Against a city and nature background, dancer in a blue shirt, blue mask, and black leggings touches tree bark with hands while looking up toward branches.
By Amelia Martinez
I had the pleasure of observing the freshmen Improvisation class taught by Christine Colosimo. The talented young dancers were creating and learning in a new environment that was a beautiful nature filled area, filled with warm sunlight through the trees on this October day. With masks on, the class transitioned to an outdoor classroom to allow for safe distancing in the pandemic, as well as providing Zoom for those who choose to attend class from their homes.
Dancers in masks, hoodies, and athletic pants are spread across a field of grass. One dancer stands in a light blue hoodie, has their back to the camera with arms spread out to the sides, and head tilted slightly to the right.
Christine led them through many peaceful and experiential exercises, allowing them to observe the natural space around them. She related these exercises to Avatar the Last Airbender’s elements: Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. There were dancers who chose to dance based on the observations they found from the brick wall, the trees, the expanse of the space, and even the grass.
Dancer in a white hoodie lays down on grass. Their hand gently touches the green grass and newly fallen yellow leaves.
Throughout the class there were opportunities to create movement and share them with the class in groups. The Zoom classmates were not left out at all, as the outdoor class circled around the screen, a safe distance away from each other, to see the movement discoveries that were being made. After they showed their improved movement, they shared in discussion about their learning. One student on Zoom danced in their kitchen with a chili pepper and found that they were relating to nature in a new way. Thinking about the growth and agricultural process it takes for that chili pepper to make it to their kitchen right then and soon to nourish their body, inspired a movement that was new and exciting for them.
Professor Colosimo sits on the grass with a black shirt, grey pants, and white mask with a clear barrier over mouth. Christine is holding the Zoom class on her silver computer toward the outdoor class to watch their movement and listen to their reflections
The dancers had some time to reflect with paper and pen about their experiences dancing in nature and they came up with unique drawings and poems! These helped them to have a tangible record of what they were experiencing in this class that will hopefully continue to inspire them in their dance creations for the future.
Dancer in a grey and white striped zip up sweater and red mask, shows an orange drawing made as a reflection to their improvisational movement that was shared in class.
Finally, the dancers moved across the expanse of the “Secret Garden” to engage all their discoveries in a full-bodied expression of movement. Seeing their movements come alive in their own unique way was a beautiful experience and it makes me so hopeful for this new generation of Temple dancers!!
Dancers in masks, hoodies, and athletic pants spread out across a brick wall in various dance poses or mid movement, while being socially distanced.
Amelia Martinez, MFA in Dance Candidate. Amelia is in a grey shirt against a white background and offset black shadow of her body while her face looks past the camera.
The closure of Temple University’s campus in light of the worldwide pandemic shifted my life tremendously. From finishing my senior year online, taking virtual dance classes and not having the opportunity to walk across the stage- I never imagined I would be where I am now. I was forced to rethink, adjust and transform my original post-graduation plans. I always dreamed of starting my own dance company, but later on in life. With everything becoming virtual, I realized I could take advantage of this time and begin navigating the professional dance world as a choreographer and dancer. And thus, my company Monét Movement Productions: The Collective was founded in May 2020.
The Collective cultivates artistry through innovative choreography and intentional movement. With works that generate meaningful connections, we provide captivating images and experiences for both the dancers and audience members. By sharing stories that are personal, social and/or cultural in nature we represent the collective and the world around us. After solidifying a name, I began applying to a plethora of opportunities to share my choreographic works. I received my first acceptance to present as a New Artist in the 11th Annual Making Moves Dance Festival- ‘Switchin’ It Up’ curated by the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.
Two dancer’s silhouetted shadows against a cloudy sunset of a city skyline and water. They have one foot flexed in front of the body, while the other knee is bent. Their arms are bent close to the body in a state of suspended transition.
