Last Friday, Swarthmore College and Bryn Mawr College’s bi-college dance group, Rhythm N Motion, put on a show-stopping performance on the Lang Performing Arts main stage. After having collaborated with Terpsichore for previous performances, this semester RnM took to the stage by itself. Through audience participation and a student fueled choreographic process that expresses a strong commitment to community, RnM produced a synergetic performance.
It seemed that the crowd’s reaction was incredibly positive. There was an abundance of applause after every piece, and the audience often couldn’t contain their excitement during them. It seemed that the dancers had as much fun on stage as the audience did while cheering them on.
Furthermore, the audience was blown away by the show’s unique elements. Lighting effects were used to produce shadowy outlines of the dancers in James Bond-like dramatic poses. Later, the combination of fog and strobe effects served to maintain a high level of audience energy. There was even a piece done entirely in high-heels, exhibiting exceptional balance and practice from the dancers. As a hip hop group, RnM used many elements of hip-hop movement, and the movements of the dancers often had the feel of a music video.
I asked around to learn more about this group from the members themselves. Ashley Mbah ’19 mentioned that RnM’s mission is to keep their music, movement, and message rooted in the African Diaspora. Another dancer, David Melo ’21, said that the dances themselves are inspired by the styles and music that the diaspora has brought about through black communities.
One dancer, Meena Chen ’21, told me about her favorite moment of the show.
“I’d say my favorite moment was definitely during the newbie piece, because we always try to hype up the newbies backstage, and it just reminds me of how fun and supportive the space that we all create together is.”
This theme of community definitely ran through the performance as dancers and audience members interacted to produce an amazing show.
Melo spoke of this audience participation as his favorite moment.
“My favorite moment of the show was when the audience just cheers for any one of us. I love it when I hear the audience shout out their friends or react to anything going on in the show. It gives us, the dancers, so much life and energy that we really need to keep going,.” Melo said.
Yet the process of creating this performance was not as easy going as the relaxed and polished form of the dancers lead us to believe. Mbah told me that as coordinator, “it’s a lot of planning, like scheduling. Especially coordinating rehearsals between the two schools.”
This trouble was illustrated by the other dancers as well, such as Chen.
“I haven’t had a free Saturday and it’s kind of hard, but worth it! We also go to Bryn Mawr every other week since we’re a bi-co dance group and that’s like a thirty minute drive.”
Lia D’Alessandro ’21 echoed a common response in the group to these troubles.
“Just like anything, there were ups and downs throughout the practice process but I think our dedication to the group and our love of dance certainly fueled us through the semester.” From the dedication and effort that the audience witnessed on stage, it certainly seems that the RnM dancers share D’Alessandro’s motivation.
One incredible aspect of this show for students is that the pieces were choreographed by our peers. Each student choreographer had complete control over all aspects of their piece, from the mood they want to convey to the more specific movements.
Melo offered the perspective of a student choreographer.
“It’s a very hard process because you only have a semester to think about the moves you want to use and the concepts you are trying to use. You have even less time to teach it because you only have an hour once a week to teach a piece of about three to four minutes.”
Chen echoed his point, saying, “I think there’s a lot of pressure on the choreographers to put out art they are proud of and then there is pressure on the dancers to be able to bring that on to the stage. There’s a lot of tiny details that go into our shows, and there are a lot of things to keep track of, but we all figure it out eventually.”
As with the dancers, it seems that a strong sense of community fuels the choreography process as well. Chen said, “hanging out and dancing together really lightens up the stress and the work of it all” and for D’Alessandro, community made it possible for her to put on an especially challenging piece. She told me about her experience choreographing a piece entirely in heels, “This semester was the first time I choreographed for RnM and I was so fortunate to be able to do it alongside Naomi [Park ’21]!” D’Alessandro went on to discuss their footwear decision, “Naomi and I really wanted to bring something new to the group. We had to develop a great sense of balance and confidence to dance fluidly in heels. Our dancers killed it and the whole show was an absolute blast!”
All in all the Rhythm N Motion show represents the energetic, beautiful product of much labor that has been done behind the scenes. Yet for these dancers this “work” represents the opportunity to belong to a nourishing and flourishing community of artistic talent.
Featured image courtesy of Tristan Alston