To the Dot or to the Form: The Eternal Debate

Every high school marching band teaches similar marching fundamentals:

“Get up on your platform.”

“Keep your torso flat to the audience.”

“Stand directly behind the person in front of you.

“Stay even with the people to your left and right.”

These rules were drilled into our heads the moment we stepped foot in our first marching block. We learned that the marching element of marching band is a science; there are proven rules and methods that work the best. We all joined the MVs knowing these rules like the back of our hands, and we can agree on all of them without a problem.

Well—all of them except for one.

The concept of dressing ‘to the dot’ or ‘to the form’ requires some explanation.

 The Marching Virginians practicing drill; Source:

The Marching Virginians practicing drill; Source:

Every player on the field is given a coordinate for each move in the show. Players should move to their exact coordinate, or ‘dot,’ in order to create a perfect overall picture. However, because of human error and the difficulty of remembering your exact dot, we were taught in high school to occasionally “dress to the form” when we move. In other words, find your place based on the position of those around you.

In theory, you should dress to your dot during rehearsals and to the form during performances, but this simple logic sometimes just doesn’t work. What about full runs during practice? What if I’m on my dot, but the section next to me is completely off? What if I’m too lazy to learn my dot?

This conflict begins to cause problems.

The dot-dresser will move to their dot at all times, even when it involves stepping completely outside the form of those around them. Meanwhile, the form-dresser might look correct compared to those around them, but they never know where they’re actually supposed to stand. When an entire section gives up and just dresses to the form, then the big picture is bound to look slightly wrong.

Form-dressers tend to roll their eyes at dot-dressers and view them as try-hards (myself included). Dot-dressers view all form-dressers as lazy, incompetent marchers (fair criticism).

The following exchange occurs multiple times at any given rehearsal:

Sarah: John, get in line.

John: But I’m on my dot.

Sarah: You look completely wrong compared to everyone else.

John: This. Is. My. Dot.

Sarah: We’re supposed to be in line with the saxes.

John: The saxes are wrong.

Sarah: Shut up and get in line.

The sheer amount of anger that fuels these debates is unbelievable.

Form-dressers snap at dot-dressers for ignoring everyone. Dot-dressers order everyone else to get in the right place. Field leadership tries to correct other sections, and those sections kindly tell leadership to mind their own friggin’ business.

As a self-proclaimed form-dresser, I can honestly say that when a dot-dresser rudely corrects you, it feels like a personal attack. Sometimes you know that they’re right, but you still refuse to move out of principle. You defend the placement of your feet on the field like you’re defending your honor, and you plant your shoes on the turf like you’re making a political statement.

John: Sarah, take three steps forward. We’re only supposed to be four steps off the front hash, and right now, you’re like seven.

Sarah: I’m in line with the tubas.

John: The tubas need to move up too. This is completely wrong.

Sarah: We’ll figure it out by Saturday, just chill.

John: We should fix it now, while we have the chance, rank captain.

Everyone: Shut up and get in line.

The battle is endless. This argument causes tensions to rise to an absolute maximum. Harsh words are exchanged. Friendships crumble. The Marching Virginians practice field becomes a place of anger and stress.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re a dot-dresser or a form-dresser. By the time we perform the show, we’ve practiced it so many times, that the final product looks great—and even if it doesn’t, it’s done.

So, you have renewed energy as you walk into the MVC the following Monday, relieved to finally be playing and marching something new. As you load your new drill on your phone and begin to find the opening set, you forget that you’re about to have the same exact arguments all over again.