The work featured was titled ‘Rebirth’, a restaging of a piece I created and performed at Temple University’s Student Dance Concert (Spring 2019). The original creation was reflective of my interpretation of the quote ‘Be you. Love you. Always, all ways’, by Alex Elle. It embodied a journey of self-reflection in opposition to the beauty standards held in society. This new version expanded and evolved in meaning and length. ‘Rebirth’ now exemplifies a journey of self-reflection, discovery, realization and love to understand that you are not defined by society and external conditions.
With the world shifting to virtual platforms to accommodate the “new normal”, our entire rehearsal process occurred through Zoom. This approach challenged me as I assumed the role of both artistic director and choreographer. We engaged in copious amounts of dancer/choreographer collaboration thus giving the dancers more artistic freedom. We focused more on storytelling, connecting to the music and reworking the original piece to fit a digital space. We successfully learned a 12-minute piece in 5 rehearsals which culminated in a dance on film production.
Two dancers stand in blue dresses against a nature background of green trees where the trees’ shadows stretch along the ground, engulfing the dancers own shadows. Their blue dresses are swayed from a quick movement and their arms are outstretched in front of their bodies, crossed at the forearms.
Presenting ‘Rebirth’ at the Making Moves Dance Festival was a gratifying experience that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I stepped into the role of director/video producer. I expanded my capabilities as an artistic director and have fallen in love with creating dance films. Family, friends and Temple faculty who supported me thoroughly enjoyed the work making my heart swell with immense joy and gratitude. ‘Rebirth’ will always have a special place in my life as it was my company debut. I look forward to displaying the film at other choreographic showcases as I begin my company’s second project, a restaging of my senior thesis ‘868 Irving Street’!
Makayla Peterson Temple BFA in Dance, A smiling Makayla in white button down shirt and black shorts against the background of a window of a city building, stretches her arms fully in line with her shoulders while gazing toward her right hand. Her legs are bent at a 90 degree angle, parallel with her arms, and balancing on the balls of her feet with raised heels.
Before social distancing was implemented, I went to a Breaking workshop hosted by the Temple Breakers on campus. This week-long event had many movement sessions and lectures by leaders in the breaking field. The Temple Breakers is a student organization on campus that meet in Mitten Hall to build community together through the learning of Breaking technique. You can find the Temple Breakers on Owl Connect: https://temple.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/templebreakers
One of the speakers at this event, Kwikstep, challenged me to think about the lineage of the dance. He spoke about how we as dancers need to orient ourselves within the lineage and history of the dancers and dance form before us, instead of just trying to learn the tricks in the movement. The lessons need to be learned with a respect for the development of the form and the meanings behind it all. Hip Hop was not meant to just be a movement independent from the music but an integrated pairing that, at its start, was a voice of social protest. In this, the aesthetics of cool in Breaking can be examined and understood by the lineage. This gives respect to the history and meaning beyond the perceived aesthetic. Lineage seems to be a powerful value of Breaking that the dancers in this club hold onto. This is one of the reasons they dance this form of movement, because they connect to it in a deeper historical and meaningful context beyond that “it looks cool” or “it’s fun”. Granted, Breaking does look cool and is fun; but the people who really invest in this technique and go far in the field are the ones who take the time to care about the lineage. It is the placing of their own identities within that lineage that carry forth the future of Breaking.
During one of their movement workshops I was able to observe the technique and community environment of the organization. There were various students and local professionals in attendance, and even our very own Dr. Sherril Dodds, who is the faculty advisor to the Temple Breakers, participated in the workshop! The class started off with a group warm up follow-the-leader style around the room, doing various cardio and non-static stretches. The class had various levels, so there were moments in learning the beginner Top Rocks and Side Steps one-on-one while the intermediate/advanced students were in the middle doing an introductory Cypher.
