Senior Distinction Dance Projects Show Range of Academic Disciplines

Since Duke University began allowing distinction projects for seniors outside their majors, the Dance Program has seen an explosion of students combining their academic disciplines with their love of dance.  Trinity College approved the possibility of students graduating with distinction in a field outside their major about four years ago to recognize the fact that a number of students do develop a secondary interest sufficiently to be able to do distinguished work in that area, said Norman C. Keul, associate dean of Trinity College.

Jayne Ratliff, senior in Religious Studies and minor in Dance, decided to use her distinction project to choreograph a show called “Herstories,” about the ways in which women are able to write different narratives about their time spent in sacred and religious spaces.  “This project started with a paper about various historical images of Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad in Islam, and has since grown into a more general exploration of what it means to fuse “herstories” with ongoing religious histories,” Ratliff said.  Ratliff grew up dancing in her hometown of Tulsa, Okla., where she began training professionally with Tulsa Ballet Center for Dance Education at the age of 11. When she came to Duke, she switched to modern dance and has choreographed a show featuring 17-18 dancers, recorded video, live painting, and spoken word.  “It is my hope that this show will demonstrate not only the complexity of writing narratives about our religious experiences, but also the importance of trying to do so honestly,” she said.  Ratliff will present her distinction project on Saturday, April 12 in Brody Theater on Duke’s East Campus at 8 p.m.

Morgan Lea, a double major in Dance and Neuroscience, chose to take her project outdoors and explore the theme of water in “Polluted Ideals.” Conceived during her coursework for Dance for the Camera, Lea’s project takes on the perception of water in the western culture.  She found people relate to water differently inside from outside.  Indoors, people drink bottled water and use excessive water for washing and sanitizing.  “The by-product of this is people tend to think it’s more okay to pollute water outside,” Lea said. “Sacred spaces aren’t taken care of as well as they could be.”  Lea said she worked summers on Star Island, off the New Hampshire coast, where water was scarce and so preserved in cisterns, and residents of the island conserved, recycled and composted.  “It was kind of a culture shock coming to Duke,” she said.  Her project will be presented on Tuesday, April 8, at 8-10 p.m. in the Dance Program’s SLIPPAGE studio.

For senior in Biology and Dance, Rebecca Pham, her project has been a way to connect her passion for dance with her future plans to pursue a doctoral degree in physical therapy.  Pham has been working for the past year with Bull City Fit, a community-based wellness program that seeks to address weight-related health problems for children.  Pham said her dance experiences at Duke have helped her to see how dance can powerfully transform lives, so she decided to explore how the arts can shape public education and public health with her project, “Movement Heals: Exploring the intersection of dance, science, and medicine in childhood obesity.”  Her final presentation, on Sunday, April 27, at 3 p.m. in the Ark Dance Studio, will include an interactive component with the audience, student choreography and a music video about her work with kids at Bull City Fit.  “Working with the kids has been challenging, but rewarding,” Pham said. “It’s always such a joy to work with the kids, and when they’re in a good mood, it’s so nice to see how positive and radiant they are when dancing.”  Pham said traditional exercise may make the kids work harder, but dancing has helped them emotionally and socially, in her opinion.  “I also try and do group discussions with the girls before or at the end of class and check in with them as well as talk about healthy living, and that's been very beneficial. They've opened up a lot and I think that having the dance piece has helped them become comfortable enough with me to do that,” Pham said.

Anna Lipkin, a double major in Dance and Neuroscience, started studying ballet seriously when she was 10 years old, but her interest in neuroscience began when she took a psychology class in high school. Dance and science continued to collide at Duke when she studied the physics and history of ballet under Associate Professor of the Practice Tyler Walters and Assistant Professor of the Practice Julie Janus Walters.  “Tyler and Julie talk a good deal about physics and the history of ballet in their technique classes, and, combined with my dance history and science courses, they’ve completely changed the way I think about and perform ballet.”  Lipkin’s paper, “Paradoxical Control,” looks at the historical basis of the aesthetics seen in ballet today, how a performer can use an understanding of physics to create those aesthetics, such as the illusions of weightlessness and reaching, and how exactly, through the lens of neuroscience, those aesthetic values and illusions are conveyed to an audience.  “The project is really the combination of all the different things I've been exposed to at Duke, and an example of how being a dance and neuroscience double major has allowed me to look at both areas of study in completely new ways,” Lipkin said.  "Paradoxical Control" will be presented on Friday, April 18, 3 p.m., in the Ark Dance Studio.

History major Lexy Lattimore began classical training in ballet at the age of eight and has danced at Duke since her freshman year. Her background led her to see the history of a community not only through photos and static text, but through movement and storytelling as well.  Her project, “A People to Believe In: the History of the West End Performed,” will be presented at the Lyon Park Community and Recreation Center, where she began volunteering with youth through the DukeEngage Durham program two years ago.  “I’m a history nerd,” Lattimore said. When she saw the murals that depicted the history of the West End neighborhood at the community center, she became intrigued.  “The West End is a very proud community and many of the people there today attended the Lyon Park Elementary School,” Lattimore said. The Lyon Park Community Center is the site of Lyon Park Elementary, a Rosenwald school that educated generations of African-Americans in Durham before it was closed.  “Most people remember [the neighborhood] fondly,” Lattimore said. “The residents took care of one another. If one person in the neighborhood had food, everyone had food. No one went hungry.”  Like many parts of Durham, the West End neighborhood has faced a lot of challenges, such as drugs and drug-related violence, but Lattimore said the residents have faced those challenges, revitalizing Lyon Park in recent years, and “A People to Believe In” is all about their journey.  The performance on Saturday, April 26 at 7 p.m. in the Lyon Park Community and Recreation Center Auditorium will interpret history through dance, storytelling, and oral histories and feature children, teens and adults, as well as Duke students, she said.

Kelsey Allen, senior with majors in Public Policy and Dance and a minor in Psychology, has danced since she was three and trained with the First State Ballet Theatre in Wilmington, Del.  While in high school, she also developed an interest in photography, and when it came time for her senior project, she decided to combine the two interests in “Photographing Dance.”  “I chose to photograph dancers because I think being able to freeze time and capture just one moment brings a new perspective to dance, which involves continuous movement,” Allen said. “I also feel that much of dance photography today focuses on the technical skill of the dancer, so I have been working to show that dance and photography can work together so that one does not become inferior to the other.”  Allen will present her “Photographing Dance” project on Tuesday, April 8, at 8 p.m. in the Hull SLIPPAGE Studio.