From the LC to the Center Stage: Stevenson's Hidden Dance Group
While most students turn to the quiet corners of the library to type away at their work or snuggle up in a book, these four girls were drawn together by dancing in the reflection of the Learning Commons mirrors, unbeknownst to them that there was a dance studio on campus. With their own unique dance backgrounds, they each offer a unique flair to the group that diversifies choreography while forcing them to accommodate, teach, and learn from each other while striving for uniformity. Instead of taking the conventional route of tryouts and auditions, they laid the groundwork for what would develop into a remarkable testament of dedication, passion, and commitment to the art of dance. You may have seen juniors, Amy Rong, Zoey Jiang, Lily Li, and senior, Vivian Kou grace the stage during the 2023 Lunar New Year celebration assembly, where they painted the stage with beautiful, red and black dresses and showcased elaborate choreography. Sitting in the audience, I was in awe at the obvious effort they put into perfecting this choreography, and the work and effort they put into it was virtually inconceivable. Immediately, a plethora of questions filled my mind about what I had been aware of for a time, yet was still curious about.
The dance group, dubbed 7PM, originated in the 2021-2022 school year, when the four girls came together on campus for the first time after the COVID-19 pandemic to dance in the learning commons. After they discovered each other’s passion for dance, their friendship naturally developed into an unspoken routine of hourly sessions at the dance studio any time they could manage. They often danced from 7PM just until right about 8PM during the start of study hall and would have to rush back to the dorms afterwards. They would often follow this routine on most weekdays, until the weekend where they danced until 11PM. Their level of dedication and passion for dance allows them to perfect their craft without feeling overwhelmed, and rather igniting “a spirit of confidence,” as Li describes. The group agrees that while they are pursuing a common goal of expression, the dynamic they have as friends contributes to their onstage chemistry. Each member of the group demonstrates a poignant understanding of each other’s strengths, showing how well they understand each other’s abilities. Zoey, for instance, practiced traditional Chinese dance from the age of four before she came to Stevenson. She started taking a keen interest in other styles of dance during middle school with her interest in idol culture. Amy found her passion for dance during lockdown, where she fell in love with hip-hop, jazz, and urban dance styles through self-teaching them through YouTube videos. Similarly, Vivian explored her passion for dance through the surplus of time the pandemic allowed, visiting dance studios that practiced styles like jazz and urban while inspired by K-Pop music videos. Lily was exposed to dance through her school’s dance department and the rest was history.
Their dance numbers are usually lengthy, with a minute-long dance routine like their Lunar New Year Dance requiring “hundreds of hours of practice,” says Li. Their choreography takes pieces of traditional Chinese dance and contemporary dance from Chinese artists, while altering it to suit their own individual styles. Each dance is a solo dance that is practiced during Christmas break, shared with the group, and taught to each member to eventually create a polished performance. Li, a Chinese native, often chooses a variety of different dance styles that showcase the diversity of China’s 56 different ethnic groups. Jiang also confirms the importance of this to her, saying that: “I can feel history when I am dancing because a lot of the dances I do are inspired by earlier Chinese dynasties.” When asked about challenges the group faces, Kou cited one difficulty of their most recent mid-autumn festival dance performance: “Most groups have an odd number of people, so it is more challenging to make a formation with four people, as you have to ensure that no one gets blocked, so there is a lot of care that goes into that.” From the beginning of the second semester until the Lunar New Year, they had concentrated practices for hours almost every day for a month. Outside of planned performances, this year they dance together a couple times a month due to the increasingly demanding workload of junior and senior year. Even though there is commitment that goes into performances, they still find fulfillment and leisure in these meetings: “We all have different styles of dance, so we aim to make everything clean, but if we’re dancing for fun we do whatever we want since it is more for our own entertainment purposes,” affirms Kou. Despite their rigorous course load, they still find value in dancing and the camaraderie that it brings them.
The group collectively hopes to expand into something more concrete, accessible, and widespread among the community. It has primarily always been them four, due to the convenience of discovering their shared passion at the same time, belonging in / near the same grade, and being boarding students among other factors. They have tried to spread their love of dance through developing into a club, although that has its own unique challenges: “Finding time after school is difficult and community time and extra help are too short of a timeframe to put together a minute-long dance or something that is worthwhile. We are struggling to find a balance between incorporating new people and putting together high quality pieces” expresses Rong. The combined hour-long time of community and extra help does not align with the ideal amount of time they put into teaching each other dances, especially when factoring in that people come from varying levels of experience. They are hoping to create an inclusive environment where more people can get involved, even if it means just dropping in to improvise or practice group formations. They hope to try out a wide variety of genres with new people and cultivate greater diversity amongst the group through exploring different styles of dance. Because the performing arts department is less celebrated than the sports department, Kou believes that an passionate group of entirely student driven dancers would help demonstrate its value. Additionally, they want to be able to pass the torch to other students when they eventually graduate. After their Mid-Autumn festival performance, the dancers used the opportunity to promote their club and search for other interested dancers. With a larger group of people, they hope to carry out a greater number of performances throughout the year and demonstrate the beauty of different styles of dance and culture.
Through hours of practice and creative choreography, these four girls brought traditional Chinese and contemporary dance to life in the Stevenson community. Despite the challenges they face, these talented dancers find fulfillment in their shared love for dance and the wide array of diversity it entails. This group embodies the essence of dance as a means of expression, self-discovery, and the celebration of culture. Each member cites dance as an integral and grounding part of their life, Jiang expressing “When I don’t dance, it feels like something is missing in my life. Dance is a way to express and find myself and I can feel the meaning of life when I am standing on the stage.”