It seems to be an inclusive and inviting atmosphere for people in their movement journey to grow together. After this they learn to Stack, focusing on the proper placement of the body to build up to a Freeze that can be performed in the final Cypher practice. Three groups form of Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced, and they take turns practicing their Stack in a half-circle format where the dancer can be encouraged from the dancers around them. After the buildup of the Freeze, they take a moment to shake it all out as a group while the President of the organization, Renaissance Ray, tells a story of the Iron T-Shirt. Renaissance Ray leads everyone in a slapping massage of their limbs to “break out the damage from walking all day” and then encourages all to wipe the tension all off, leaving them renewed. Finally, everyone comes together in a circle to take turns in the center performing their newfound skills while the group energetically cheers them on.
In speaking with one of the dancers during the class, he said that he had been training in breaking since he was fifteen. He keeps coming back to these sessions because of the community and understands that it is more than just the initial strength and shapes but about the people he is here to grow with.
Some words of advice from Renaissance Ray, the club president, to beginners in Hip Hop and Breaking is: Know what you are getting into, it is high impact, but you grow more as a person than just in body. It is a self-exploration beyond physical boundaries as you invest in the lineage and history of the dance as a form of communication and community. You may find your identity as part of the rewards you reap through the blood, sweat, and tears that you and the people before you have shed. It is an “Each one, Teach one” mentality that passes the knowledge and lineage to the next dancer, but first, you must Reach one (Kwikstep’s words).
To advanced dancers Renaissance Ray says: “Know what your goals are, who you are, and what role you play. Not everyone can be the superstar”. This reminds me that all parts in this community are valuable in building and carrying that movement history to the next generation.
So, if you want to go to the Temple Breakers to dance with them in the new academic year, let me know and I will go with you!! Together we can embark on this community journey and find new strength within it. I don’t know about you, but after this season of isolation, I will need some positive community to grow with! Why not let it be with the Temple Breakers?
This semester I am experiencing a great deal of interdisciplinary work through my Studio Research (dance choreography) class and my Graduate Projects Fibers (art, fibers and material studies) class. The classes are both intended for graduate students to create individual work in their given fields and use the art form to research a question or an idea of our own choosing. Ultimately, creating a visual work or choreographic piece presented as the final project. By choosing to combine my fibers project and my choreography into one performative art experience, I have found many new valuable insights that are carrying me forward in my creative practice, research, and movement artistry.
Photo by Brian Mengini of “Pattern Of Mesh”
I have always considered myself a dancer first and a knitter, sewer, crocheter, weaver, or crafter second. Crafting has been my hobby for years as a stress release from working in the Dance field. When I came to Temple to pursue an MFA in dance, I never expected that I would find myself exploring movement with large skeins of yarn. I needed to create a piece for studio research and wasn’t sure what to research; I was making dream catchers with yarn at the time and felt that I had a connection to it. So, it became my research subject. I was questioning what patterns and spatial arrangements could be made with my body and the yarn, which grew into a choreographic work of six dancers and the yarn in Spring 2019 that I was proud of. Over the summer, I explored movement and yarn again for a dance artist showcase at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach that was more concise and tailored to the community that I was working in. I noticed that there were endless possibilities that I could explore within this mode of movement and craft, and I also observed that the themes of yarn dance and community kept reoccurring in my creative practice. This, I was finding, was the beginning of crafting my thesis ideas and movement base.
Photo of “Unravel Me” choreography
First Iteration of WaterScape
This semester, I decided to learn more about the fibers part of the art. I enrolled in the graduate projects fibers course in the Tyler School of Art to learn from, gain critical feedback from, and discover with amazing and strong artists in this field. One of the main inquiries I have during my time in this class is how to create my “yarn voice” to have equal weight as my “choreography voice”. I want to move away from just manipulating the yarn, and toward creating a powerful pairing that invokes the spirit of the creation itself. This equal presence is important to me as I don’t wish for one element to be lost as a prop or as an embellishment to the other. My fibers classmates and I discuss how fibers and material installments have their own presence that speaks or invokes a response from the audience. This is similar to dance choreography as we create atmosphere or narrative through movement to carry the audience toward our meaning, intention, feeling, or maybe even a reaction. I have learned from this class that fibers have movement of their own to begin with. Many of the fibers are moved by the human body by weaving, sewing, or knitted to become integrated to the “body” of the work. Fibers and materials, once made into their structure, have textures that are stiff, loose, soft, fluffy, light, hard, stretchy, etc. that interacts with the world on its own through the air, gravity, space, time, heat, liquid, and even nature. Once that is established and recognized, many of the artists begin to place themselves with interaction into the material.
