5, 6, 7, 8... Step here... Spin... Wait, shoot, I missed a beat. It’s okay. As the choreo chairs like to tell us, the audience won’t know you messed up if you exude confidence in your movements.
My earliest memory of learning choreography was practicing the dances to Hannah Montana’s “Hoedown Throwdown” and High School Musical’s “We’re All in This Together” in my elementary school hip-hop club. In my head, keeping in time with rhythms and beats always made sense to me, as if learning dances could be reduced to recognizing patterns within the steps and making them flow from one to another.
Throughout the years, I enjoyed playing Just Dance on the Wii, taking Zumba classes as a workout and dancing at parties as long as I had a partner who could lead. But I never performed in a capacity that empowered me to improve my technical skills.
Before coming to Hopkins, I already knew that dance was one of the things that I wanted to try as a way to step outside of my comfort zone, which is why I joined Eclectics Dance Group during my freshman fall. I remember the first open practice I attended, where I learned the choreography to the first song I would perform on the Shriver Hall stage. When the choreographer performed his piece to Rich Brian’s “History,” the movements all seemed to blend and flow into one another so well, making me think that it would be impossible to learn the dance.
As I learned the piece step by step, the moves felt foreign and awkward to me. I felt as if I were missing out on a special technique needed to match the movements, leaving me always half a step behind as we went through the piece. Despite this, I knew I wanted to improve, and I consistently attended practices to get better.
Amid the stress of classes and midterms during my freshman year, I found solace in dance as one of few commitments that I could enjoy and that allowed me to take a break from academics. Each week, I looked forward to our practices at the Mattin Center, knowing that it would be a productive day of personal growth and improvement.
As the weeks passed and we solidified our set for the annual fall SLAM showcase, I realized there were many components that went into creating a successful performance. After learning the set, we needed to work on “cleaning,“ which involves making the moves bigger and more dramatic, being conscious of our facial expressions and learning the transitions between each piece. During each practice, the choreo chairs would call on us to exaggerate each step and put all of our energy into the piece. Even if we thought we were giving our 100% to a move, they pushed us to make it better, especially in the part where I had to “slap” another dancer as part of the choreo.
As I watched my progression through the recordings of each practice, I saw my movements become more defined, observing as the little tap I did during the solo evolved into a full blown slap across the air on stage. After that, we also performed in the Arellano Theater and even recorded dance videos for our promotional content.
Unfortunately, when COVID-19 reached the United States, all of us were sent home and Eclectics was not able to resume its full capacity for a whole year. During those times, the only option I had was to Zoom in to dance practices at 5 a.m. and do my best to learn the choreo on my own. Even then, recording myself as I performed the piece was not the same as rehearsing for our in-person performances. I missed the camaraderie of rehearsals and hearing members cheer one another’s names during runthroughs.
But now, Eclectics has successfully transitioned back to a semi-normal semester. The annual O(ctober) Show: Dance Showcase was the second time I performed in Shriver Hall since returning to campus, and we just performed at the SLAM Showcase after two years. It was exhilarating to be under the stage lights, experiencing the adrenaline rush of dancing on stage, albeit for five minutes with masks on this time.
Whenever I perform, my body seems to go on autopilot mode as I rely on muscle memory to give my fullest to the set and make the most of the experience. Performing a piece that I had learned over Zoom for O-Show in person felt surreal, serving as another indicator that I was really back on campus. Moreover, the SLAM Showcase was the best way to bring the semester of hard work into fruition on that stage once again, surrounded by the energy of other talented dance groups.
I know that I am still not the best dancer. I remain in awe of those who actually choreograph our pieces and the expertise of those who dance professionally. But it’s rewarding to track my own progress through dance as a tangible way to see how I have grown throughout college.
No longer do I feel like the freshman-year version of Michelle who felt awkward in her movements; instead, I can confidently say that my craft has improved. Of course, like any skill, my ability to dance is still a work in progress, and I look forward to the spring semester to finally perform at my first Eclectics showcase.
Michelle Limpe is a junior from the Philippines studying Chemistry and Public Health. She is a Managing Editor for The News-Letter. In her articles, she likes to reflect on finding the silver linings in life to give meaning to her struggles.