Category Archives: Dance

Profile of Dance Minor Tessa Chambers ’19

It is easy to assume that studying dance requires dancing, and most likely performing in front of an audience. Yet that is hardly true for all students; for Tessa Chambers ’19, a Dance minor, it is about challenging yourself, exploring your body, and studying the culture and history of dance.

“The only ‘true’ dance course I’ve taken, where there is actual dancing, is Kathak,” explains Chambers. “I have also taken a pilates course and yoga multiple times…There is always more to learn in yoga, and I’m interested in the connection that it has with improving symptoms of anxiety and PTSD.”

Like many other students who study Dance at Swarthmore, Chambers did not consider herself as having any real dance experience before coming to Swarthmore. Unlike other dance minors, she did not specifically choose to minor in the subject, but realized she had enough credits to do so – a time-honored Swattie tradition.

“Professor Olivia Sabee is really the one who put the possibility of minoring in dance on my radar,” says Chambers. “I had not even considered it until she let me know last semester that I was two credits away from a minor. I’m actually fond of the fact that the minor happened semi-organically for me.”

While her “specialty” in terms of specific dance styles is yoga, most of her classes so far have focused on dance studies, rather than technique. As she explains, she has never been personally interested in performance, but prefers to focus on dance studies courses  “because I enjoyed studying the cultures, histories, and politics of dance, and Olivia made me feel welcome despite not having any dance background. And all of the technique classes that I have taken were chosen because I wanted to challenge myself, and because they made me feel good in my own body.”

In a lot of ways, dance studies courses relate to Chambers’ academic and personal interests. She is a Political Science major, and has previously been very involved in the Swarthmore Indigenous Students Association. Consequently, she is especially interested in how dance reflects power dynamics and acts as a product of society and culture, topics which various courses in the Department have covered.

“Dance studies courses like Dance in Europe and North America in the 19th and 20th Centuries and Intro to Dance Studies: Bodies, Power and Resistance are spent comprehensively analyzing how dance is shaped by the given cultural, historical and political moments that those dances came out of,” says Chambers. “These connections are what drew me to dance. It’s so much more than art and aesthetics, and is definitely related to my other academic and extracurricular interests.”

Her last few words of advice are directed to students who have no background in dance, or may not have had access to formal dance studios.

“Give the Dance [Program] a shot, even if it’s just during Add/Drop. I was intimidated to enter both technique and dance studies courses at first…because I felt that it wasn’t a place for ‘people like me.’ The Dance [Program] is incredibly welcoming and warm, however, and I have never felt anything other than acceptance and encouragement from professors and instructors.”

Emilie Hautemont ’20

Profile of Dance Minor Bel Barros Guinle ’19

Many students might consider taking a dance class to satisfy that ominous four PE credits requirement. Some, however, go even further and develop a real passion for the subject. This has been the case for Bel Barros Guinle ‘19, who took her first-ever ballet class at Swarthmore and is now a Dance minor.

“I didn’t have any formal dancing experience before…my first real dance class was Ballet 1 with Olivia [Olivia Sabee, Assistant Professor of Dance]. But my mom danced a lot when she was younger, and she’s an artist now and makes a lot of sculptures around ballerinas,” says Barros Guinle.

Although ballet started as a simple interest, she grew increasingly interested in the department. In addition to her Neuroscience major and Pre-Med track, Barros Guinle became a dance minor, specializing in ballet (she has also taken Modern Dance). In the middle of her busy schedule, dance has become a valuable source of relaxation and freedom.

“Schoolwork can be really stressful – this is Swarthmore,” laughs Barros Guinle. “[Dance] is a good time to disconnect from schoolwork and really be in that moment…for three hours a week, I can’t think of anything else, I just focus on what I’m doing.”

Dance also ties in to her academic work – she is especially interested in the interaction between the brain and the body. As she explains,

“One of the reasons I came to appreciate dance so much is…the more I learn about the brain, how the mind and body are intrinsically connected, the more I realize dance teaches you things sitting in a classroom won’t teach you…like, it helps me to stay focused in class. I’m also interested in working with children on the autism spectrum, and how dance therapy can be a part of that.”