I can relate to the artists in this class when many of them physically place themselves into their art projects. There are cocoon-like garments, bright furry ball and chains, seating elements, glowing lights with filters begging to be touched around them, floor placement of sculptures that create pathways for the human body to experience them, and even tree leaf pillows to be pet. These are all experiences that are felt with the human body, not just at a distance from a visual perspective. I am discovering that the performance of these material sculptures are performances just like my world of choreography, we are both trying to convey and evoke something from the audience in a way that we can tangibly hold.
Now, as I work with both elements of my craft, I am creating a production for World Water Day on March 20th in the Conwell Theater, where I will display my fibers project that I call Waterscape. The installment will dangle across the stage and the dancers will move through it. The choreography is specifically made to interact with the yarn and material to create an underwater atmosphere of sea-life. I am also sewing the costumes for my dancers to fit the theme and textures that go into the fibers project itself, so that the dancers resemble the fish they portray. Right down to the stage-makeup, the entire project is crafted to be unified and build this fantasy sea-life experience for the audience. It is one of the biggest projects that I have ever endeavored on, but it is one of the most fun and addicting projects I have ever done as I keep wanting to add more layers to it (whether it be choreographic, material, or meaning).
From this whole year of research so far, I have been developing a movement workshop of my very own called Yarn Dance. It is my way of researching and connecting with the world as I process the themes that arrive from each creative practice and experience through it. With human and yarn dancing together it becomes a duet, but the pairing can also be a tool for expressing and creating community. There are moments when I have seen people completely entangled in yarn together but not fearful; they find it comforting and uniting in a way. Even the untangling of the yarn after dancing with it has been shared to me as soothing, and relaxing problem solving.
The workshop I have in-process, is based in modern movement with individual “duets” with the yarn, group improvisation making a mess of the yarn, modern choreographic phrase dancing with the rolled skein, and then a group braiding activity that I call “The Friendship Bracelet” as we create a singular rope from all our strands of yarn leaving evidence of our crafted community experience that we have shared. At the regional American College Dance Association conference this spring break, I have the opportunity to share this workshop with fellow dance students and faculty. I hope it gives them a connection with life and movement in a new way as it has done for me.
My Experience Studying Dance Abroad for the Second Time
by Keri Lushefski
Last spring, I expanded my horizons and studied dance abroad for a second time. During my first time abroad, I journeyed 5,000 miles away to Rome, Italy with the Temple University Dance Department for two months. This time, I chose to depart 10,000 miles away to Auckland, New Zealand to train and study with The University of Auckland’s dance program for four months. Having already studied abroad once, I felt comfortable in the process of pursuing yet another unforgettable and enriching experience.
The classes I enrolled in while in New Zealand were Dance Vocabulary III (a contemporary technique course), Professional Dance Practices (similar to Senior Seminar), Ballet, Hip Hop, and Improvisation, and Pacific and Māori Contemporary Choreography. I also joined an Acrobatics Club where I honed in on my strength and balance in performing unique acrobatic poses with a diverse group of college students. Involving myself in a cultural dance form I have never experienced before, Pacific and Māori, was very eye opening to how expansive dance really is, and the many traditions in which it is practiced around the world. It reminded me of when I witnessed dance through other cultural lenses, such as when I took part in Hungarian folk dance in Budapest.
