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Cleo Washington on Growing into Opportunities to Foster Diversity inthe Marching Arts

It is a wonder that Cleo Washington, a busy college student, had time to answer a writer’s

questions, let alone eloquently share her thoughts on advancing participation in all areas of the

marching arts.

But Washington did just that – graciously taking a few minutes to enthusiastically share her own

color guard performance experiences as well as the many possibilities for advancing the

marching arts in beneficial ways.

Cleo, a native of Aurora, CO and junior dance major at the University of Colorado in Boulder,

made time to chat between classes, work, dance recital rehearsal and rehearsal with Malachi

Indoor’s 2022 WGI Finalist World Class team.

Cleo Washington as Guard Member

Cleo’s introduction to color guard had an amusing start when, in elementary school, she

encountered other girls holding signs about color guard.

“I had to ask. What color are you guarding?” she recalled with a laugh.

It did not take Cleo long to catch on, though. Then, Washington’s relationship with the marching

arts hit the fast track when her older sister, Teya, became involved in the activity.

“In a big sis, little sis mindset, I followed her,” Cleo said.

Soon after, her older brother, Javante, and younger sister, Maya, would join the endeavor,

making performing in guard a family affair.

Cleo personal performance journey began in 2009 as a third grader and has not stopped; she’s

kept spinning every year since. She joined Malachi in 2015 and is pleased to have grown right

along with one of Colorado’s premiere indoor guards. She enjoyed being with them when they

first made WGI Open Class finals in 2016. She is proud to have been a member of Malachi’s

first World Class Finalist ensemble in 2022 in Dayton and is back with the group for 2023.

Indoor is not Cleo’s only guard interest; she likes outdoor marching music performance, too!

Washington participated in marching band color guard throughout her high school career. She

joined the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps guard in 2019, aging out with this perennial top 12 finisher in 2022.

The movement found in guard work helped expand Cleo’s adoration of dance, a passion she

hopes to continue to explore, especially in ways relating to multi-culturism and diversity. Her

goal is to travel to Central and South America to study the dances of the many Carnival

celebrations. It is not just the dances themselves of carnival that captivate Washington, though.

Cleo is intrigued by the culture behind them. The diversity and multi-ethnicity that abound in

Latin America and its celebrations hold both appeal and possibility.

Seeing the diversity in Latin American carnivals may, in turn, support another of Washington’s

interests: fostering diversity at all levels of the marching arts. 

Being Present and Embracing the Platform

With an eye toward the future of the marching arts, Cleo has recently turned her sights toward

inspiring and helping new, younger participants. To that end, she works with the Malachi Minis

group directed by her sister, Teya.

In fact, you might even say fostering diversity in the marching arts is a Washington family

endeavor. While Cleo and her siblings were spinning, mom Keisha learned the ropes of parent

involvement. After the Washington children progressed to higher performance levels and then

began to share their knowledge as teachers and techs, Keisha eventually became involved on the board for the Malachi organization and is currently serving as board president. 

Cleo, however, is eagerly exploring her own more visible role. With Malachi Minis, she techs

and helps choreograph for members who may range in age from 3-14, youngsters truly

experiencing the activity for the first time. Cleo believes there are advantages to being

introduced to the world of color guard at a young age.

“When you start at a younger age, I think it provides a beneficial slow introduction,” Cleo

stressed. “There is opportunity to have fun as you grow toward the next level, as the activity can

become overwhelming quite fast.”

And, growth for both her groups and the marching arts at large is important to Washington. With

Malachi Minis, she hopes participants will be inspired to progress to the RA group and beyond.

She also thinks the existence of younger guard opportunities provides more potential to involve

and educate parents.

Boosting diversity among participants is another of Cleo’s goals. Washington understands the

challenges of locations and access and how such factors impact the face of local ensembles,

bringing to bear further challenges, whether those be financial, social, or environmental access

needs. She hopes that the more fun-focused younger ensembles can help draw more interest from more communities.

Community itself is important, too. Washington would love to see a group such as the Minis

color guard make more community appearances and introduce the guard concept to new


“Doing more in the community can help with exposure, because the time and focus of the upper

competitive groups just don’t really allow for that,” she noted.

Of course, for Cleo other types of exposure are just as important. She grasps the importance of

having people of color and other diverse backgrounds in visible roles in the marching arts.

When asked if she considered herself a role model, the humble but confident Washington

hesitated, noting such stature was not a goal she originally considered. However, she now

recognizes that both her participation at a World Class indoor level and her role in teaching and

leading new generations are important.

“This is an opportunity. I can help represent and then inspire diversity,” she noted.

More than an opportunity, Cleo seems to realize now that she and her contemporaries might even have a duty.

“Members and staff of color should be embraced in visible leadership roles,” she said.

“I love this activity so much, and I see so much potential, so I feel compelled to try and do more

than I thought I could,” she added.

Cleo is now excited to take such opportunities beyond dance and beyond indoor guard. As a

drum corps alumni, she is thrilled to have her first opportunity to teach outdoor guard. She will

be teching and helping with choreography this summer at the Troopers under caption head Jenn


“I think it will be fun being on the other side,” she said of being on staff. “I am excited for the

opportunity. I am also excited to explore culture that will be new for me. Troopers seem to have

exciting things going on.”

From indoor to outdoor and about the chance to help foster diversity, equity and inclusion, Cleo

Washington believes she is ready to embrace any chance she has to make a difference.

“This sport has given so much to me. I appreciate having a way to give back.”

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