Ella Small ‘19 is a physics major and dance minor at Swarthmore College. Initially Small did not consider minoring in dance, but she took dance classes at Swarthmore to have fun and to challenge herself.
“I did not think about minoring in dance until this year (my senior year) when I realized how close I was to finishing the minor, just because I kept taking dance classes for fun,” Small said. “I knew coming into Swat my freshman year that I wanted to explore dance, but I never could have guessed how engrossed I’ve become with the sport through the years.”
Prior to Swarthmore, Small did not have a dance background. She only began taking up dance, specifically ballet, to engage herself in a similar activity as gymnastics.“Before coming to Swat, I was a high-level competitive gymnast for 15 years, but I had never actually danced until taking Ballet I here with Professor Olivia Sabee,” Small said.
Because ballet was unfamiliar, Small found the dance form demanding, but ultimately rewarding because she was able to push past her boundaries. “Dance gives me an opportunity to challenge myself physically and mentally,” Small said. “Physically, because it is such a demanding sport, and mentally, because I’m a very shy person, and performing does not come naturally to me. Dance gives me the opportunity to be creative and push myself outside of my comfort zone,” Small continued.
Although Small did not possess previous knowledge about ballet, her transition into Swarthmore ballet classes happened smoothly due to the supportive nature of the Dance Program.“The professors in the Dance [Program] were so encouraging when I first started out, and they kept pushing me to take more challenging courses as I progressed,” Small said. “All of my teachers knew the perfect combination of pushing me to become a better dancer, while encouraging me and reminding me of the progress I’ve made.”
Small identifies one professor in particular whose classes were the most difficult for her. “Every class I take with Professor Chandra Moss-Thorne, I think about how those were [some] of the hardest dance classes I’ve ever taken, and I keep thinking that every week,” Small said.
As Small progressed in her dance classes, she learned much more than just technique. “Working my way from Ballet I to Ballet III and learning to dance en pointe, I’ve discovered so much about dance and performance, and also how my body moves in space,” Small said.
Small even took her dance outside of classes, and she joined the Swarthmore dance group Terpsichore during her sophomore year. By Small’s junior year, she began choreographing original pieces, which were performed in the combined Terpsichore/RnM (Rhythm ‘N Motion, a tri-co dance group) dance concert each semester.
“I remember a bit of a stunned silence after the first piece I choreographed went onstage, because the piece was so intense and unexpected, which encouraged me to keep choreographing for Terpsichore!” Small said.
This semester, Small is choreographing two pieces: a large group piece and an acrobatic piece drawing from her circus and gymnastics background for the upcoming Terpsichore/RnM dance concert on December 15th.
Currently, Small is finishing work for her physics major by taking electrodynamics. She is also amidst graduate school applications, applying to schools that offer a PhD in biomedical engineering. “After Swat, I’m hoping to receive a PhD using both my physics and dance knowledge to study human motion and biomechanics, with the eventual goal of perfecting human-robotic interfaces to help people who have lost mobility through stroke or accident move again,” Small concluded.