In consideration of having a two-week spring break, I decided to travel to both Sydney, Australia and Queenstown, New Zealand. In Sydney, I surfed at the infamous Bondi Beach, petted kangaroos and koalas, explored the Sydney Opera House, climbed the mast of a ship, saw the breathtaking botanical gardens, and witnessed a 360-degree view of Sydney in the Tower Eye. Furthermore, Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world; therefore, took part in activities I never believed I would do, such as going indoor skydiving, paragliding, and upside-down zip riding. Throughout the semester, I also spent my weekends exploring Auckland; I hung off of the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, hiked to the peak of a volcano, went on whale and dolphin safaris, enhanced my knowledge at museums, watched dance performances, etc.
Since my future aspirations are to move to Europe and take part in a graduate dance program to further build my professional dance career to become a performer, choreographer, university dance professor, and dance researcher/educator, these study-abroad opportunities have prepared me to become motivated in doing so. I now feel highly confident in being independent, moving to new places, meeting new people, experiencing new languages and cultures, taking various forms of transportation, and traveling by myself. I no longer feel the need to worry about getting lost, since there are multiple GPS systems and local advice that help me ease my way around. Having been on a 24-hour round trip flight, any travel time less than that seems like a breeze to me. Leaving for long periods of time also always makes me appreciate everything I left back at home even more. I now know what it is like to study dance in a different country as well as experiencing life in a total of fourteen countries. I am excited to see what my future dance career brings as I transition into yet another experience abroad. My adventures will surely last a lifetime.
I am writing about my senior piece “The Sun’s in my Eyes” performed by the fabulous Janice Argo, Emme Gentile, Camryn Mentzer, Elizabeth Siani, and lastly, myself. Creating my first choreographic work was a roller coaster of a journey. The ups and downs, the satisfaction and doubts. Choreographing forced me to become someone I barely recognized, which I loved.
Photo by Brian Mengini
I never felt good at communicating what I want. Even as a small child I would sit and think things over, rather than speak up about what I wanted. I realized after a few rehearsals, that is all choreographing is! It’s to clarify your vision for others, to grasp hold of, and transcend an idea by shaping it into the real world. I asked myself questions like “How do my dancers react to my movement?” “what do I value?” and “what can I do to make the audience feel a certain way?” The answers to these questions would guide me through the process. Picking music before the choreography hinders my process, and to be completely honest, I didn’t even have a general idea for the piece, only questions and answers.
I knew for my piece, I wanted to go beyond my inner circle of friends and work with new faces so I hung posters up in the studios for people to see. Everyone who auditioned I worked with, and I am extremely grateful for the dancers that I worked with. At first, it was hard for me to understand why these phrases that would spew out of me weren’t saying anything. Since I was out of practice in communicating what I want, working through the confusion that came with this would be tough for all of us, but in the end it would be extremely rewarding. During rehearsals, I found that my mind raced faster than usual. This would affect the communication between me and my dancers. It was harsh realizing that I wasn’t being understood because in my head I was already ten times ahead of myself, but patience and articulation in different ways went a long way. I had to remember I was not working with four “Olivia’s”, but four individuals all of different backgrounds and training. I also learned how freeing trial and error could be. There were so many phrases of different movement and sometimes even just walking phrases that I choreographed, and even though none of that was in the piece, it did help my dancers understand more of my movement style for themselves. More importantly, I saw joy and excitement in my dancers which was super essential to how the choreography would read on stage.
Photo by Brian Mengini
I value music a lot in my life but movement being interpreted for what-it-is, rather than being paired with a sound score is important to me too. This became a battle for me; “To music, or not to music?” The more time I spent sifting through tracks, the more I became dissatisfied with the mood the music would “hand” the audience. Using a metronome was a way for me to have a simple pulse in the air with meaning that could be wildly imagined by the audience. Also, even though I hate to admit it, I’m a bit of a control freak. So being the one controlling the metronome, faster or slower, sound or silence, I felt really free doing what I pleased in terms of messing with the metronome.
