Photo by Matt Hembree
On April 6-8, the student-run dance organization Perpetual Motion (or PMO), performed in its 29 annual show. Both life-long dancers and those who had never before performed on stage presented 20 distinct dances for the exuberant crowd in Guerry Auditorium. The execution of each short piece overflowed with energy and ranged from swing dance and tap to Irish and hip-hop.
PMO president Fridien Tchoukoua (C’17) and vice-president Anne Gray Thornburg (C’17) made it clear in their introduction that cheering for the dancers was not only allowed, but highly encouraged. This set the tone for the rest of the performance which was punctuated frequently by audience members whistling, yelling and clapping along with the beat.
Students auditioned in September for dances that peaked their interest and practiced them in the 7 months prior to opening night. Long time dancer and choreographer of the “Show Me How You Burlesque” dance, Danielle Silfies (C’19) explained the process in greater detail, saying “the choreographer will come up to show a 30 second preview of their dance before inviting all the other dancers up to learn it and audition, all in about 20 minutes.”
Silfies continued by stating that she wanted to incorporate “an element of body positivity” into her number, along with dancers with a variety of skill levels so that the more experienced dancers could help the less seasoned performers.
Opening up about the process of choreographing the dance, Silfies articulated that it “was just me sitting in my room, looking in a mirror thinking ‘does this look sassy enough?”
Erin Smolskis (C’17), who choreographed the Irish dance, “Tell Me Ma,” with Margaret Blackerby (C’18), expanded on Silfies choreography experience. Smolskis articulated that “the nice thing with Irish dance is that there are some bases. The song is reel speed, so I know some steps will or won’t work. So I can combine those steps with what I know already from the bases.”
While Smolskis and Silfies worked on dances with Sewanee women, Tchoukoua explained that he’d been choreographing for the performance since his freshmen year, specifically the all men’s piece.
“With the all guys piece especially, I’m trying to break the stereotypes that dance is a feminine thing. In the dance, you have guys that are winding their hips and I do that on purpose.”
“Many of the guys are athletes and their bodies move in a different way. For that first semester [of PMO], I find myself changing their mindsets about how to get into certain positions. On the field or the basketball court their bodies move differently.”
“Oftentimes I get guys who think ‘oh you’re asking us to do this winding of the hips, I don’t think I can do that.’ It’s not that they can’t do it, it’s that they don’t want to do it. My number one rule whenever I choreograph though is I’m the choreographer and you are the student. If that doesn’t fit well with your standards then the exit sign is over there. When I put in my time and work to a dance piece my 100% will come out of it. They have to trust that I’ll never put them on stage to embarrass them.”