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Dunbar High School band director brings show style marching to Fort Myers for first-ever SW Florida Band Jamboree

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Tara Calligan
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Members of the Dunbar High School Marching Tigers band performing during the first-ever SW Florida Band Jamboree at North Law Firm Stadium in Fort Myers.

Marching bands from around the state came together to battle it out on the Dunbar high School Marching Tigers’ home turf on Sunday for the first-ever Southwest Florida Band Jamboree. And these aren’t your corps or military style kind of marching bands. These show style bands have a captivating level of skill, swagger, and flash.

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Show style bands often take popular songs we all know and love and put their own marching band spin on them to create a concert-like experience. And the jaw-dropping dance routines that accompany the music feature a variety of styles that are choreographed to perfection and performed with visible commitment, attitude, and ferocity.

And this battle has all of it.

The competing bands played renditions of songs by artists from Paula Abdul and Michael Jackson to Megan Thee Stallion, Tevin Campbell, OutKast, and so many more.

Dr. LeRoy Irving Jr., known by all as Doc Irving, is the director of music at Dunbar High School. He says his students' potential is what inspired him to organize the SW Florida Band Jamboree.

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Tara Calligan
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Dr. Irving pacing quickly in front of the Dunbar High School Marching Band before one of their performances of the SW Florida Band Jam-boree begins.

“One day, I was looking at my band, and I said ‘these kids need to be exposed to a little bit more than what they see. I need to get them out there,’" said Irving. "So, it started as me taking them to one of these events in another city.”

Doc Irving took his students to Atlanta for a band brawl to expose them to a wider-depth of show-style marching bands and how other groups flex their skills. But since constant travel costs a lot of time and money, Doc Irving wanted to bring the show-style scene to southwest Florida.

“This is an explosion of culture," said Irving. "It’s an explosion of music. It’s an explosion of art. And a lot of my students don't get the opportunity to do performances like this very often to show their full talents. And there’s a lot of Fort Myers that doesn’t get to see exactly what they do. This is an eye-openers

He says this event is an eye-opener for the southwest Florida community-at-large.

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“It’s crossing cultures," said Irving. "It’s not a race thing. It’s not a demographic thing. It’s not about what part of Fort Myers we’re from. I got people out here from all over and this is amazing.”

Florida high school marching bands participating included Dunbar, Lakewood, The Sounds Of Success Community Band of West Palm Beach, Yulee, Fort Myers; Spoto, and Tampa Tech.

Guest bands in attendance were the Marching Maroon Typhoon Band of Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Florida Memorial University’s ROAR Marching Band.

Each band brought everything they had to the field of the North Law Firm Stadium. And how they each intertwined chosen music with dance movements was distinctive and special.

The Sounds Of Success Community Band reenacted a resuscitation during one of their performances. Members of the band who weren’t part of the drum line laid on the ground while dancers mimicked pounding on their chests to the sounds of a percussive heartbeat. They concluded the number with showstopping solo dancing and acrobatics exploding into jumping splits and backflips.

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Ariana Irving plays trumpet in the Dunbar High School Marching Band. She’s a 15-year-old junior and has been playing her instrument for six years with encouragement from her father Doc Iriving, the band director you heard from earlier. Like many of her bandmates, she says this group is an extension of family.

“When we all play together we all come together like a family, and we sound great," said Irving. "It’s honestly just a really big community of people that I can trust.”

A marching band’s style is as unique as a fingerprint. Ariana says her band is influenced by many historically black colleges and universities, abbreviated as H.B.C.U., from around the state.

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Tara Calligan
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“My band’s style is definitely a traditional style," said Irving. "We take a little bit from everywhere, but that’s how we learn, you know? We also do have our own special Southwest Florida funk to it, so I would say our style is a little bit of every H.B.C.U. band put together.”

Anthony Xavier Clark is a 17-year-old senior at Dunbar High School and has been part of the marching band since his freshman year. He’s been playing saxophone for six years now.

“We’re not really like other bands, the way we go," said Clark. "We’re show style. We may march and they may step, but in other ways it’s more about the soul and the work and the effort and the passion that we put into our music then just the sound.”

Clark says this event means a lot and gives Dunbar High an opportunity to show the rest of the community who they are.

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Tara Calligan
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Anthony Xavier Clark is a 17-year-old senior at Dunbar High School and has been part of the marching band since his freshman year. He’s been playing saxophone for six years now.

“It would clear any bad air that we might have with any affiliations. It’s small, so our impact will be big," said Clark.

15-year-old trumpet player Pamela Padilla-Santillan explains that she lives in Cape Coral, but chose -the much further- Dunbar because of the marching band. And now, it’s her family.

“Honestly, I spend more time here with the band than I do at home, and so, I’ve been able to bond with these people in a way that I haven’t been able to bond with my own family members, said Padilla-Santillan. "And so they mean the world to me and I love everyone in the band.”

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Tara Calligan
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15-year-old trumpet player Pamela Padilla-Santillan (left) lives in Cape Coral, but chose -the much further- Dunbar because of the marching band. And now, it’s her family.

The Dunbar Marching Band is a smaller group. With about 30 members compared to other high school marching bands that can have hundreds of members. But, Ariana says numbers don’t matter.

“Because of our numbers, I think they would expect, you know, a trash band because we’re small," said Irving. "We only have, what...28 people? But once you hear them playing, they’re small but we’re mighty, you know? We got a lotta sound on us.”

As the battle of the marching bands raged on, it came time for Dunbar High School and Lakewood High School to square off, and even through this was poised as a fierce battle with one coming out victorious, the real purpose of the the Band-Jamboree was to bring the community together and showcase talents that have often gone unseen.

“It’s a proud papa moment for not just my students, but for the entire community," said Irving. "I'm proud that they had the opportunity to see this, to enjoy it, to bring their family out here. The music's great. This is amazing.”

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Tara Calligan
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The Dunbar High School marching band hyping up the crowd before kicking off the first-ever SW Florida Band Jam-boree.

The SW Florida Band Jamboree is just the beginning for The Dunbar High School Marching Band. The group will be embarking on a journey to the Chick-Fil-A-Bowl Parade in Atlanta at the end of the month and are heading to Suncoast Credit Union Arena at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers to tear it up at the City of Palms Basketball tournament.