Eventually, music won my heart and I decided to use Aretha Franklin’s “One Step Ahead” to ease the audience in the beginning of the piece. I wanted to start with music so the space sounded even emptier with the metronome and even more so with silence. For example, getting into a lukewarm pool is rather uncomfortable and seems cold. But if you’re in a hot tub before you get into the pool, the water feels just about freezing. The Aretha Franklin song was the hot tub before the lukewarm water in the pool. This added contrast. The quietness of the space was quite jarring after the smooth melody of the song faded away.
I learned that I value unexpected behavior and welcome boredom. I almost wanted the audience to find moments of boredom so they could question “why am I bored right now?” If not this, the low stimuli boredom brings would make the “non-boring” moments even more exciting. Boredom I believe can be natural in life and actually really rare in a world with technology at our fingertips. So why not emphasize it with simple movement and silence. Many who saw the piece, remember the most unexpected moment being my introduction to the stage. I walked on during the final song, then there was a pause in the music followed by my voice singing a very loud and incoherent yell all in one breathe. The music then continued and I used improvisation. This was a way for me to use voice, often something I struggle using at times, to make an authentic sound. Voice is powerful.
For the future, I want to work towards creating more and working with different artists that stay true to themselves.
Surya Swilley MFA in Dance, Adjunct Professor at Temple University
Crash, boom, rewind! My head was spinning, heart was racing, and I felt my adrenaline rushing at warp speed. Rehearse, rewrite, polish, go back, and repeat!
What is the intention? What did you mean by that? Let’s revise. Repeat.
I experienced a whirlwind of emotions, and wasn’t exactly sure of the extent of the labor that would go into producing an evening length concert.
I remember in the spring semester of this year, (January 2019) I began rehearsals and had no idea what I was doing. I was forcing myself to enter the studio with this idea of using a table as a prop, but had no idea how to be in collaboration with the table to get my point across. I experienced a significant amount of frustration while trying to verbalize to my dancers what my vision was, but the reality is, I wasn’t sure. The only thing I did know was that I needed to get moving towards generating a show. It was arduous.
I was influenced by several vignettes inside of black history and protest in the United States to develop “Between the Intervene”. Not that I interpreted these events as dramatized episodes towards freedom, but I recognized the choreographic protest inside of historical spaces such as lunch counter sit-ins, how black children navigate what can be an anxiety provoking experience while sitting at school desks, and the trauma inflicted onto black consciousness and black body while sitting behind the wheel in a vehicle. All of this, while knowing that one’s hands need to be placed on the dashboard to be visible in the face of police. These are the historical and contemporary notions that influenced the work, but the lens through which I decided to share the choreography was through honesty, and that was rooted in my truth inside of being a queer black woman.
While developing this work, I came out. I reckoned with my truth inside of my gender expression and sexuality, and it freed me to embark on a more truthful journey inside of other things. It is interesting how the development of this work, and my coming out contain a parallel inside of the timing. I was influenced by the freedom of transparency as I deepened inside of the work, and what emerged from this was a very fervent connection to telling my truth and working with my dancers so that they would be empowered to dance from an authentic place. I think adding my personal anecdote/truth inside of the mix not only help to bring the show to a cohesive understanding for me and the audience, but perhaps it allowed people to see that sharing one’s truth as an individual on stage, while working in collaboration with a group of dancers can be done, and can be done without any burden. I hope to showcase freedom on a variety of levels. My intention in everything I do is to liberate and empower.
My goal after graduation is to fly. I am harnessing my wings as a dance entrepreneur, and artist activist. Some tangible ways to see that are through my work as new adjunct professor at Temple University, through my partnership with the Center for Racial Justice and Education, and as I launch my own dance company in the summer of 2020.
It feels good to be done with the thesis concert, even though I know there’s so much more for me to dive into. I am ready for the challenge, and I am excited to see what comes next. What a rewarding experience this work came out to be. It’s my hope that even more reward will come, as I know that the next phase of life and career is filled with nothing but infinite possibilities.
