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RnM, Terpsichore, and Ajoyo Spring Show a Success

in Arts by

The Rhythm and Motion and Terpsichore show on Friday, one of the most anticipated and attended performances of the year, exceeded expectations. The show consisted of thirteen RnM pieces and five from Terpsichore, with one piece from the Bryn Mawr group Ajoyo.

RnM’s doesn’t have a single style, but in the past, it has been more influenced by the African Diaspora dance. This was evident the most in the opening piece, choreographed by Tinuké Akintayo ’18, Freddy Bernardino ’18, Ashley Mbah ’19, and Aly Rabin ’18. The opener exhibited aspects of the Umfundalai dance technique, which is also taught in the African dance courses offered here at Swat.

Many of the RnM pieces in the show came from other stylistic and cultural backgrounds. “Thicc Gyal and Latin Ting,” choreographed by Bernardino and Moniesha Hayles from Bryn Mawr, drew on Latinx and Caribbean-based movements and music. “Afghan Jalebi,” choreographed by Soumya Venkateswaran ’18 at Bryn Mawr, showcased a South Asian dance style against the Bollywood hit song “Afghan Jalebi” by Pakistani singer Asrar Shah. The student choreographers successfully incorporated traditional aesthetics while also using popular movements.

Part of what makes RnM pieces so fun to watch is that they choose popular dance styles and music selections. Songs like “Finesse” by Bruno Mars and Cardi B, artists like Beyoncé, clothes like a “Rugrats” sweatshirt, and trendy dance moves are immediately recognizable and relatable. It’s a celebration of our generation’s popular culture in a performance setting. Pieces like “Thicc Gyal and Latin Ting” and Akintayo’s “#Triplef:fiercefunflirty” also blurred the line between audience and performer when RnM dancers came out and danced in the audience.

For Ahsley Mbah ’19, popular media platforms are a basis for her choreography.

“I have definitely grown up watching tons of YouTube videos of dancers and being moved to create something that gives me the same feeling that I have when watching a dance video. I think I’m listening to music all the time and I’m dancing all the time. Every song I hear, I feel like there’s a choreography waiting to be made for it. Any song in general has the potential to be expressed through dance.”

Terpsichore is also a dance group based on student choreography, but whereas RnM participation is based on auditions, anyone can choreograph for Terpsichore. The pieces tend to display more lyrical and modern dance styles, but there is some crossover with incorporations of popular movements.

Ajoyo, a dance group from Bryn Mawr, also had the stage for one piece entitled “The Showdown.” Using inspiration from West African movements, the piece imitated a rivalry and then coming together of two groups, with a humorous ending when one of the dancers came back out to show off her splits.  

One aspect that makes the show so exciting for students is that all of the dance is choreographed by their peers. Student choreographers have control over all aspects of the process, from the music choice, the style of dance, the specific movements, and the mood they want to portray. The amount of creative freedom can prove daunting, but student choreographers have developed methods to make their visions real.

For student choreographers  music choice is central to the choreographic process. Liz Lanphear ’19 choreographed “Rain Dance” in fullfilment of a vision she had while listening to the song “Rain Dance” by Whilk and Misky.

“My mind constructed this story of a band of farmers recognizing the signs of the oncoming storm … and then celebrating this force of power and unpredictability that would also secure their livelihoods. That, to me, was a story I thought could be told compellingly through movement,” Liz Lanaphear said.

For Rabin, her inspiration for “Evergreen” simply came from finding a cool new piece of music, in this case the song “Evergreen” by YEBBA. When coming up with movements to set to her music choice, she looks back to past RnM pieces.

“My dance [is] definitely inspired a little bit by the choreography of past RnM performances, especially dancers who were seniors when I was a freshman. [They] did a really good job of combining African with Contemporary and finding a balance.”

Not all pieces are inspired by or set to music, however. Zara Williams-Nicholas ’19 set part of her piece “Colorblind” to an interview with Misty Copeland describing what it was like for her to be the first black principal dancer with American Ballet Theater. Homogeneity of body type and skin color has been a barrier for a lot of dancers in the professional world, and the highest paying and most accredited positions in the dance world are still largely held by naturally thin white people.

Williams-Nicholas, in her choreographic debut, impressively tackled this issue. In the program, she explained her objective.