For Guinle, dance ties in directly to a lot of real world issues. She recalls a performance from last spring’s Choreography class, which depicted the effects of mental illness and substance abuse; this particularly resonated with her as, once she graduates, she will be starting a fellowship researching the effects of drug addiction on the brain. But first, she has an importance dance milestone coming up – her first ever public performance, as part of Chandra Moss-Thorne’s Repertory Ballet class.

“This is the first time I’m really seeing myself as a dancer,” enthuses Barros Guinle. “No one has ever seen me dance, not even my closest friends…definitely not on stage.”

Furthermore, she has a few words of advice for students who, like her, started dance in college and have had no previous experience — go ahead and take the plunge.

“I was really scared at first to call myself a dance minor, compared to people who had invested so many years in it,” says Barros Guinle, describing the “impostor syndrome” that feels so familiar to Swatties. “But Chandra and Olivia have been so motivating, so welcoming, and they have believed in me more than I have in myself, many times. The dancers in my year…have been very welcoming and never made me feel like I didn’t belong. So if you’re without experience, go for it!”

Émilie Hautemont ’20

Creativity Off-Campus: A Spotlight on Faculty Projects

Whether it is addressing the Latinx experience through music and performance, crafting a contemporary stage performance for taiko drumming, or teaching children how to live in the world through the practice of gamelan music, Music & Dance faculty members Belle Alvarez, Professor Joe Small, and Professor Thomas Whitman are making strides in their respective involvements.

belle alvarez

Belle Alvarez is a visiting Associate of Performance at Swarthmore College, where she also instructs Modern II. As a teaching artist, Alvarez aims to offer a joyful and healing experience that catalyzes reflection, unity, and collective transformation. In 2016, Alvarez was honored with a scholarship from the Bartol Foundation. Through the Bartol Foundation, Alvarez educates K-12 children in the award-winning Pierre Dulaine’s Dancing Classrooms and Friends Central School. “Students learn and create collaboratively, engaging the imagination, while learning foundational dance vocabulary to refine motor skills, discover movement potential, and to attain sound knowledge of the body,” Alvarez said.

Currently, Alvarez has been collaborating in performance and activism with a Philly-based artist: Ximena Violante ‘14. Violante graduated from Swarthmore College with a major in music and is now a part of a futuristic fusion band called Interminable. Interminable explores the modern diasporic experience, performing covers and originals, both in English and Spanish. “I first met Ximena at a fundraiser for an immigrant rights coalition,” Alvarez said. “We had common interest in music with roots in son jarocho and are both from Central America—she is from Mexico and I am from Honduras.”Ultimately, it was the chemistry and the shared desire for social change through art that drew Alvarez to Violante. “I wanted to collaborate because of the synergy and dynamism I felt with our respective approaches to music and dance,” Alvarez said. “We build community and tell the stories of our communities through our art.” Most recently, Alvarez performed for Interminable’s music video, Buscando Un Futuro.

joe small

Professor Joe Small is involved with two professional taiko drum ensembles during his time outside of Swarthmore College: TAIKOZ (Australia-based) and Eitetsu Fu-Un no Kai (Japan-based).

Small met TAIKOZ members in Japan at various points in 2007 and 2008, while doing an apprenticeship for the professional group, KODO. Most recently, from October 2017 to July 2018, Small began working with TAIKOZ in a more regular capacity in an extended residency. Activities included daily training, performing at various concerts, hosting taiko classes and workshops, and doing a school tour.

As for Eitetsu Fu-Un no Kai, Small came to know the group after purchasing Eitetsu Hayashi’s DVDs and CDs at a taiko drum conference. Eitetsu-san is a solo artist with a professional supporting ensemble named Fu-Un no Kai, which translates to “The Society/Gathering of Wind and Clouds.” It was not until 2006 when Professor Small would encounter Eitetsu Fu-Un no Kai at their four-day workshop during his Fulbright Fellowship in Japan. “Having already seen Eitetsu-san and the ensemble live, it was an absolutely incredible experience and I left both intrigued and in awe of their artistry and virtuosity upon the taiko,” Small said. Small became an official member of Eitetsu Fu-Un no Kai in September 2012, training, performing, and touring with them across Japan and overseas.