My work at Temple has been important in my self-reflections. I recently premiered, “Project: Assata || Conscious States of Rage”, on October 25-26, 2019, a culminating thesis performance and a gathering of three years of research. I’m realizing that this third iteration, at the Conwell Dance Theater is the catalyst to some of my artistic transformations. This work focuses on Assata Shakur former black panther member. To create various phrase work and gesture phrases I extracted poems from Shakur’s autobiography, “The Autobiography of Assata Shakur” to create a map of small vignettes.
Photo Credit: Shanel Edwards
After the second iteration I sat with the work and I discovered rage. Recognizing that black femme bodies rarely yield rage justly. It is viewed as an inflated response from “angry black” women. I linked rage to Shakur because she was able to navigate with rage beautifully. Her circumstances were very different, but she did not hold back her anger. I admire her ability to express freely, something I sought for myself.
This work challenges who can justly express rage and explores modes of anger. When working collaboratively with my movement artist I discovered that rage goes beyond anger, that it can function in passion, love and belief. I allowed freedom for the work to develop organically often shifting things to suit the collective. Sitting in the audience during show week was both fulfilling and frightening. Giving myself space to reflect makes me feel gracious.
Photo Credit: Shanel Edwards
Having the space and a budget provided by Temple is a blessing as finding funding outside of the university is difficult. As I look at the process now, I am grateful for the experience. It taught me a lot about myself as a dance maker. Challenged my choreographic structure and perspectives. I was able to locate myself in my work. I will always be in process. Emergent, emerging, emergence. These are the lessons I’ve taken with me and the work feels like a gracious testimony to time, exploration and healing.
Ama Gora MFA in Dance, Photo Credit: Shanel Edwards
When I came to Temple in 2017, I was 25 and knew that it was the right time for me to continue an education that I had started in 2011 at a different university. Temple spoke to me as a program for their value of both the academic side of dance as well as the techniques, opportunities for choreography, and the fact that within one department there are BFA, MA, MFA and PhD students all there to continue their studies and build on their passion of dance. Coming to Temple as a nontraditional student as well as a transfer student was one of the best choices I made. I was able to diversify my knowledge of different techniques, while working with teachers who were prominent in the Philadelphia dance community. The staff at Temple are willing to work with you, provide excellent feedback and help ensure that you are getting what you want out of your dance education.
What I learned at Temple…It is okay to start again, to say “I don’t know” and build yourself up from there. As dancers and artists, it is easy to feel like you need to know everything all of the time to justify and back up the choices you are making and the techniques you study. Not realizing that through study, hours of rehearsals, talking with your peers and teachers, attending guest workshops and performances that all of this will inform your answers and build character. I can say with certainty that I am not the same dancer I was before starting at Temple and I am glad. During my time, my main technical focus was in African Diasporic techniques, most of which I had not heard of nor studied before attending Temple. I started off uncomfortable with being new, with not understanding how to get my body to achieve the actions and spent much of my class time moving slow to figure it out. Through this experience of relearning my body and asking it change and unlearn prior habits I grew, not just physically but mentally. Dance once again became a broad and sweeping term that was more than I had known before.
I had the good fortune of being able to work with the late Dr. Teresa Benzwie before her passing and study Early Childhood Dance Education. My studies with Dr. B further affirmed my passion for education, and through her kindness and compassion she helped nourish the teacher in me. Her guidance and expertise in the field was a priceless gift from my time at Temple.
What I took away from Temple, was that it is important to take every opportunity that comes your way with the awareness that it might not be exactly what was expected or planned for…because there is something for you to learn. The teachers, your peers, the guests, and the administration all want you to succeed but success is not something that is easy or simply built. I hope to pass this information on to my students. There is a lot of value in being a lifelong learner, to take chances, and to make mistakes beautifully.
