls from low-income families to set goals and work to achieve them,” David said.

Jovonne M. Dempster is a former student of David. She sent a letter of appreciation that was read at the recognition ceremony. In it Dempster thanked David for being a positive influence.

“Baton taught me discipline, built my confidence, and gave me a reason to dream big,” Dempster wrote in her letter.

“I remember winning my first title as Miss Twirllette in 1996 and how proud Dina was of me. She never stopped believing in me, and provided me and many other young girls with a safe place to build our confidence and strength.

“Dina David loved me and taught me how to love myself.”

At the August City Council meeting David named Helena Clavin as her successor to continue twirl instruction.

Clavin is a student of David’s, and a county twirl champion. She will be graduating high school this year and attending a local college.

David said she selected Clavin because she is committed to keeping lessons at a fair price, and teaching girls the values of good sportsmanship and citizenship.

Fittingly David’s final performance leading the troupe of twirlers will be July 4 at the San Diego County Fair.

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