Durham Academy’s annual Upper School Spring Dance Concert and assembly, which would have been held one week ago today, has two showcase pieces — the Senior Dance, choreographed entirely by students, and the Faculty Dance, a piece that’s a fan favorite because it prompts teachers to model what learning and vulnerability (or bravery) look like.
“The Senior Dance has become a rite of passage,” explained Upper School dance teacher Laci McDonald. “Seniors in the program, regardless of how many years they've participated in the program, are showcased in the Spring Dance Concert. Typically we begin this piece after spring break, with each senior meeting individually with me, to choreograph their own sections of movement. Just before the show, we would gather as a group and connect individual phrases and come together for a unison phrase. All of this would be done outside of class time.”
This year, because Durham Academy did not return to campus after spring break, seniors were given the option to continue working on their choreography with McDonald remotely. “Without hesitation, they all wanted to pursue this project,” she said.
“The Senior Dance was always something I had looked forward to since coming to the Upper School,” Leah Short ’20 said. “To continue working on it has helped me to have some kind of closure to my time at the Upper School. Even though it wasn’t exactly how I imagined, we all deserve to have this special moment to dance together one last time.”
“Since we aren’t able to be physically on stage with each other for our senior dance,” Casey Carrow ’20 explained, “this piece was a way for all of us to dance together and really celebrate what we, as a group, have accomplished at DA.”
“For me, the Senior Dance is something I've always looked forward to, ever since freshman year,” Chandler Riley ’20 said. “I know this isn't necessarily the way any of us seniors were hoping our senior year would end, but I think still having the senior dance makes it a little easier to cope.”
Short, Carrow, Riley, Claire Ridley ’20, Julia Phu ’20, Marcelle Quiambao ’20 and Meredith Cohen ’20 recorded their performances in their backyards, on driveways and on front lawns and shared the videos with McDonald through Google Drive.
“To me, this piece gave me the space to reflect on my time in high school and realize that there are a lot of things that I will miss,” Ridley said. “This whole year I’ve focused mostly on moving forward and leaving DA, but this piece has balanced me in the present of both looking back and looking forward. I’ve watched the seniors of previous years do their senior dances, and to finally be here myself makes it feel much more real.”
“It's been hard for me to wrap my head around what's happening,” Phu said, “and I wanted to take this dance to connect with my fellow seniors in the DA dance program and have some sort of normalcy with the process of this dance, together. I took this opportunity to really reflect on my past years at DA, and express all of the feelings with the movement I created. I hope that this dance can give some sort of hope or closure for all of us, and even the seniors who watch it.”
“Despite living in these times of uncertainty, I am glad that I could find some direction in this piece as I and the others try to navigate what our past was and how our future will look like after we graduate,” Quiambao said. “Because this dance has elements of both, I found some closure to what my senior year was.”
McDonald told her dancers she would edit their performances together somehow into a complete video, but as a surprise, she enlisted the talents of DA videographer Jesse Paddock so that their performance could be preserved as a keepsake. “I'm so proud of their determination and resilience,” McDonald said. “They have rallied more than any other senior group.”
“My gratitude and love for this group of seniors is what inspired my movement above all else,” Carrow said. “I think this dance truly speaks to our talents both individually and as a group, as well as how we’ve come together in this trying time. I’m so thankful for this group of girls and the opportunity to dance together one last time as seniors!”
“DA dance has given me unforgettable memories and amazing performance experiences. I’m so grateful for the four years I’ve spent dancing at the Upper School,” Cohen said.
The emotional piece is set to “All My Life” by WILD.
The faculty dance, which had its origins as an experiment in adult vulnerability, faculty bonding and student entertainment in 2016, is always a surprise — typically unveiled at the assembly as a preview before being performed at the evening concert.
This year, with no way to rehearse in person, McDonald recorded sections of the choreography on her iPhone and sent them to participating faculty each week. “There is nothing more humbling than recording yourself dancing, in a less-than-ideal space, while hiding from your children so you can record and then watching it. Whew … vulnerability at it's finest, y’ all! Have at it, enjoy some cardio, and just have fun!” she wrote in an email.
This year, McDonald’s faculty dance troupe included Upper School library assistant Katherine Spruill, Upper School Chinese teacher Bonnie Wang and Upper School English teacher Harry Thomas.
“In normal times, faculty dance is one of my favorite faculty bonding experiences — it's goofy and usually a little bit outside of everyone's comfort zone,” Spruill said. “Being able to continue it has been a welcome bit of routine and normalcy, and I hope students feel some of that normalcy in it, too (likely in the form of shaking their heads at how silly we look!)”
“As a teacher, I tell my students all the time that they should push themselves, that they should get out of their comfort zones, that they should take intellectual risks and do things they are not comfortable with,” Thomas said. “I tell them that that's how we learn and grow. So it's only fair that at least every so often I practice what I preach. And since I'm the world's least physically coordinated person, learning choreography and performing it in front of people definitely pushes me well outside my comfort zone! Doing the faculty dance (three times now!) helps my own teaching because it reminds me how it feels to be a student in a class where literally everything feels scary and impossible at first.”
“Despite our distance, continuing the tradition of choreographing the faculty dance has allowed me to feel a sense of normalcy in this current state, to allow us as teachers and humans to come together to commiserate and celebrate the challenges and success of this new learning environment, to honor our Class of 2020 — the class of kindness, resilience and hope. I will miss these seniors more than words!” McDonald said.
The energetic piece, set to Fitz & the Tantrums’ “Handclap,” is dedicated to the Class of 2020.