“In both cases, I hope to continue working, learning, and being involved in order to continue to forge my own path with taiko, and to share it with the Swarthmore College community,” Small said. “Particularly I want to follow Eitetsu-san’s approach (which TAIKOZ has made use of for their own artistic projects) to consider taiko drumming in terms of a creative contemporary art form for the stage, that receives wide influence from cultures around the world as well as from Japanese traditional folk and classical arts.”

Currently, Small is still putting together plans, especially for this coming summer. “I will be teaching at the bi-annual North American Taiko Conference in August, and it’s possible Eitetsu Hayashi and Fu-Un no Kai may have a concert in the midwest a few days later, still to be confirmed,” Small said. “I might be performing, or I might be assisting/translating, so it depends on the lineup and program.”

Chester Children's Gamelan Project

Professor Tom Whitman teaches Balinese Gamelan performance to local elementary school children in a program he created in 2004. Whitman initiated the program at Chester Community Charter School. Later on, he moved the program to Stetser Elementary School, staying there for about ten years. After that, for another couple of years, Whitman again coordinated the program at Chester Charter School for the Arts. As of fall of 2018, Whitman moved the program to North Philadelphia, at the William Kelly School, where he can spend more time with the children.

In the program, students learn to play gamelan instruments as a group. Gamelan refers to a traditional Indonesian ensemble of percussion instruments—mostly bronze-keyed xylophones, and some gongs and drums. “Gamelan music does not really have soloists,” Whitman said. “It is a group/community that comes together and everybody contributes an element to the overall texture.”

“So learning gamelan is also about teaching kids how to live in the world,” Whitman continued. “It is about cooperating and being polite and being able to be a productive member of a group that is really rewarding without stepping on anyone else’s toes.”

Additionally, students learn about Indonesian culture, though Whitman said, “I think a much more important piece of cultural exchange is that the kids get to meet college students. A big part of what I want to do is get little kids thinking about the possibility that college is a place where they might see themselves. Both in Chester and North Philly a lot of kids grow up in homes where it is just not something that they ever encounter.”

Without the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, Whitman would not have been able to start his program, so he is extremely grateful for their help and support. Furthermore, Whitman is always looking for more Swarthmore student volunteers to assist the program, so interested students should inquire through email ( As for next year, Whitman is brainstorming possible new iterations of his current program.

David Chan ’19

Cooper Series Brings Renowned Chicago-Based Groups to Campus

5/9/17 7:27:36 PM -- Chicago, IL Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Dance Evolve 2017 Cloudline by Robyn Mineko Williams © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017


On Friday, February 8th, two legendary Chicago-based groups – Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, a nationally renowned dance troupe, and Third Coast Percussion, a Grammy Award-winning percussion ensemble – take the stage together in Swarthmore’s Lang Performing Arts Center.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has for decades been a pioneering force in the field of contemporary dance. Since its founding in 1977, the group has consistently received rave reviews from critics for its innovative style and mastery. Originally formed with an emphasis on jazz dance under the oversight of founder Lou Conte, a choreographer and Broadway dancer, Hubbard Street took a broader approach to dance after former Nederlands Dans Theater artistic director Jim Vincent took the lead. The dance company expanded its range, drawing influence from overseas, partnering with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and cultivating more personality in their pieces through Inside/Out, a workshop which encourages dancers to choreograph their own pieces.

Their performance on Friday will feature a piece titled “There Was Nothing,” choreographed by Jon Boogz and Lil Buck, co-founders of choreography company “Movement Art Is,” in collaboration with dancer and choreographer Emma Porter. In an interview, Boogz describes his creative vision:

“It takes you on an emotional journey, and we start from the beginning: the creation of Earth. Then it goes from the creation of Earth, to Earth giving birth to man, to the final chapter, Mother Earth’s tormented relationship with humanity.”

“In the beginning of the piece, you get this appreciation of Earth, in all its wonders, in all its elements, and all the things as human beings we should appreciate about our planet. Then it goes into the chapter of relationship, and connection, and how man used to have a beautiful relationship with the planet, to then now in the final chapter, you get the disconnection: the industrialization, the buildings, the pollution, all the things negative that we’ve been doing to our planet that doesn’t serve us as human beings.”