“The piece attempts to create discourses about blackness in a white space, the desire to be heard, and the feeling of loneliness and a desire for solidarity.”

The show finale brought all the dancers onto the stage, and honored the seniors in each group: Tinuké Akintayo ’18, Freddy Bernardino ’18, and Aly Rabin ’18, and Bryn Mawr student Soumya Venkateswaran ’18 of RnM, and Charlotte Raty ’18, Rachel Diamond ’18, and Prairie Wentworth-Nice ̕18 of Terpsichore. The show was a highly entertaining break from the weeks leading up to finals.

RnM leads celebration of divas

in Arts/Music in Spaces by

This past Friday, Rhythm n’ Motion dance company hosted the annual Diva Party in Paces. “Diva” colloquially refers to a number of female artists that have produced music with feminist undertones, including Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Fergie, Missy Elliot, and many more. At the party, RnM members played songs by these divas and more. For many individuals, this music and the artists who create it have a very special place in their hearts.

“A lot of those female artists — just the way they carry themselves is very powerful,” said Brandon Torres ’18. “Fergie’s album, “The Dutchess”, was also the first album I bought with my own money when I was a kid.”

For most attendees, Diva Party is all about the music played, so RnM members hosting the party were careful and deliberate about the songs they chose to play.

“We wanted to make sure we played music that is not always heard [at parties], but by divas,” said Frank Wu ’16, co-director of RnM and one of the hosts of Diva Party. “So we made sure not to put any other top hits that we know were super popular.”

The event was organized by individual students in past years, but those students have since graduated. Wanting to keep the tradition of Diva Party alive, RnM stepped up to host it this year. Wu remembers these parties fondly as some of the most famous at Paces.

“Some of the upperclassmen — from RnM, from Swarthmore — were thinking about the party scene at Swarthmore,” said Wu. “We wanted to create another space for a party just because we haven’t had a Paces party in a long time… There used to be Paces parties all the time. So we were like, ‘Ok, you know what? We’re going to do it!’ What other group could possibly be better to host a Diva Party than RnM?”

RnM was founded in 2002 by a group of students who felt that there weren’t many opportunities for them to learn and perform African dance styles. RnM has its roots in performing dance styles of the African diaspora, but has since expanded to include other underrepresented styles depending on the members of the group. Occasionally, members also choreograph more popular songs, like the hits played at Diva Party.

“We knew exactly what we were going to put on the playlist,” said Wu. “It literally took us like fifteen minutes to put like a hundred songs on it.”

Some students, however, wished that more divas had been played throughout the night.

“I thought it was really fun,” said Torres. “My only complaint was I wish there was more Lady Gaga.”

“I would have liked to have seen more Latin American representation,” said Kelly Hernandez ’18. “There are some bomb Latin American divas.”

Ultimately, though, students enjoyed Diva Party, and RnM succeeded in creating a fun, empowering space to dance.

“I personally felt like it was just about dancing there,” commented Torres. “I also think a lot of [the divas] remind me of middle school. I feel like in middle school, I wasn’t comfortable enough with my sexuality to just dance and have fun. So being able to hear those songs from middle school and just dance and have fun however I wanted to — I’m really appreciative of that.”

It remains unclear whether RnM will take up the reigns on the Diva Party again next year, but it’s possible. Either way, the reception of the Diva Party in both the upperclassmen who knew the Swarthmore before the party scene died down and the underclassmen who know nothing else shows that the tradition needs to be kept.

 

Wendy Xu ’15 returns to Swarthmore with new moves

in Arts by

Swarthmore alumna Wendy Xu ’15 made a return to campus last Sunday, when she led a hip-hop choreography workshop in the Lang Performing Arts Center. The early afternoon workshop was sponsored by the college’s own Rhythm N Motion Dance Company. Xu, a four-year member of Rhythm N Motion, had previously led dance workshops at the college as a student. Rhythm N Motion sponsors independent dance workshops throughout the academic year, open to all students of the college.

About 20 students attended the workshop, which was held in the LPAC’s Troy Dance Lab. Students came from a range of different dance backgrounds — some with minimal experience, while others were members of Rhythm N Motion. During the workshop, Xu presented and taught a choreographed routine to Chris Brown and August Alsina’s “Been Around the World.” Additionally, Xu shared insight about her creative process and preferences as a choreographer.

