Dancing at Duke: An interview with Defining Movement

Dance culture is widespread at Duke University. As the semester comes to a close and many dance groups on campus hold their Spring showcases, The Chronicle put together a look into the first five dance groups founded at Duke. Capturing their energies, their histories, and their commitment through photographs and short interviews, our reporters worked to highlight this crucial part of on-campus life.

The Chronicle spoke with Defining Movement co-president Imani Hall, a senior, about Defining Movement's mission and involvement with both the Duke and Durham community. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The Chronicle: What is the mission of Defmo?

Imani Hall: Defmo was founded 23 years ago by some dancers on campus who felt they needed a space to promote diversity and appreciate diverse cultures through the shared love of dance. Though there were spaces to dance on campus, there weren’t many for people who had different backgrounds and could appreciate, but not appropriate, other cultures. From there, it has just grown.

TC: How does that mission translate to today? How is it brought forward?

IH: In addition to dancing our hearts out, we perform in many different showcases on campus for other cultures. Not only do we learn dances based on those cultures, but we also have cultural nights before every performance. We will take the time to learn about the cultures through movies, anecdotes if that culture is represented on the team or even bring people in to teach us things. For example, we performed a taekwondo set at Convergence and had [junior] Vivian Zhang from Club Taekwondo come in and do a workshop with us. 

Our goal is to learn about the cultures inside and outside the dance studio. From there, we incorporate that into our dancing because that is something that we’re all passionate about and love.

TC: Does your group have any special events or traditions?

IH: We always do a showcase at the end of the year, which is the most fun day of the year. It was much smaller when the group started, and they just wanted to show off what they had been working on throughout the years. So they did a little dance for their friends. Sometimes, people can’t make it to our other performances because they are studying abroad, so in the end, we take all of our performances from throughout the year and create some new small group pieces. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we still did it on top of parking garages with masks in groups of six or less on YouTube Live.

TC: How does Defmo interact with Duke and Durham more generally?

IH: We have performed at Chapel Hill, and we interact with the Duke community through our advisors in the CMA the Center for Multicultural Affairs. We performed at the CMA graduation last year, which was really special because Linda Capers, our advisor, was there. Just getting to perform for the place that gives us some funding and helps us out was awesome. 

We did a project with Kieran for our AWAAZ set last year. And we did it at a fundraiser event that they had. They came and spoke at our showcase and talked about how impactful that was for them in the community. 

We always invite people to come in and teach us. When we were celebrating 50 years of hip-hop, there are some people that know a hip-hop teacher in the area. He came in and taught us, and some of us had taken his summer classes before and things like that. 

We'll invite teachers to come in or other people who have expertise in a certain dance style that we're trying to learn. And then like, we also try to do at least one collaboration per year with another dance group. So this year, we're doing one with Sabrosura, and we did that last year as well. We've also collaborated with Street Medicine and clubs and organizations. We always try to collaborate with other groups and perform in their showcases too, just so we can spread the love of dance.

TC: How has your membership in this group affected your general ability to engage with multiculturalism?

IH: I think that there's so much more than what meets the eye for each person, specifically that comes from the traditions and values that you've grown up learning, and so to learn about different people, and how they were raised, and what that culture may be, whether or not they're from the States or another country, or whether there may be a first-generation Americans, I think that that it's cool to see what makes people who they are specifically, like, getting to engage with them and their culture, and then also dance, which they've loved clearly, at home or now. 

So it's a really special way to get to learn about people and also just learn about life, the differences in the world and how that shapes who you are; it's because it truly does, it does create you as a person, right? You can't take someone out of their context. 


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