The music of “There Was Nothing” was written by Dev Hynes, also known as Blood Orange, and will be performed live by Third Coast Percussion. Lil Buck described working with Third Coast Percussion as “some of the most amazing live performances I’ve ever seen in my life. The way they use instruments, the variety that they have from one instrument and how they can use that is incredible.”

third coast 2

The four members of Third Coast Percussion met in 2004 as percussionists studying at Northwestern University and as members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, a pre-professional orchestra organized by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. In the 15 years since then, they’ve risen to prominence as one of the leading percussion groups in the country, commissioning and debuting works from modern composers, performing live, and releasing five full-length albums and three EPs. Their album Third Coast Percussion | Steve Reich won the Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance in 2017, and received an enthusiastic commendation from Steve Reich himself, who called the project ““Sensational! Sometimes people ask if my music allows interpretation. I can’t think of a better answer than to play them [this album].”

Aside from both working out of Chicago, HSDC and Third Coast Percussion also bear other striking resemblances. Both groups have covered an extensive repertoire, ranging from the classical to the contemporary. Both have toured extensively across the country and across the world. And above all, both are committed to reaching out to their communities, and put an emphasis on education and accessibility for their art. Hubbard Street holds dance classes and workshops for all levels and ages, and offers a scholarship program for aspiring professional dancers. Third Coast Percussion has been the resident ensemble at the University of Notre Dame since 2013, and maintains a variety of outreach programs, including educational performances, lectures, and premiering the work of emerging composers. On Wednesday, February 6th, Third Coast Percussion will give a lecture in Lang Concert Hall on “The Science of Sound,” and on Thursday, HSDC will host a ballet master class and a dance workshop.

Assistant professor of dance Olivia Sabee says “it is really important to the educational mission of the College for students and community members to have access to experiences like these in conjunction with [Hubbard Street and Third Coast]’s performances, so I am excited for students to attend these workshops as well as the performance events.”

Third Coast Percussion’s time at Swarthmore will conclude with a performance of Terry Riley’s groundbreaking In C, a piece which arguably sparked the American minimalist music movement. Students, faculty and staff of the college, as well as area residents, will all come together to play in Lang Concert Hall alongside the members of the group.

Andrew Hauze ‘04, one of the coordinators of the project, describes how “Third Coast Percussion has an amazing list of educational and community programs that they offer, and we jumped at the chance to have a community play-in of Terry Riley’s seminal minimalist work In C. The construction of the work offers new opportunities for musicians from so many different musical backgrounds to perform together and to develop new ways of listening.”

In C, composed in 1964, consists of 53 phrases of music of varying length, without a specified instrumentation and only a loosely designated order. Beginning with a single rhythmic eighth note pattern on the note C, instruments gradually accumulate, forming a swell of polyphonic sound that can last anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour. As such, no two performances of In C are the same.

Hauze continues, “We are thrilled to have Third Coast Percussion on campus thanks to the funding of the Cooper Foundation. As a Department of Music and Dance, we are so excited that we are able to bring their collaborative work with Hubbard Street Dance to campus as a model of creative work between two leading companies in dance and music. I’m particularly looking forward to having students, faculty, staff, family members, and community members join together led by such an amazing quartet of musicians!”

Andy Zhang ’22

New Professors, New Ideas in Music and Dance Department

The Swarthmore College Department of Music and Dance welcomes three new faculty members: Professor James J. Blasina, Professor Stephanie Liapis, and Professor Joe Small.

James Blasina profile_0

Professor Blasina is originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, and he has been interested in music since he was a child. His studies with his mentors, Professor Jennifer Bain and Jacqueline War at Dalhousie University, led him to a MA-PhD program at Harvard University, where he wrote his PhD dissertation on the way that music for St. Katherine of Alexandria modeled and mirrored changing conceptions of gender during the 12th and 13th centuries. “In many respects, I see this period as a point of origin for many of the gender systems that have held sway until the twentieth century,” Professor Blasina said. “I see music as an important primary source for illuminating these changes in the ways people were thinking about gender, and on the flip side, looking at music through this particular lens helps us understand [music] better.”

Professor Blasina came to know a Swarthmore alum during his time in graduate school. “I was always so impressed by her well-rounded and critical ways of thinking about problems, and by her confidence and willingness to voice her opinions,” Professor Blasina said. “I was so excited when a position was posted in the Music and Dance Department, and I am grateful to be able to contribute to the work of this community of scholars and students.”

