I believe it was the late, great William Shakespeare who once said, “For never was a story of more woe than that of the subpar college dancer.” Between Shooters, a canceled Lil Jon concert and a cappella shows, somehow the situation always arises where college students have to dance. It is precisely at this moment that panic falls upon the average fist-bumper. “How do I move my feet when there are hundreds of people surrounding me? All of my friends are enrolled in the same Zumba class, but I have zero sense of rhythm!” Well, have no fear. Instead of going to the Shooters balcony to avoid the dance floor, we here at Duke are given the opportunity to remedy our woeful, subpar dancing status.
That’s where Week of Wellness comes in, a Duke initiative to showcase the services available for the Duke community to address various aspects of their health. The Dance department is participating, offering a week of free dance classes starting Sept. 11 for students, faculty and staff. The department welcomes everyone to attend any of the various classes offered and learn more about the different styles students can take on Duke’s campus for academic credit. And don’t worry—these classes are open to anyone who’s interested, meaning there’s no prior experience necessary. Professor Katya Wasowski, who is teaching the class on capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial-arts style of dance, assured me that she even prefers people with no dance experience.
“Sometimes, if you come in with a ballet background, you are thinking elevation and pointed toes, but capoeira is down and in the ground so it can be harder to work with people who have been trained in a specific style,” she said.
By opening up her capoeira dance studio, Wasowski hopes not only to introduce people to a rapidly growing dance style but to teach the Duke community about the fascinating cultural history that comes with the movements. As such, her class introduces students to a fun form of exercise and provides a glimpse into the importance of capoeira's context and history.
“Capoeira was seen as a social threat for most of its history. ... It is a game and a fight, so it can be rough and aggressive,” Wasowski said. “But then politics and racial dynamics radically shifted in Brazil and Afro-Brazilian culture started to be celebrated.”
Although a greater comfort in your dancing ability is surely a stress-reliever in and of itself, the Dance department is also hoping to use this week to educate students on the importance of a longer-lasting awareness of the connection between your mind and body.
“Dance is very experiential, and a very embodied experience,” Keval Kaur Khalsa, planning committee member and modern dance instructor, said. “Stress lives in the body and if you’re not moving your body, you are not letting go of that. It is important to carve out time to move, and move in a mindful way. A full awareness of your movements is very empowering and can help alleviate stress.”
Instead of ineptly tossing weights around in Brodie, or secretly crying when the attempt to run from East to West Campus fails halfway, students can discover a different opportunity for mindful fitness—perhaps something they never even considered before.
“There are a lot of pre-professional students at Duke,” Wasowski remarked. “But Duke is so rich in terms of what it has to offer. It is a shame if students don’t take advantage of that. The Dance department in particular offers some wonderful classes that students are not aware of. The studio allows people to relieve built up stress while also going outside their trajectory.”
Though we all have different levels of familiarity with dance, nobody is a stranger to stress, and this week might provide students and faculty a different perspective on handling it.
Instead of re-watching the “Game of Thrones” season finale for the 20th time, or hanging around Marketplace instead of starting that history essay, try out a dance class. It’s an opportunity to burn those extra late-night Pitchfork calories while gaining a better understanding of mental health and different cultures. At the very least, Healthy Duke Dance Week might be your only chance to avoid that Shakespearean tragedy.
For more information on the free classes offered by the Dance department, visit https://danceprogram.duke.edu/events.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.