One of the first times I met Gabrielle Nash ’26, I watched her perform in the Spring 2023 Dance Concert. She was a part of the Contemporary Modern III showcase, and I’ll never forget watching her confidently flow across the stage with obscure lighting moving in waves across her arms. Immediately after the concert, while our friends shoved multicolored bouquets into those same arms, I recall telling her that she must be featured as an Artist of the Week.
Despite having a fully booked Google Calendar colored with dance practice, Student Academic Mentor requirements, and coursework, Gabby enthusiastically agreed to an interview. When I arrived at her dorm, she had just finished cleaning out a fridge, doing laundry, and tidying up her room. She took a seat, promising me that she knows what makes for a good interview, and when I began asking her about her dance experience, she provided me with an incredibly detailed history.
“I started when I was around three. My mom put me in a ballet class, my first style of dance, and then at around six, I started taking jazz because that was the next advancing step. I took a break from dance for a little bit, then I picked it back up when I was in seventh grade. At twelve, I started taking everything. I continued ballet, jazz, lyrical, contemporary, modern, hip hop, tap, and afro – everything that studio offers, I was thrown into. Then I joined my middle school’s dance team when I was in eighth grade. In public high school, I continued with the dance team for the rest of my three years there, even with COVID.”
As Gabby spoke, I noticed how gestural she was. Her hands emphasized her points; curving inwards, while she sat relaxed, making short, dynamic movements. She had recently sustained a toe injury, however her body’s rhythm followed the tempo of her voice. Given her experience, dance was an extension of her identity rather than an extracurricular activity. She described dance as if it were as natural as breathing, continuing on to describe the motions of explaining collaborative versus individual choreography to me.
“I prefer to collaborate with one person because when I watch dances, it becomes noticeable that it was choreographed by twenty different people. You can tell by the varying styles. And if that’s what you’re going for, that’s one effect but, for me personally, if I’m going to collaborate with someone, I want it to look like we really worked on it together. When I choreograph with other people, it’s either someone that I have good connection with and our brains think similarly to collaborate and create one unified piece.”
Choreography is like a collage. If performed correctly, the meshing of styles can create a final piece that showcases each choreographer’s signatures but doesn’t detract from the meticulously designed final product. However, unlike artists, choreographers must consider timing, audience fatigue, and physicality when collaging their pieces.
“Most people, especially college students that don’t usually watch dance will get bored if the performance becomes too long, too. Usually, there’s a point where people are going to zone out,” she said.“The beginnings can be super super big, while the middle can be kind of slow because you have their attention for the most part, but when you choreograph longer dances, you have to take into account attention span and know that you may not have full focus for the entire time. Still, each person in the audience will remember something, but you must take into consideration what you want to highlight.”
Something I deeply admire about Gabby is her practicality. On a personal level, whenever I come to her for advice, she listens and offers workable solutions. Interestingly, her choreography style reflects that. I’ve interviewed many artists, but I’ve never received an answer that considered the audience so realistically. Fascinated by her response to my prompt, I asked what having an audience brings to her performances.
“I just appreciate people coming out to see me dance and having the opportunity to showcase something that I and the group have been working on for a long time. I want them to feel like they were at an enjoyable show. Unless the piece is super personal, I just want people to have fun and enjoy the dance. Not every dance needs to be super serious to me in terms of message.”
However, while Gabby’s choreography does not necessarily have an intensely deep message, she is incredibly selective in choosing music to set the tone of her piece.
“When you’re choreographing a full dance, you have to know the ins and outs: every beat, every note, every lyric. I digest the song; I am the song when I’m choreographing because it’s difficult to get into the zone of choreography if you don’t fully have an interpretation of the song. I ask myself: what can I choreograph to for three or four minutes? Is it too repetitive? Are there too many choruses? It needs to be good length so that if I cut something from the song, I don’t really lose a vital part of the song,” she said.
Hearing Gabby talk about music made me wonder whether or not she had taken music theory in high school or her first year of college. She replied, saying that she played clarinet, bass, and tenor saxophone.
“I think it should be a requirement for dancers to play music. Playing an instrument and dancing at the same time allows you to hear things you won’t notice if you have ever played an instrument before. I think we feel the music better when we have that experience because musicality is not something you can teach when you’re dancing.”
I was interested in what else she believes dancers should have increased awareness of on campus. To my surprise, she told me that Swarthmore doesn’t have a physical therapist for dancers. “I do think that we should have a physical therapist because a lot of dance injuries are very internal. Having a constant PT to like correct things that are not necessarily incorrect, but might be a little strange would be really helpful.”
Gabby’s journey with dance hasn’t been a linear one. Other than her current injury, she expressed that she’s just beginning to rekindle her passion for dance.
“Last year, I couldn’t pinpoint how I felt performing. I was moving my body but it didn’t feel like I was there. I think once I lost the passion just to be on stage, I knew I needed to have a talk with myself where I said, ‘Okay, something’s clearly wrong. I’ll be ready for it at some point.’ I don’t want to rush the recovery process. I think it did get rushed in some areas. But maybe it got rushed for a reason – maybe I needed to be surrounded by a supportive environment to get more comfortable with it again.”
I admire how direct Gabby was about her passion for dance fluctuating. I used to play clarinet and tenor saxophone, but I came to the point where I had to analyze whether or not I even enjoyed performing anymore. The short answer was that I started to despise it. I stopped playing my instruments and haven’t picked them up in three years. But artists like Gabby make me wonder if I can, too, mend my broken relationship with performance. I remember the night of the dance showcase, seeing her move so fluidly, and I think it would be a travesty if she never performed again. Simply put, the stage calls for Gabby’s presence, and whether she feels fulfilled or not, her choreography makes the audience feel that passion she lacked when they erupted into staccato-ed clapping.
So, when I visit home for break, I might crack open my dusty clarinet case and discover that I, too, have an audience beckoning for my melodies.