“There’s no need to be self conscious here,” said Xu at the beginning, before demonstrating the first part of the routine.

Xu’s teaching style was characterized by her receptiveness and adaptability to dancers of all skill levels. Often, when presenting a move, she showed an advanced version followed by a more accessible version. When performing the choreography along with the dancers, she alternated between between versions. Xu also encouraged creativity and individuality in her trainee’s routines.

“I liked how she explained each way, and said how we could put our own personal thing into some parts of the routine,” stated workshop participant Pravadh Singh ’19.

Along with individuality, Xu also emphasized creativity and exploration as major parts of her choreographic process.

“I just freestyle to [the song], and over time, the more and more I freestyle to it, some moves just stick,” said Xu. She prefers choreographing to the lyrics of the song, rather than the count, as she stated near the beginning of the session. For her, the choice to choreograph to Alsina’s “Been Around the World” was an obvious one.

“I don’t really listen to the radio, I don’t know a lot of songs. But once in a while I just hear one, and then I can’t stop listening to it,” said Xu. She emphasized the smooth vocals and fast beats of Alsina’s 2015 release “This Thing Called Life” as factors that made it a simple choice to choreograph to.

“I thought the routine was pretty tough to pick up,” noted Singh. Xu agreed and said to the workshop at one point that the fast-paced choreography was not the easiest. She added that she was impressed at how well the dancers, who ranged widely in experience, handled it.

“It was pretty enjoyable once you practiced it,” added Singh. He went on to say that he would be  interested in attending future events of a similar nature.

“I’m really happy that RnM has let me come back to do a workshop once in a while,” said Xu. She noted the lack of opportunities to lead workshops outside of the college, saying that these workshops helped maintain her drive to continue choreographing.

 

Behind the scenes at Rhythm n Motion auditions

in Arts by
R&M Audition_Ashlen Sepulveda copy
Photo by Ashlen Sepulveda

“I love to dance,” they all said, in various ways.

Rhythm n Motion hosted its fall auditions this past Sunday, September 14, from 1:30 to 5 p.m., and my pride was one of its victims.

I do not love to dance. Dancing happens to me, uncontrollably, like a disease, whenever I need to shake myself clean. The auditions were assigned to me, out of my control, by the circumstances of my social circles, and also the fact that apparently people think I can dance. I don’t know why they call it that.

Rhythm n Motion auditions hammered some kind of truth into my head: that there is a significant difference between being able to dance and being able “to represent

underrepresented styles and origins of dance” primarily from the African diaspora on a stage at Swarthmore College every year.

An application was the first step towards securing a spot in the Rhythms and Motions of some of the more recognizable student institutions on campus. Dancing experience: “none.” Reasons for auditioning: “masochism.” Styles interested in: “Political, Russian, Pussy Riot.”

The second step was to stand, sit and stretch awkwardly as the group waited for the RnM commanders to take control of the Lang Performing Arts Center studio.

A trait most students would agree in recognizing is the unconditional good-natured nice-ness of most RnM student leaders: Natalie Gainer ’15, Catherine Xiang ’15, Brian Lee ’15, Frank Wu ’16 and Wendy Xu ’15, among others provide their services, talent and willpower to the incredible unity of RnM’s performances. Warming up was made easier as a result of this supportive atmosphere (though performing before the artists themselves was another question).

An excited spirit fills the studio where one can find an inspiringly uncontrollable and overwhelming energy of dance, a spirit nuanced only perhaps by the fact that nothing about dancing is exactly as ‘new’ for these masters of Motion, as it was for me. They’ve led auditions before, they’ve performed before hundreds, they’ve conquered crowds, pleased the masses. There’s a certain pride (not misplaced) in the studio; but standing next to RnM line leaders, following their hips (which never lie) as they look you in the eye, asking if you need any help going over the moves that terrify, you would never think about it. I don’t know why.

I would have been proud, too, I guess, you know, if I could coordinate my right butt cheek with the circling motion of my arms while taking even-distanced step in a straight line, in direct correlation to the syllables sexily slipped into the lyrics of a Beyoncé hymn. My traditional athletic upbringing, devoid of any art whatsoever, disciplined me to rely completely on the application of force and willpower to my lactic-acid filled legs and cardiovascular system. The biggest problem I had with dancing at the RnM auditions was that my heart-rate kept dropping, signifying the fact (in my endorphin addicted subconscious) that I wasn’t moving fast enough. My mind kept attempting to increase my leg turnover or add a double step to my single steps, almost unconsciously out of habit and out of years of running fifty miles a week at six-minute pace.