Last semester, Professor Blasina taught Music 11, a music theory class that focuses on counterpoint, harmony, and musical form. This semester, he is teaching Music 28 (Sound, Sinners, and Saints in Medieval England), a course that considers what sorts of meanings human beings ascribe to sounds and music. He is also teaching Music 1a (1000 Years of Musical Firsts), which focuses on twelve significant musical premiere performances as important artistic and historical moments.

Professor Blasina hopes that his students will have two takeaways from his classes. “First of all, in a one-semester course, even on a very focused topic, it’s impossible to cover everything that you’d like to,” Professor Blasina said. Using an analogy from his PhD advisor, Thomas Forrest Kelly, Professor Blasina believes that the big ideas in music history courses are like a row of telephone poles. He and his students will build the “poles” together in the course. “They should be sturdy and will hopefully entice students to fill in the gaps between the poles with ‘wires’ throughout their lives,” Professor Blasina said.

The second takeaway is empathy. “It’s too easy to think of people in the distant past with simplifying and dehumanizing tropes,” Professor Blasina said. “But maybe through the classroom experience and by understanding their artistic expressions, we can come to appreciate and feel connected to the human beings—as human beings—who came before us, and by extension, better understand ourselves and our societies.”


Professor Liapis has had a professional career in the performing arts that spans over twenty years. She received a B.F.A. from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and an M.F.A. from the University of Washington. Professor Liapis’s choreographic research focuses on creating and presenting original, collaborative works that often weave in elements of digital sound and video to create a complete visual and sonic experience on stage .

Professor Liapis began teaching at Swarthmore College because she was drawn to the diverse dance curriculum offered at the college. “It feels relevant, exciting, and progressive to offer training and education in so many movement forms,” Professor Liapis said.

Currently Professor Liapis is teaching Modern dance technique, as well as yoga and dance composition. In these courses, Professor Liapis aims to provide students with opportunities for growth and creative freedom. “In my first semester, I am hoping to build trust with the students,” Professor Liapis said. “I want to provide a safe and exciting learning environment so that the studio becomes an active space for movement experimentation and exploration.”

“I have been very impressed with the students’ curiosity and willingness to try,” Professor Liapis continued. “The students at Swarthmore are so motivated and engaged which allows us to really explore our material, it’s origin, it’s path, it’s purpose.”

Currently, Professor Liapis is amidst a very exciting time in the dance program. “There is so much energy and momentum that will allow us to be more visible on the Swarthmore campus,” Professor Liapis said. “We are adding courses, developing curriculum, and offering new opportunities for students to work directly with professional choreographers!”

sm Joe Small Headshot (by i-Syu)

Professor Small was a student at Swarthmore College from 2001 to 2005, where he majored in dance and minored in theatre. His main interests are taiko drumming and its expansion in the choreographic context. Professor Small accredits Professor Kim Arrow, recently retired from the Dance Program, for sparking his interest in taiko drumming and helping him define an approach that values choreography as much as music. After graduating from Swarthmore, Professor Small travelled extensively (Tokyo, New York City, Los Angeles, Sydney), attended the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance in their MFA program, and freelanced workshops.

He decided to come back to Swarthmore to pursue the opportunity to give back to the college that got him started on his taiko career. Last semester, Professor Small taught Dance 49 (Taiko Repertory), and Dance 42 (Japanese Dance I). “In both courses, I definitely hope all students [came] away with a sense that taiko and Japanese dance are fun,” Professor Small said.

In Japanese Dance I, Professor Small hopes his students received an understanding of common fundamentals and aesthetics throughout forms of Japanese dance. For example, “One key point would be the sense of grounding in one’s center of gravity—the bent knee and the low waist, as opposed to certain forms of dance favoring a high center of gravity,” Professor Small said.

In Taiko Repertory, Professor Small worked with sixteen students to prepare for the Fall Dance Concert. They put together a performance arrangement featuring a bit of folk dancing and flute melody from Northern Japan, as well as a contemporary taiko piece called “Propel.” “For the Dance 49 (Taiko Repertory) class, we had a rehearsal where seemingly disparate parts of the taiko piece connected in a way that finally made both bodily and musical sense,” Professor Small said. “Seeing everyone’s faces light up in realization and excitement made me giddy.” This semester, Small is once again teaching Taiko Repertory, as well as Dance 12 (Dance Lab II).

