Everyone knows thesis: it’s the project that we work towards for three years; the culmination of our academic careers.
Sofi Elbadawi ’18 is one such senior who is currently working on choreographing her dance thesis this semester. She explains that she got her inspiration when she choreographed a duet for the fall Back to Bates Dance Concert with fellow dance major Riley Hopkins ’18, in which they danced to popular love songs.
She explains, “While I was doing preliminary research about love songs, I stumbled upon a TED Talk by Mary Len Catron called ‘What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Love.’ In this talk, Catron argues that the metaphors we use to talk about love equate the experience to violence, sickness, or mental illness. She specifically deconstructs certain phrases, like ‘to fall in love,’ ‘to burn with passion,’ ‘heartbreak,’ ‘being crazy in love,’ and ‘love-struck.’ When I listened to love songs again after hearing this TED Talk, I was fascinated by how often these metaphors appeared.”
Just like with theses in any other academic department, there is intense research that goes into a Dance thesis that helps students mold testing questions, which the project strives to answer. For Elbadawi, she decided to explore three main questions: “Can the subtle, underlying violence in common metaphors for love be exposed through physical exploration and embodiment of these metaphors? How do metaphors inform the way we understand the concept of love? How can movement be used to exaggerate and juxtapose the cheesiness, clichés and hyper-romanticism of the language of love songs?” To answer these questions, Elbadawi put together a cast of five students – Hopkins, Peter Cottingham ’18, Ellie Madwed ’20, Libby Wellington ’20, and Danielle Ward ’20 – who would all be part of the dance process. These members act as equal parts support and sounding board throughout the project.
A seasoned member of the Dance Department, Elbadawi is no stranger to choreographing and engaging in creative dance processes. Over her college career, she has participated and created many dance pieces. But, thesis presents different challenges.
She explains that, “This project is similar to previous pieces I have choreographed, as I used the same tools and methods to generate movement that I have used in the past…However, my thesis is much longer and much more intensively researched than anything I have created in the past. It also deals with a more musically-based sound score than I typically tend to use.” Working on a senior thesis is a unique experience in every Batesie’s academic career. Advisors push us harder and empower us to expect more out of ourselves.
Hopkins took a different route with his thesis, choosing to perform Trisha Brown’s piece “Foray Foret” solo. This thesis process is different from Elbadawi and others. He notes, “My thesis process has been a continuous navigation of the unknown, to be honest. My thesis research is focused on the performance of this piece that I learned, whereas every other dance thesis before me has been focused on original student choreography.”
Through self-reflection and outside research, Hopkins finds that, “I enjoy being watched as a dancer. I love being a spectacle. I perform because it excites me to see how I can leave an impression on the audience, no matter what that impression may be. There’s an interesting dichotomy between being an objectified body on stage – one that is purely looked at from the outside – and being a subjective agent that connects with the audience by somehow being relatable.” In more technical terms, he follows the thought process of “kinesthetic empathy,” a theory which explores that the audience can relate to movements they see because it seems attainable in their own bodies. He uses this theory to “cross the line from being an objectified body to a subjective agent on stage.”
Bates encourages diversity of thought and fosters new ways to approach topics. “I’m gaining a lot from this process so far,” states Hopkins. “No one really does research on performance here, just choreography and theory. I’m excited to pioneer this new opportunity for future dance majors and show people the benefits of scholarly performance.” Hopkins shows that the thesis project can be used as a way to explore new areas of dance.
Elbadawi and Hopkins, though taking different routes, are getting the most out of the senior thesis experience; they are both driving a project from inception to conclusion.