Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
In Greek mythology, nine Muses were said to bestow inspiration and knowledge unto mortals. They were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, each one beautiful and rich with wisdom. Terpsichore, the Muse of dance, is most often sculpted holding a lyre, her eyes betraying the origins of her name: a combination of the Greek words for dance and delight.
Terpsichore has recently inspired five Swarthmore student dancers to revive a dance group in her name, one focused on providing performance and choreographing opportunities and fostering a close community that can’t always be found in instructional class settings. Ideally, the group will perform their work at the end of each semester at in-studio showings. Sophia Gabriel ’15 currently serves as president of the group with Emmy Talian’15 as vice president. In addition, Aileen Eisenberg ’15 is the public relations coordinator, Natalie Gainer ’15 is the secretary, and Laura Laderman ’15 is the treasurer.
Last semester, this entrepreneurial group of dancers recognized a common dissatisfaction with certain elements of the Swarthmore dance scene. Very few dance courses allow students to choreograph, and repertory courses with cumulative performances are few and far between, especially for ballet.
“I missed that performance component,” Talian said. “There is something about perfecting choreography and then presenting it to the audience that is a really important part of dance.”
The current leaders of Terpsichore all have dancing backgrounds. Coming to Swarthmore, they missed the liberty of experimentation and the diversity of dance types. “There weren’t enough opportunities to dance with just students in a non-regulated setting,” said Gabriel, who took the lead in putting together a charter proposal for the group.
Terpischore had once been a presence on campus, but faded out due to lack of interest. Since it was already worked into the Student Budgeting Committee (SBC) budget, reviving the group, instead of chartering a new one, seemed like a logical move.
Terpsichore had their first interest meeting at the beginning of the semester, and have since established goals for the group over the coming year. “We want to build a dance community . . . and a network between dancers,” Gainer said. This sentiment was echoed by other leaders, as well, who mentioned the difficulty of becoming close to fellow dancers during intense classes. Terpsichore has fostered more bonding opportunities, Gabriel said, because it is less structured than a traditional instructional class.
Being open and welcoming to anyone interested in dance is also very important to Terpsichore’s core team. “It’s hard, with your schedule, to fit in dance classes,” Eisenberg said. Terpsichore aims to provide an alternative to classes, expanding the dance community in the process. Gabriel also wants to make sure the team is apart of the rest of the dance community by connecting with other dance groups on campus and possibly collaborating.
Student choreography is another central focus of the group. “We want to learn through each other,” Gainer said. To accomplish this, Terpsichore will spotlight different students each week during student-lead master classes. “I think definitely because we have students teaching…it will make people more comfortable,” Gabriel said. They have already asked members to start thinking about potential choreography they may want to share, “something they’ve been seeing in their head that they want to get out in their bodies,” Gainer said. The leaders also plan on organizing trips to Philadelphia to watch professional dance performances for inspiration.
Between the five of them, the revivers of Terpsichore have experience and interest in a huge range of dance, including ballet, modern, jazz, point, theatrical, African, tap, hip hop, and contemporary. They are looking forward, like the Muses themselves, to spreading their love for and knowledge of dance to as many interested students as possible.
They also want to make it clear that Terpischore is not necessarily an alternative to dance classes, but an additional option. “Teprischore is simply another avenue for dancers to take, one that is student led and very much still in the making,” Eisenberg said.
Reflecting on Terpsichore’s goal of bringing dancers together, Talian thought back to her freshman year. “I do wish that there had been that sort of dance community in existence…it would have helped with the dance transition,” she said. Terpsichore, with her lyre and big dreams, is here to provide what once was missing.