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A party like no other at Bowdoin

May 3, 2024

This piece represents the opinion of the author .

I grew up in a city with a perpetual soundtrack. Once a colonial epicenter of the horrendous transatlantic slave trade, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, is now a vibrant hub of Afro-Caribbean diasporic culture, a place where locals’ alignment with sound has forged a distinct way of moving and being. I didn’t realize how special my experience was until I moved to the U.S. and found myself grappling with the misunderstandings fostered by the translation of body languages. I tried to make sense of that experience through my scholarship, but I couldn’t compensate for the loss of moving to a place where music and social dancing were not a given part of my everyday life anymore.

About a year ago, during the last act of Bowdoin’s annual dance show, featuring students from the Introduction to Hip Hop class, I noticed a first year, who had sat through my courses for two semesters, shy and quiet. In the performance, he was radiant, moving his entire body as if he had just discovered it. The music and context were unfamiliar, but I recognized the flow, the “radical togetherness” that Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Lindsay Rapport (Dr. Blue) spoke of in her recent TEDx talk at Bowdoin. I couldn’t resist the call to bring back to my life the joy of dancing in community.

Despite a challenging year at Bowdoin and beyond, my classmates from Dr. Blue’s class and I have bonded over both distress and joy. The hip hop classes have allowed me to let my body guide me, merging my interest in bodies as objects and agents of knowledge. Douglas Bogle ’26 shared a similar sentiment: “Some of the most interesting things I’ve learned at Bowdoin have come from dance classes. There is a lot of history behind dance that often gets overlooked, and learning this while also getting to express myself and contribute to class by moving instead of sitting in a chair has been essential to me enjoying life at Bowdoin.” (Bogle and everyone else quoted in this piece shared their thoughts with me in writing.)

Assistant Professor of Dance Adanna Jones (Dr. J) adds: “For me, moving and shaking my body in relation to time, space, music, people, values, beliefs and imaginations, is a tool for theorizing, meaning-making and, of course, community-building. My sense of belonging is deeply rooted in acts of dancing.”

This spring, the Department of Theater and Dance is set to transform the dance show tradition to share the social experience of dancing with the entire Bowdoin community like it never has before. Dr. Blue explains the significance of this shift: “The stage is explicitly designed to situate dance as something to spectate, creating strict separations between performers and audience. African diasporic practices ask us to blur the boundaries between audience and performer, acknowledging that, through unique energetic, vocal and embodied contributions, everyone plays an essential role in making a performance what it is. We want the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities to understand that dance is for everybody. Dance is (for the) community.”

Professor Keona Ervin, current Chair of the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies  will be our DJ. She sees her participation in this project as “an invitation to return—again and again—to the possibilities that emerge from music,” which she regards as “at its heart, a practice of radical kinship and relational embodiment, intimately tied to my commitments to advancing the field of gender, sexuality and women’s studies.”

As a feminist of color, and a passionate dancer myself, I also believe that combating sexism and racism requires not just intellectual re-education but also the emancipation of our bodies. In an era marked by pervasive connection yet profound isolation, where violence and the ailments of individualism thrive, there is nothing more revolutionary than relearning how to be truly human together.

This is why for the students and instructors in the classes of Dr. J, Dr. Blue and Adjunct Lecturer in Dance Scott McPheeters, co-creators of the Community Show & Groove, this is such a meaningful event. As for Amelia Jacobson ’25, it is an opportunity to “get to dance with the people I love and appreciate … to see how their bodies wish to express themselves, and we can all be truthful with one another through our movements.” Dr. Blue reiterated that African diasporic social dance is about “dancing with people and sharing energy, a collective cultivation that has the power to shift a space, to shift us.… My hope is that the Community Show & Groove can offer the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities access to dance’s communal power and potential.”

“It is our gift to Bowdoin and the wider Brunswick Community, our gift of love, connection, care and collective JOY!” states Dr. J. “It is going to be a game-changer, and I cannot be more excited for the amazing things that will unfold on May 4 (beginning at 7:30 p.m.) in the Morrell Gym.”

Please join and groove with us.

Nadia Celis is a professor of romance languages and literatures and Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies. 


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