Dancing, moreover, requires an imagined observer, a god of sorts, projecting lines and rhythms and melodies of symmetry over bodies and souls like the golden funeral dress of some pharoah. There’s a mirror in the studio to serve this purpose. As a runner, however, the landscape was always more important than my appearance and form while transversing it. Mirrors were not as important as stop-watches. For dancing, the landscape is the human, and how that human body creates it, perfects it, reflects, bends and challenges it. Think Michael Jackson’s unnaturally smooth moon-walk.

Don’t get me wrong. As a long-distance runner, the form, strength, and efficiency of one’s stride is crucial to the conservation of energy, and therefore performance. It takes years to, if ever, perfect one’s stride. But performance for a runner or a swimmer is measured in the brute force of minutes and seconds, like that of an engine or a computer chip, whereas for dancers, value is created and added by classical notions of coordination, symmetry, beauty, like a tailored suit or an operating system. Running circles at paces personalized to my aerobic threshold throughout high school, I never had to remember a sum total of forty segments, their step segments, after practicing them for a mere ten minutes, like I did at RnM auditions. I only had to remember split times and to achieve them.

After completing the RnM audition’s three segments of African, salsa and hip-hop, my mind was, for all intents and purposes, broken. The space and the abstract concepts my brain projected onto the paths and tracks I had transversed over the course of my life had given me tunnel vision, and the RnM auditions had broken through like abstract shapes in a kaleidoscope, opening up an impossible new world in which I felt like a child trying to walk for the first time. I could get a handle on the moves, but I never had a chance to reconcile the moves with the series of numbers being evenly shouted to me from the RnM leaders in “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.” Those numbers sounded to my ears like meters on a track, miles in a forest, not movements in a performance. I was lost in the woods.

RnM auditions were a trip for an athlete who has inclined towards the archaism of the Greek disciplines: throwing, jumping, running, wrestling, nudity. I wanted to get to the end as quickly as possible, as effortlessly as possible. My desire was unclothed, however, rushed, indecent. The restraints and diversity of the RnM auditions’ challenges demanded, however, that I consciously attempt to stop, clothe, reflect actively and recollect the seconds I so desired to put an end to, and to extend their temporal presence like expressions of life outside the frame of the clock.

But maybe that was just the music.

I love to dance, but I don’t dance to remember.

RnM is a premeditated art and science, not an act of sudden rapture and complete submission to the chaos of the Beat like Paces on Saturday nights. Some of the dancers will spend weeks coordinating, designing, and perfecting values that so many of us at Swarthmore admire during the biannual Rhythm n Motion shows. They will sign up for more classes than their advisors recommend them to. They will take shuttles to Bryn Mawr and Haverford at inopportune times of day. They will suffer injuries, concussions, sleep deprivation, self-doubt, all in the pursuit of sharing themselves, their dances, the various modes in which their institution imagines melody and the ways in which physical bodies might interpret them. I couldn’t keep up with them, not because I didn’t want to, but because my mind was so overwhelmed and out of that infamous comfort-zone, so much so that I felt like throwing up.

I made the mistake of trying to represent the experience in an article instead of living it.

R&M Audition_Ashlen Sepulveda copy
Photo by Ashlen Sepulveda

 

RnM diversifies and prepares for upcoming show

in Arts by

Each semester, members of Rhythm n Motion (RnM) recreate our internal worlds on stage. This Saturday, from 8:00 to 9:00 at LPAC, the dancers will mirror our own joy, excitement, and fear through their movement.

RnM is the largest and longest dance group in the campus. Founded in 2001 by Jumatatu Poe ‘04, now a part-time assistant professor of dance in the College, RnM consisted of enthusiastic dancers from the Tri-Co community. It is rooted in promoting the dances of the African Diaspora, but has since branched out to celebrate all underrepresented dance forms, aiming to raise awareness of contemporary genres of dance such as hip-hop, jazz, and dancehall. This saturday, they will present to the audience several African dances, which are all choreographed by the dancers in the group. Dancer Wendy Xu ’15 said”‘It is really nice to have a lot of African dances; we are getting back to our roots.”

