The pace stick is swung one, two, three, four times till it lands behind two white boots on the feet of a nervous girl.
“They’re sweating at the moment, hoping like mad the caliper is going to land behind their feet,” Lochiel Marching Drill Team coach Colleen Pobar says.
“She should be four paces away,” Colleen pauses, “and she’s correct.”
The next one is about half an inch out, which isn’t a problem this time, but precision is crucial to many of the team’s moves.
“They march backwards diagonally, back through one another and they cannot see one another,” Colleen says.
“If they’re not in position – totally, correctly in position – they will crash.”
Colleen has directed Lochiel in correct posture, pace and routines for 50 years and describes the sport as “synchronised swimming on land”.
She was taught by her father and, in turn, passed it on to her family, including her niece, Nicole Adamson, who is one of the team leaders.
Following in a family member’s footsteps appears to be the main method of recruitment for modern day marching teams.
Peak popularity for marching in New Zealand was 1974 with 368 teams registered with Marching New Zealand.
That number is now 73.
“We’re up against these new-found sports where you come, play and go, [it] doesn’t require commitment, it’s just fun” says Colleen.
“It [marching] is growing down south, but in the big cities of Wellington and Auckland it is dying and that is a shame, because it teaches the girls life skills, great bonding as a family and lifelong friends.”
But there are still a group of girls and women who are interested in learning those skills – 24 in fact – who have been training for the past six months in preparation for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Many, like 21-year-old Shaana Edmonds, are drawn to the discipline.
“We’re trained to know where we’re supposed to be, how far apart we are so that we don’t bang into each other. Every pattern or movement is designed and we train to make it look as amazing as it looks.”
But marching develops more than a good sense of timing.
“I also like the girls,” says Shaana. “It’s a very team family vibe. I love my coach. She’s a lot more than a coach, she gives advice, she helps out where she can, [with] personal issues, she’s great. Same with our chaperone, who’s my mum.”
The camaraderie and popularity of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo performance is sure to attract some new recruits, but Colleen says it’ll take more than that to boost the numbers.
“I think Marching New Zealand need to do something about the standard of coaching. I think they’ll probably get the girls, but they need to get the standard of coaching up there as well.”
“My girls are very capable of going out and helping coaches because I teach them how to coach at the same time. I’ve left them out on that ground and I know they’ll be practicing and the senior girls would have stepped up to the coaching role.”