MC’s Student Dance Competition Veers Toward Impressive Moves, Philanthropic Support
Kendall Lauderdale managed a rare feat while participating in Mississippi College’s annual student dance competition last year: executing a move no one had seen before.
While performing for New Kidz, an independent dance team and eventual Swerve winner, the junior public health major from Raymond ascended a “staircase” of her fellow dancers – mimicking the famed passageways of Hogwarts – only to free fall in a choreographed “battle” against the dreaded Voldemort, who appeared mid-routine from behind the curtains to add a sinister element to the routine.
“Our team leaders, Marion Pohl, Wesley Thomas, and Gracie Phillips, wanted something in the show that brought the ‘Wow’ effect,” Lauderdale said. “It was their idea to implement the staircase fall.”
Everyone who witnessed the tightly orchestrated maneuver still talk about the New Kidz’ showstopping performance that incorporated themes from Harry Potter. Dancers were grouped into four houses by the Sorting Hat, black-cloaked Dementors terrorized the students, and the dastardly villain was ultimately vanquished spectacularly.
“It was a cool move,” said Chip Wilson, associate director of student engagement who oversees MC’s Club and Tribe system and intramural athletics program. “We wonder what the ‘stairwell moment’ will be this year.”
Dance fans can’t wait to find out. New Kidz and nine other teams of up to 16 dancers will have plenty of moves in store for this year’s Swerve, scheduled for 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 9, in Swor Auditorium in Nelson Hall. Sponsored by the Office of Student Engagement, the competition lets MC students showcase their dancing skills while vying for a cash prize to benefit their designated philanthropy.
New Kidz’ victory last year netted $5,000 from Swerve ticket sales to benefit Dance Marathon, a philanthropic movement that unites students across the country to raise funds for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, including Children’s of Mississippi in Jackson.
“When New Kidz was announced the winners of the 2022 Swerve competition, it was such an exciting moment for us as a team because of what we had accomplished, but also because of the money we were able to give to Dance Marathon,” Lauderdale said. “Through the money we raised by Dance Marathon, the Batson Children’s Hospital at UMC is able to provide the best possible care for children, regardless of their ability to pay.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be able to contribute to something like that.”
Wilson said competing acts range from a swing dance team to those who perform hip-hop, classical, and modern dances. Routines are set to music from Disney classics and nostalgic throwbacks to new releases. Everyone on the MC campus was invited to participate and teams have diligently practiced their routines since early January.
The show’s late starting time reflects the event’s inclusivity: “We want students who have labs or classes at night to participate, too,” Wilson said.
Wilson oversees student productions for Swerve, reserves rehearsal space for the teams, works with student production chairs to plan the event – and makes sure participants keep a healthy perspective on the dance competition.
“We remind students that the goal is to raise money to give to others,” he said. “Mississippi College is a very giving institution, and Swerve is another aspect of that. It’s a way for students to enhance their overall MC experience.
“Raising money for philanthropy may be the goal, but a bonus is a camaraderie that happens as a result. Students enjoy the competition, but they also enjoy the fellowship that comes from their team or their organization being represented onstage.”
That’s true for David Torrent, a senior math education major from Oxford. He enjoys participating in Swerve so much that he dances for two different teams: New Kidz and Rotaract – and he’s not the only performer to double-dip.
“There are several of us working overtime to put together multiple performances,” Torrent said. “I love performing and dancing, but the process is the most fun part. Being able to do that with my friends in Rotaract for the last three years is an experience I would not want to miss. And performing with New Kids last year was such a blast that I wanted to do that again.
“It can be physically tiring, but it keeps me active and around some of my closest friends, so it is definitely worth it.”
His favorite part of Swerve are the practices leading up to the final performance.
“By the time you put on the show, you have spent dozens of hours with your team, and you get really close with those folks. We have so much fun joking around, but also working together to put on a good show.”
Swerve contains similar elements to Follies, MC’s annual Homecoming show that features 10-minute skits by Clubs and Tribes, but Wilson said there are subtle differences between the student talent showcases. Follies skits last 10 minutes apiece – twice as long as Swerve’s routines – on-stage hosts entertain the audience, and sets must be broken down between each act. Swerve virtually relies on costumes and music alone – there are no props and no dialogue, just graceful and exuberant dancing.
“Swerve is a more streamlined experience,” he said. “It’s fun and exciting, but it doesn’t feel too long or too short. We want people to feel it’s a well-done event they enjoy attending.”
To keep the competition interesting and the production fresh, members of the Student Engagement team visited Samford University in Homewood, Alabama, to observe their traditional student-produced talent show, Step Sing. Wilson said the trip led to a few enhancements to Swerve.
“The team came back with ideas to improve our student productions and make them more prestigious,” he said. “We want Swerve to be like a recital or a professional talent competition. We want teams to put their best foot forward to compete, and we want people to take pride in the fact that their team participated in Swerve.”
For the first time, each team captain will reveal its theme, introduce the team, and provide information about the designated philanthropy in a video recorded before the event. Practice sessions will simulate stage performances, giving participants a better feel for the routine within their allotted time.
“We hope participants will understand we’re trying to set them up for success by having them practice opening the curtain, doing the routine, closing the curtain, and exiting the stage,” Wilson said.
Hope Tipton, professor in the Department of Psychology and Counseling and sponsor of the MC Dance Team, will be among the judges for the competition.
”We wanted Dr. Tipton as a judge because we want to continue to build bridges between MC Athletics and Student Engagement,” Wilson said. “Who better to judge a dance competition than the dance sponsor at our University?
“The audience and the judges will be surprised by the level of talent in Swerve, but I think they will also be impressed by the creativity of the themes in this year’s competition.”
Lauderdale said the experience of dancing in Swerve is a highlight of her undergraduate career.
“Being a member of New Kidz will be one of my favorite memories of college,” she said. “We learn from each other, we brainstorm with each other, and ultimately, we goof around with each other. We think of the craziest ideas and try to make them work, but the best parts are the laughs and memories that come along with each practice.
“Every member contributes to the routine, which is special. The friendships I have formed and the memories made will be something that I will be forever grateful for.”
Tickets for Swerve cost $10 each. Doors open at 8:40 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.mc.edu/swerve.
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