According to Xu, the African dances they are going to perform on Saturday are not all traditional. They will incorporate different types of dances, such as hip-hop and jazz, and some dance performances will have specific themes. One of the dance piece will have a ‘Haunted House’ theme while another piece will explore marital problems. However, not every dance performance will have a theme, and it is up to the choreographers to decide what message they want to convey through the dances to the audience.

One piece is set to feature traditional Chinese dance. This piece is choreographed by Catherine Xiang ’15, who studied with Liping Yang, a renowned Chinese dancer famous for her ethnic dance. “My piece in the show is based on one of her pieces called ‘Country of Daughters.’ This piece is a culmination and interpretation of the many ways her work has inspired me,” Xiang explained,”The spoken word in this piece is one that the Mosuo women of Yunnan sing to themselves when working. The song provides comfort to these women in face of the hardships they experience in their daily lives; but more importantly, it provides strength and energy to their spirits.”

Xu also choreographed a hip-hop piece that is named ‘Turn it up’. She said this will be a very special piece because all the male dancers except one in the group will be in the first part of the dance. “I am really excited about it. It is so nice to have all guys in one piece. It looks really masculine,” she explained.

The last few days before the actual performance mean intensive rehearsals. As everyone in the group is very busy and under a lot of stress, all of the dancers work harder whenever they have the chance to rehearse and try to make each other feel better. The better they feel, the better they dance. When talking about her relationship with other members of the group, Xu said “It is a great time commitment. We are all very close to each other.”

This will be RnM’s only performance of the semester. If by any chance you are not able to come to thel show this Saturday evening, the group will have a dress rehearsal on Friday and it is open to everyone in the campus.

The door opens at 7:30 this Saturday. Come early and claim a seat.

 

Four new dancers to join Rhythm ‘n’ Motion company

in Arts by

Four new Swarthmore dancers now join the Tri-College dance company Rhythm n Motion, rooted in raising awareness of the dances of the African Diaspora and other underrepresented genres. Jameson Lisak ’15, John Lim ’16, Gillian Geffen ’16, and Isabel Clay ’17 bring a variety of styles and levels of experience, however all will contribute enthusiasm and their love of dance to the group.

On Sunday January 25, current Swarthmore RnM members held an open audition for potential new members. In a three hour period, dancers learned three new choreographies and performed them as a group for evaluation.

Each new member had different motives for auditioning. Clay had been sick during the fall auditions and had been looking forward to the spring ones all year. Both Lim and Lisak said they were prompted by friends who were existing members to try out. All shared a passion for dance and a desire to perform that prompted them to audition.

John Lim has never had any formal training though he did some hip hop routines in high school. He said that “picking up the choreography was definitely a challenge, but it’s all memory, just like studying for class.” Clay, who has had more formal training, said that the audition was “structured like most dance classes. I personally felt so at home. For my friends auditioning who weren’t used to dancing, it seemed a little overwhelming.” Clay has been dancing since she was five, beginning her training with Irish folk dancing and moving into primarily hip hop and jazz.  Lisak agreed that the atmosphere was intimidating and intense but that, overall, it was a lot of fun. Lisak trained in middle school for tap, modern and ballet, though picked up hip hop and b-boying on his own. Geffen was able to pick up the choreography, having been trained in a variety of styles since she was four.

While each dancer has their own preferred style of dance, they all said they look forward to learning more and becoming adaptable to RnM’s various styles. Lim said, “I think that I’m adaptable to different styles because I haven’t had any particular training and I’m open to learning.”

Each dancer said they will struggle to balance the large time commitment of RnM rehearsals with academic work and extra-circulars. Clay said that “trying to balance my oldest love of dance with my newest one of rugby will certainly prove difficult on top of how challenging Swarthmore is in and of itself.  At the end of the day, I can’t see myself spending the rest of my time here without both groups in my life.”

While these new dancers are aware of the challenge, they all carry with them an enthusiasm for their future with the group. “I think what I’m looking forward to the most is getting to know the other dancers and being part of the RnM community,” Geffen said. “ I like it when I can be in a group of people who share a common passion.  I like it even more when that passion is dance.”

Currently, the new members are working with senior members to sign up for student led choreographies for the upcoming spring show. They are ready for a long semester of rehearsals leading up to the final performance where they will be able to showcase their talent and passion on stage.

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