This fall, I started a new position as the dance teacher for the Capital Area School for the Arts Charter School (CASA) in Harrisburg, PA. CASA was a school that I attended in high school. I am living one of my dreams to teach in this school and continue to build a program that trains intelligent, well rounded dancers, and artistic collaborators. As I move forward, I would like to continue to explore dance by taking classes when possible and enjoying every opportunity I have to dance and do what I love.
Tori Sexsmith BFA in Dance 2019 Alumnus and Dance Teacher for CASA
I grew up asking myself a question that would evolve in different shades throughout my life until now. I asked my mom at the village dance square…what are you doing moving like that? Her response, you will grow up to meet this! Boom! That was my first critical encounter with dance by observing my mother’s body moving to traditional music.
Now the question I asked and the answer that came were not new. On the contrary it has been asked by many curious kids since our first ancestors danced. It is a deep question with an equally deep answer. Unknown to me, I was asking the body I came out from how it came to know itself enough and be confident enough to move like that among a people who did likewise to the same music. I would later come to understand that movement systems, embodied, loved, respected over years of evolution, would be my very IDENTITY!
I analyse my personal dance experience from childhood in such a reflective manner that it helped me conceptualize the transient body in varied social cultural, and political positions among my ethnic group in my beloved home country Ghana. My father was a sub-chief of that rural town and during ascension to his stool/throne, I was required, by virtue of my father’s political and genealogical position what I term as my “transition into a status and validation as a royal, through dance movement”. I recount how the selected dance and its movements transformed and influenced my understanding of the Akan linguistic patterning and its power in affirming individual identity creation. I started receiving my official training as a dancer at the age of 6 and I was taught specific movement patterns which were different in execution from some other movement patterns I had seen outside my father’s palace. In my training process I was instructed to walk as a royal in the dance arena, taught a specific salutation concept and then eventually when to start performing on a specific drum rhythmical cue. Prior to that, my training in other things like sitting, eating, drinking from a cup, posture, gait was similar to my fathers who, from time to time before his enstoolment would join me in dance practice and perform the same movement patterns with me. He would often shout phrases like “a royal does not sweat on the dance floor”, “you are the son of great ancestors”, “wisdom and dancing abilities are in your blood”, “you will dance with me, your father, in glory”, “go on my son, the stool and the music are yours alone to take after I am gone”. These statements in addition to specific hand and feet movement patterns validated my understanding of who I was at the time and it came through dancing.
Reflecting on my childhood learning process and my political affiliation leads me to conclude that I was ‘curated’ and subsequently put on ‘display’ to the outside world through dancing.
Prior to my PhD at Temple dance department, I was exposed to dance studies/scholarship beginning from my undergraduate studies at the school of performing Arts University of Ghana focusing on Dance studies and Theatre arts. As my passion in dance intensified, I proceeded to pursue a masters at the Institute of African studies-University of Ghana with concentration on African dance and music analysis. My thesis was on Dance Aesthetics and Performance Contexts of a royal dance among the Asantes of Ghana known as KETE.
My exposure within African studies re-invigorated my interest to pursue more knowledge in dance scholarship due to the rate at which the proliferation of our dance forms offered research possibilities to ascertain the evolution of dancing as human requirement within contemporary African settings. As such I applied to pursue second masters in Europe which led me to pursuing the Erasmus-Mundus Choreomundus International Masters in Dance Knowledge, practice and heritage degree from a consortium of four universities namely; University of Roehampton-London, Université Blaise Pascal-France, Norwegian University of Science and Technology- Norway, and the University of Szeged, Hungary. The aim was to learn about emerging concepts in safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. My journey to Temple University began when I first met Dr. Sherril Dodds who was a visiting lecture at University Blaise Pascal in France 2017. She encouraged all of us to pursue high education and offered to help if any of us were interested. I was not initially interested as my immediate goal after my 2nd master was to go back home to my Alma mater to support dance research and scholarship. However, the opportunity to study at the prestigious Temple University was too alluring to ignore. Here I am!