David Chan ’19

Profile of Dance Major Zara Williams-Nicholas ’19

Zara Williams-Nicholas ‘19 is an international student from Jamaica, majoring in mathematics and dance at Swarthmore College. Williams-Nicholas started dancing when she was living in Jamaica, beginning ballet classes at the age of two. However, after moving to Massachusetts for high school, she was forced to stop taking dance classes due to financial obstacles.

Williams-Nicholas did not initially consider majoring in dance since dance is not usually associated with economic stability. “I was thinking I had to have a major that would help support me financially,” Williams-Nicholas said. “I chose math because the analysis of structures really interested me.”

Remarkably, it was mathematics that led Williams-Nicholas back to her interest in dance. “It was later on that I realized that the analysis of geometric and other structures could be applied to movement creation as well,” Williams-Nicholas said.

In her junior year, Williams-Nicholas took classes in improvisation and contemporary dance. Because of her experiences in those classes, she reconnected with dance and began identifying strongly as a dancer. “I felt as if I had found dance styles that really resonated with me as an artist in contemporary dance class,” Williams-Nicholas said. “As for improvisation, I began using dance as a framework for everyday life, exploring movement practices and creation even outside of class.

Through dance, Williams-Nicholas has been able to challenge herself, especially since she had to complete most of the major in one year. “I sometimes feel physically fatigued, but my love for what I do pushes me forward,” Williams-Nicholas said.

Furthermore, Williams-Nicholas uses dance as a conduit for self-love. “It is an art form that lets you communicate with the world in a way that I personally find very pleasing,” Williams-Nicholas said. “It is also a process wherein you can really begin to love your body for what it can do, and where you can get out of the habit of disliking the look of your body.”

For Williams-Nicholas, dance is not just about mastering the technical aspects—it is also about discovering how your body moves through space. “You become aware of small movements and tendencies in your body that you may not have been aware of beforehand,” Williams-Nicholas said. “You can create movement that is unique to your body and that tells a story that you want to tell.”

“I have learned bodily awareness for myself and for others, and I have learned about the idea of consent while partnering or doing group work,” Williams-Nicholas continued.

Before coming to Swarthmore, Williams-Nicholas choreographed an original piece at her old school in Jamaica. She attributes that performance as one of the happiest times of her life. At Swarthmore, she has choreographed a piece in response to Thomas DeFrantz’s visit to her contemporary dance class. “The piece focused on blackness in dance and how that tends to be received,” Williams-Nicholas said.

Currently, Williams-Nicholas has many projects in progress. For the upcoming Fall Dance Concert, she is working on Professor Stephanie Liapis’s modern dance piece and on Professor LaDeva Davis’s tap dance piece. Additionally, Williams-Nicholas is a part of student dance group Terpsichore, working on a piece about her personal life, which she hopes to reflect through movement. She recently joined Rhythm and Motion, a tri-co student dance group, and is working on various pieces for that group, as well.

After graduation, Williams-Nicholas hopes to continue dancing. “I hope to use both my majors after graduation, doing some combination of problem-solving and movement for the rest of my life” Williams-Nicholas said. “I want to be financially stable, I want the ability to dance onstage and to choreograph, and I want to continue to develop my dance practice in a safe way so that I can dance for as long as possible.”


David Chan ‘19

Gamelan and Chinese Music Ensemble Perform in Joint Concert

When asked what they hope students get out of participating in their respective music ensembles, Professors Lei Ouyang Bryant and Tom Whitman both make reference to communal music-making as a way to escape the numerous pressures experienced by a typical Swarthmore student.  “I think it is great for Swatties to play music for two to four hours a week amidst the rest of their busy schedules,” says Bryant, co-director of the Chinese Music Ensemble (CME).  Whitman, co-director of Gamelan Semara Santi (Gamelan), which plays music from Bali, Indonesia, puts it a bit more bluntly: “It is my hope that students find in Gamelan a place to rid themselves of the stress that is endemic at Swarthmore.”

Beyond just stress relief, though, Bryant and Whitman hope that their respective groups provide space for community members to either explore a different music culture or celebrate and recognize their own.  Whitman runs Gamelan rehearsals “Indonesian style—without any notation, and with minimal talking or analysis. I’d like our sessions to create a safe space where students can learn about Balinese culture by doing, rather than by reading or talking.”  For her part, Bryant sees the CME “as a valuable site on campus where Asian students, Asian American students, and students interested in Chinese culture can work together and find community with each other.”

