Princeton3_SusanMarshall_270All dance courses at Princeton demand students engage not only in a studio dance practice, but also in choreography, performance, and academic study. Academic seminars such as “Mobilizing Bodies/Dancing the State,” taught by scholar Judith Hamera, require students to embody theory through assignments involving choreography and performance. In “Special Topics in Urban Dance: Hip-Hop Dance Practice and Culture,” students have studio practice with professional breaker/dancer Raphael Xavier and seminar study with Joseph Schloss, author of Foundation: B-boys, B-girls, and Hip-Hop Culture in New York.   

The body is the creative material and site of research in dance—all study inevitably asks students to confront their own bodies and body-related issues of weight, height, gender, race, identity, politics, and cultural preferences. The body is an intensely loaded subject. Taking a dance course could be one of the most challenging and self-actualizing actions taken by a Princeton student. Big talk, but I firmly believe one meets oneself dramatically in the study of dance.   

As a dancer you engage in an intensely intimate confrontation and negotiation with your mind and body. You wrestle with your own culturally dictated judgments about your and others’ bodies and face your self-image and assumptions about beauty. You encounter physical restrictions and discover ways to move with greater range, efficiency, and power. You uncover your idiosyncratic physical patterns that constrain your actions and learn ways to interrupt them to increase your choices and freedom. You remember to breathe. In performance, you find what it takes to stand exposed in front of your peers and unflinchingly commit to your actions.   

As a choreographer, you shape your own voice through the bodies and minds of the dancers with whom you work. What a beautiful alchemy. Your aesthetic statement, your success, depends entirely upon others and your ability to lead them through the turbulent phases of creation. You direct your peers, suggesting they try this or that; the creative action is mercilessly public, while the internal debates remain as private and mysterious as all creative processes. Choreography requires that you push through your doubts—there are dancers waiting for your next action. All choreographers work with the same material— the body. How can you possibly make an original contribution? Yet, the possibilities for combining action, line, rhythm, intention, and sequence are endless. Contrary to popular belief, choreography isn’t just a matter of putting steps together. Specific movements have resonances, references, dynamics, tensions, histories, and when put together they have syntax and form complete lines, which in turn fit into larger structures—structures which have resonances and histories of their own. It matters greatly whether the phrase ends with a legato or quickening rhythm. It matters who looks away first. It matters that you are in conversation with choreographers who came before you.   

Could there be a more basic and empowering activity than making dances? You work with others to make something of nothing. Making dances takes leadership, collaboration, confidence, trust, and faith—faith in yourself and in those who’ve joined with you.   

A student enrolled in our “Introduction to Dance and Movement” course wrote, “I feel empowered, more confident, and more capable. I feel happier, less ashamed. I thought it was too late for me to learn to dance. I thought I was too old to find rhythm in my body, but this was false. I am going to take this lesson and carry it to other aspects of my life. It is never too late to start something new, to pursue something…”   

I encourage Princeton students to take a dance course and learn how to collaborate, lead, follow, skip, fall, rise, and stand—to truly, with committed intention, stand.  

Credits

This article was originally published in 2015 by the Princeton University Office of Development Communications. It has been reprinted and adapted for the web with permission.

Photography by Kah Leong Poon

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