Behind the Scenes with Rhythm ‘n Motion

Whatever excuses you may have for not attending Rhythm ‘n Motion’s annual fall dance performance this Saturday at 8:00 probably won’t hold up in the dancers’ books. Going out? Consider the show a pregame for RnM’s post-performance Wharton-D party. Tired? So are the performers — they spend roughly two hours a week on every number they will be showcasing on Saturday, with eleven pieces in total on the lineup. Got homework? So does Co-Director Griffin Dowdy ‘13, whose thesis draft — due Sunday after the show — is probably significantly more stress-worthy than your economics problem set or 200-page political science reading.

Besides, if past years’ attendance are any indicator of Saturday’s crowd, all the cool kids will be doing it. The Tri-Co troupe typically fills the Lang Performing Arts Center’s main stage — just under a thousand seats. Last year’s spring show pushed the fire capacity, with students squatting on stairs and in aisles to cheer on their friends.

With fifty active members, chances are slim that you are without friends in the company. Co-Director Brian Lee ‘14 believes it’s students’ personal relationships that drive audiences to the event each semester.

“[When you] see RnM-ers [rehearsing] so often and putting so much time in, you can’t help but come and see what it’s all about,” Lee said. “When all that work is manifested in a final product… it’s hard not to get excited.”

Founded in 2001 by Jumatatu Poe ‘04, who is now an Assistant Professor of Dance at the College, the group has evolved beyond its original focus on dance of the African diaspora to celebrate all underrepresented forms of movement and performance. In honoring the group’s roots, each show opens with a piece performed in the African tradition of umfundalai — a required rite of passage for all incoming performers.

The dance troupe welcomes six to ten new members each semester to boost numbers following graduation and study abroad departures. Typically, the audition process draws roughly forty “newbie” hopefuls, although this year Lee and Dowdy saw numbers climb as high as seventy.

No formal dance training is required to audition, although admission into the troupe mandates enrollment into one of the many courses the Dance Department offers.

All active members of RnM receive one vote in determining who to bring into the group. According to the Co-Directors, the decision is usually unanimous. Emphasis is placed on “broad-skilled dancers” over more specialized candidates.

This year, the group has broadened its area of influence to include dance enthusiasts both at Swarthmore and in the community. After hearing several students confess that they tried out for RnM because “it’s a good workout,” Dowdy and Lee decided to implement workshops offering basic dance instruction to the community-at-large. In the past month, dancers have additionally worked with the Dare2Soar program, which brings tutors from the college into Chester, in running a hip-hop workshop for interested children and teens in the community.

As a performance-based group, a majority of RnM’s rehearsal time is spent on developing choreography and preparing for the semester-end show. Although technique doesn’t receive a huge time slot in practice schedules, dancers necessarily accumulate new skills in working to realize the visions of student choreographers.

According to Lee, each piece requires a time commitment of roughly one to two hours a week. Dancers choose which pieces to participate in based on students’ informal showings of starting choreography at the beginning of the semester. Group members can choose to take part in anywhere from one to seven numbers in a given semester.

Choreographers are typically “RnM veterans” willing to take on greater responsibility and an increased time commitment to the group. Dowdy, whose sixth piece of choreography for RnM dancers will be performed Sunday, typically spends an hour choreographing just 30 seconds of a routine – and according to Lee, he’s one of the fast ones.

“Choreography is definitely a big commitment,” Dowdy said. “It’s a very vulnerable place to be because you have so much artistic authority over what’s happening. It’s also a painfully long process that involves taking in a million different variables about how you want things to read in the piece and how that balances out with how well the people in the dance are even able to put that out there. It’s a give and take, and a vulnerable and humbling process.”

In addition to the group’s eleven pieces, the newly formed alternative dance group, Terpsichore, will be performing original choreography on Saturday night.

“It’ll be interesting to see how we can work together in the future,” Lee said. “Even though there are other dance groups [in the TriCo, Terpsichore]is the first that’s really interested in public performances, and we’re excited to lend our support.”

Audience support for both groups promises to be strong, as in past years.

“[Crowds turn out] because of the environment that we create [in LPAC], and the expectation that [the event] is going to be full, and it’s going to be loud,” Dowdy said. “It reaches a very broad audience because of the amount of different styles we employ. You get to watch your friends ‘doign their thing’… and that brings people out — the expectation that it  will be a good hour.”

The doors open at 7:30 on Saturday night — arrive early to claim a seat.

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