Enthusiasm for such a community is evident in the fact that enrollment in CME has more than doubled in its first three semesters.  The ensemble is open to all, although most of this semester’s 25 members came in with some musical training. However, few had experience with traditional Chinese instruments such the guzheng (zither), erhu (bowed fiddle), pipa (plucked lute), yangqin (hammered dulcimer) or dizi (flute).  Bryant’s co-director Guowei Wang, a Shanghai-born erhu artist, arranges folk songs and more recent Chinese and Taiwanese compositions to tailor them to the specific skill levels and talents of the current crop of students.  Bryant describes the CME as “so fortunate to have [Wang] co-directing the ensemble and developing repertoire that everyone, from beginner to advanced, can play within one semester of study.”

Gamelan is also open to students—and Swarthmore community members—regardless of musical background, and is perhaps slightly more accessible to newbies due to the percussive nature of its instruments, which consist of mostly bronze-keyed xylophones, gongs, and drums.  But while hitting a gong might as a technical act be a bit easier than playing a fiddle, for example, the overall musical product is quite complicated, with each person playing an essential rhythmic role. Says senior Aly Ye, who has been a part of Gamelan for all of her four years at Swarthmore, “I love the complexity of the music and the challenge of learning it together, part by part, as an ensemble.”  The tightly interwoven percussive parts result in a soundscape that is, according to Whitman, a “beautiful texture of different layers.”

Another non-sound layer is sometimes added to the mix when Gamelan pieces are accompanied by dance.  Whitman explains that, “in Bali, dance and music are two facets of the same coin,” and that “while there are many pieces of instrumental music that do not accompany dance, all are informed by the spirit and many specific techniques from Balinese dance.”  This close relationship has been evident to Ye, who will dance and play in the upcoming show. She says that “because the dance is so closely tied to the music, I feel like I’ve gained deeper insight into why the music moves and changes in the way that it does…. there are many times when something is emphasized in the music that, when I’m learning the dance, suddenly make more sense.”  Whitman states that his lack of dance training is “one of my biggest weaknesses as a gamelan director. But we are extremely fortunate that our co-directors, I Nyoman Suadin and Latifah Alsegaf, come to campus. They bring to our ensemble that dimension of dance that I am not competent to teach.”

Audiences can come experience this auditory and visual feast in person on Sunday, December 2nd at 3pm, in the Chinese Music Ensemble and Gamelan Semara Santi’s combined end-of-semester concert.  The performance will be held in Lang Concert Hall and is free and open to the public. Families are welcome!

Lydia Roe ’20

Profile of Dance Minor Ella Small ’19

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.

David Chan ’19

Profile of Dance Major Rachel Isaacs-Falbel ’19

Rachel Isaacs-Falbel, a senior Dance and Anthropology special major, describes herself as “very much a planner.”  Her ultimate career goal has been consistent since high school; she wants to be executive director of a dance company someday.

Isaacs-Falbel has a long relationship with dance.  When she was a young kid, ballet was offered as a consolation after her mom refused previous requests for figure skating or gymnastics lessons.  It ended up sticking, in large part because she loved being onstage, describing herself as “a huge ham, and a huge drama queen.” It wasn’t until junior year of high school that she began to really enjoy ballet not only as an avenue through which to perform but also as a technique itself.  Her appreciation of regular ballet classes deepened as she embraced the practice “as a learning process within [herself],” and not just to achieve an external goal.

And then, she says, “when I came to Swarthmore and became part of the dance department, that’s when it all really hit me.”  Even more so than in high school, studying ballet and other dance forms proved to be a continuous challenge and avenue for personal growth, as teachers and other students here pushed her to be technically better than she ever thought she could be.  “If someone had told me arriving at this school that I would have the control and technique that I have now,” says Isaacs-Falbel, “I would have been like, ‘you are lying, and I can’t do that.’”

