On Pointe: Dancing Through Swarthmore

jackie morgan1_web imageLike most things at Swarthmore, the dance program runs a lot deeper than it may appear at first glance. Although a small department, majoring in dance at Swat often means exploring multiple fields catering to their unique areas of interest. What makes it so unique is its emphasis on world dance and the ability students have to explore dance through other departments as well.

“If you look at colleges like Swarthmore, most of the programs in dance over there are mostly western,” explains Pallabi Chakravorty, acting director of the dance program. From her perspective as an Anthropologist, “most of the dance programs [at other schools] are western orientated, mostly modern and ballet…and if they do have something, it’s just one class, not really part of the structure of the program”

This fits in with the Dance Department’s message that dance is a global discourse, as exemplified with course offerings such as the Northern Indian style of dance Kathak as well as African dancing. Within the dance major itself, students can decide to focus on the technical side of dance as well as the academic, with students often double majoring (bio/dance double majors are not uncommon) or creating their own special majors. Life after Swat for dance majors can include an anthropological study of dance, a career as a professional dancer, or even pursuing a PhD in a dance related field. In fact, the dance department fits in perfectly with the mission of Swarthmore College.

 Jacqueline Morgen

When Dean Martin Warner suggested that Jackie Morgen ’13 have a special major in circus arts, she tells me she literally laughed at the idea. Currently a senior, Morgen plans on going to med school next year, and figured she would major in bio at Swat with a minor in dance. But when she learned that a dance minor would not reflect on her transcript any specialization in circus arts, she reconsidered as she wanted her passion for circus to be evident on her transcript.

Morgen ultimately decided to do a special major in Circus Arts and Dance while also fulfilling pre-med requirements. Perhaps uniquely Swat, her special major has allowed her to incorporate some of her other interests as well, including developmental psychology and journalism writing  both of which count towards her major. Morgen explains how it made sense for her to do her special major through the dance department, with class offerings such as the History of Dance and the Anthropology of Performance, she is always looking for courses that she can push towards circus.

“It gave me the opportunity to took at circus academically,” Morgen explains. “There’s kind of an emerging group of young people right now, and we call ourselves ‘circademics’, it’s basically circus academics. There really is a lot you can learn from circus.”

Morgen did just that during the Summer of 2010, when she received funding from the school to participate in circus arts therapy in Atlanta, combining her interests of circus and developmental psychology. She is also the founder Swat Circus, the circus club here on campus, which takes trips into Philly for events such as trapeze lessons and practices their tight rope walking on Parrish Beach.

Morgen has been involved with circus arts since she was 8, and although she can do a bit of most acts, she really enjoys the flying trapeze, often doing it in her free time off campus in Bucks County. Besides doing off-campus studying one semester, she has found the courses and classes at Swat are enough to fulfill her major requirements. Morgen has taken advantage of what Swarthmore has to offer, explaining how “studying [circus] in Swarthmore as part of the dance program, I have been encouraged to find those parts of circus, which I can really dig into.”

As Morgen prepares her senior thesis and plans on going to medical school next year, she is adamant that circus and dance will always be part of her life because at the end of the day, she states, “it’s just fun.”

 Daniel Cho

For Daniel Cho ’15, it was pretty clear from the beginning of his career at Swarthmore that he would dance. Cho is a special dance and education major with a minor in music. Within the dance part of the major, he is specifically interested in choreography and performance, whereas in education he plans in studying the social inequalities in the United States education system. Cho is excited about looking at how to possibly combine these two aspects, recognizing that Swat is a great place to explore these avenues.

But first and foremost, he hopes to pursue dance professionally after Swarthmore. Also an avid singer and actor, what is clear about Cho is that he highly values the expression and emotion in his performances. One of his favorite genres of dance is lyrical, contemporary dance, which is about expressing emotion through the lyrics in the song through choreography. Yet lately he has found himself drawn to ballet, and for Cho dance at Swat means dancing both inside his major requirements as well as outside. In addition to Ballet II and Pointe classes, Cho’s passion for ballet pushes him off campus to attending three ballet classes off campus at the Swarthmore Ballet Theater.

“That feeling you get [while doing ballet], because you have to work hard on it” Cho explains. “When the teacher tells you did something right, then you know you worked so hard for it, and that’s the best.”

Cho is part of two dancing troupes on campus– Rythm and Motion as well Terpsichore. He is able to combine his passion for dancing with acting and singing as well by participating in musical theater on campus. For Cho, dancing at Swarthmore for him means participating in as many dance events as possible, and the more he dances, the clearer it is that dancing at Swat is the right choice for him.

Jalisa Roberts

Jalisa Roberts has been able to use many of the resources that Swat has to offer to pursue her double major in dance and Black Studies. Her interests can be best exemplified in the work she’s done in launching her own non-profit youth program for underprivileged youth in her hometown New Orleans. Roberts uses dance as leadership training, as well as a means to explore various aspects of black history in order to help rebuild communities post-Katrina.  Roberts has received find from the LAng Civiv Center for her non-profit, titled “The Cacoon Youth Empowerment Program”, and she credits her inspiration to an opportunity she had to take dance classes as a child, and she wants to share that with her community.

For Roberts, it’s the support and trust from the dance department as well as its many resources that she values the most.

“While the number of student majors is small (two), the amount of resources are very great,” says Roberts. “I’ve had a lot more opportunities to form intimate relationships with people who do great things in my field than I would have had a chance to anywhere else, which is great because it’s rare to get that one on one mentoring with people who are considered legends.”

For her senior dance performance, Roberts plans on incorperating the theme of the four elements, and ideas that have been thrown around for this include a dress with fabric that covers the whole stage as well perhaps the use of a game torch. “The support from the dance program runs really great,” Roberts explained. “Everything I’ve ever thought about doing on stage has been possible.”

Roberts’s passion for dance extends to her Black Studies Thesis, where she is exploring dance and social change. Roberts plans on getting her MFA in dance and will continue to work on choreography and various independent studies.


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