But although she was taking technique classes and had “always sort of thought about majoring in dance,” she didn’t seriously consider it as an academic focus until enrolling in The Arts and Social Change with now-retired Professor Sharon E. Friedler.  Having previously thought that studying movement theoretically would be boring, Isaacs-Falbel found that in fact the class “was amazing, and it changed my life.” She continued with Dance and Diaspora, taught by Professor Pallabi Chakravorty, which “touched on the interest I’ve always had in other cultures and learning about the world and the way that people interact.  I saw that I could do that through studying dance.” After a heart-to-heart with professor and mentor Olivia Sabee in her sophomore year, she decided to combine her interests via a special major in Dance and Anthropology.

It’s proven to be a fruitful choice.  Since then, Isaacs-Falbel has studied dance technique and theory abroad in Nice, France, interned at Boston Ballet School, and is currently at work on her thesis, which focuses on diversity initiatives in pre-professional ballet programs.  Ballet companies are overwhelmingly white, and, she explains, “one of the main things that [they] say when they’re asked about this lack of representation is that they just can’t find good dancers. So it’s important to look at what the schools are doing.”  Although she hasn’t finished her research, Isaacs-Falbel suspects that those schools’ efforts aren’t as sincere as they could be and is exploring in part the “idea of diversity as a commodity” and “the way the term has sort of lost all of its civil rights meanings and has been rearticulated to just mean ‘there’s some black people there,’ not that any structural change has been made.”

While she jokes that someday such a critical analysis will automatically disqualify her “from all the jobs I’ve ever wanted,” she plans to stay immersed in academia for a few more years at least, with the hope of going directly to graduate school for dance studies in France.  There, she’ll continue on the trajectory launched by Swarthmore’s program, using dance as a lens through which to investigate both herself and the broader world.

Lydia Roe ’20

Profile of Music Major Lili Tobias ’19

Like many a Swarthmore student, Lili Tobias ’19 finds herself graduating this year with a somewhat different degree than her younger self had anticipated.  She came to Swarthmore planning to major in linguistics, but soon, as she describes it, “music took over my life. And so now I’m a music major and linguistics minor.”

For Tobias, though, that academic transition was less a tortured decision than natural progression, something that “just happened.”  A pianist in high school, at Swarthmore she began taking classes in theory, composition, and musicology, and joined the Swarthmore College Chorus and the Garnet Singers.  Eventually she realized that most of her classes were related to music, and that those were the ones she really cared about. “The department really felt like home to me,” she says of choosing to focus on music.  “I knew all the professors, I knew all the other majors… it just felt like that’s where I belonged.”

That sense of community is what Tobias names as the best part of her experience in Swarthmore’s music program, which although it may be small—there are only two majors in her year—is plenty mighty.  She sees its size as a defining positive attribute, saying that “it’s so welcoming and we’re very close knit. The best friends I’ve made here” tend to be “connected to the music department in some way.”

The small size also affords a lot of personalized academic attention and opportunities.  Tobias has taken a composition course, the only repeatable course in the department, every semester since sophomore spring.  After one’s first time taking it, the class functions like an independent study, so, she explains, “it’s very individualized.”  She gets tailored listening assignments from Professor Gerald Levinson, a well-recognized contemporary classical composer, that he thinks will relate to the direction of Tobias’s own work.  She’s also had the opportunity to compose several pieces for the college Chorus and Garnet Singers, with the encouragement of its director Joseph Gregorio.

Tobias says she tends to listen to and compose mostly classical music, and especially admires “women composers of the past and of the present.  I identify with them because there’s just a lot fewer women that go into composition.” She’s currently writing her senior comprehensive paper on Amy Beach, a composer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Beach was an American musical prodigy who started composing as soon as she learned to play the piano as a young child, and, although she’s rarely part of modern classical repertory, earned in her own lifetime unusual acceptance and success in an overwhelmingly male field.  For her senior comprehensive, Tobias will not only analyze Beach’s work from a theoretical and musicological perspective, but also perform on piano three of her songs, with soprano Rebecca Regan ’19.

She’s unsure as of yet as her exact plans post-graduation, although she says that “going into music publishing is something that’s definitely appealing to me.”  Tobias got a taste of the business as an intern this past summer with Schott Music, a publishing company in her home city of New York. She describes herself as someone who likes editing and creating a pretty and polished final project, and “really enjoyed” combining those skills with her love of music.

Ultimately, whatever specific path she may take, Tobias feels certain that music “is going to be the main focus of my life somehow.”

Lydia Roe ’20