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Honors in Dance teaches creativity, leadership through choreography

Tom Coyne

Destiny Ndubuisi-Obi ’24 performs "Lean into the Light, which she choreographed, as part of her Honors in Dance performance. (Photo by Andrew Crowell '18)


Destiny Ndubuisi-Obi ’24 was inspired to take Honors in Dance after being selected as a freshman to perform in a piece choreographed by a senior.

The dance by Wylie Welch ’21 was about climate change and incorporated the voice of climate activist Greta Thunberg with the spinning Earth as a backdrop.

“I really liked how she was conveying a message that was important to her and she was passionate about and she was sharing it with the whole school,” Ndubuisi-Obi said. “That’s when I decided to take Honors in Dance.”

Dance senior instructor Emily Fought said Honors in Dance at Culver, a boarding school in Indiana, mimics a lot of college seminar capstone projects. The class requires that students be members of Dancevision, the dance troupe at Culver Academies, for at least two years, be in good academic standing and complete a core series of dance classes. They then must choreograph two dances: a solo piece that is about three minutes long and a group piece that is about four minutes long that includes design light cues and costumes and effectively communicate choreographic vision.

The program at Culver gives dancers more personalized attention than they would receive at a conservatory, Fought said.

“I am here guiding them through the process,” she said. “It’s very much individualized because each student has such varying needs. Some kids really need a confidence boost. They need you to be their cheerleader and their champion. Others have the confidence but maybe they don't have the artistic expression that's needed to help them carry out their ideas. It's being able to cater to those individualized needs through the program.”

Fought said the program puts an emphasis on taking care of students physically, mentally and emotionally. She said Culver helps students grow in other ways, especially in leadership, because cultivating better leaders is a vital part of Culver’s mission.

It’s also a central part of Honors in Dance. Three students rotate through the position of dance prefect, who often acts as a confidante for others in the troupe and acts as a liaison with instructors.

“There's a lot more mentorship that goes into that role of dance prefect versus a dance captain most other schools use,” Fought said.


Dancevision members perform "Just Us Against the World," choreographed by Destiny Ndubuisi-Obi. (Photo by Andrew Crowell '18)


There are also plenty of opportunities for everyone, not just the prefects, to show leadership.

“You lift each other up. You cheer each other on. When you see somebody falling behind, you take responsibility for that person and you help guide them. You learn, we're all literally in this together. And we only perform our best if we're able to pull for each other and lift each other up,” Fought said.

The honors project requires students to embrace a leadership role in creating movement for the other students and communicating choreographic expectations.

Fought said she tells students that when they are selecting dancers to perform pieces they are choreographing they must be ready to lead.

“Students find out very quickly that it’s hard to tell your friends what to do,” Fought said.

They also might quickly discover the person they think is the best dancer can’t execute the style of dance they are looking for.

Ndubuisi-Obi said Fought gave her insight into how leading dancers is different from dancing with them.

“She told me, ‘You have to be a leader now. You have to set your rules in advance and set your expectations for your dancers so they can achieve the goals you want to achieve. There are some days your dancers don’t want to listen to you and see you as their peer rather than someone who is leading a dance,’ ” Ndubuisi-Obi said.

Ndubuisi-Obi said being part of Dancevision gave her so many opportunities. Dancevision traveled to Atlanta last year to dance at the Namari Dance Center and previously went to Chicago and danced with the Joffrey Ballet. This year she learned butoh, a form of Japanese dance.   


Destiny Ndubuisi-Obi says she was inspired to take Honors in Dance as a freshman. (Photo by Andrew Crowell '18)


“I don’t think you’d get these opportunities if you weren’t at Culver,” she said.

Ndubuisi-Obi’s solo piece, which she performed for the first time in December, was called “Lean into the Light.” It’s about how people can be facing struggles and outside forces invading their lives, but if they lean into the light, they can find the positives.

“It might be a struggle, but you can always lean into the light,” she said.

Her group choreography dance, “Just Us Against the World,” which was performed in May, was about how people are all on their separate journeys, but they ended up at the same place at one moment in time. They begin as strangers, but they slowly learn about one another and embrace each other.

“You realize you’re not alone. You always have a community of people around you,” she said.

Ndubuisi-Obi said choreographing her dance taught her that the arts are about the perspectives people take from performances. She said people would frequently ask her what her dance was about.

“I’d say, ‘What do you think it was about?’ ” she said. “They’d say, ‘Mental health’ or all these different things. I thought it was interesting because I was sharing a personal experience, but it was really broad. So people could take it however they wanted. I thought it was interesting how for some people it meant so much to them and for others, it meant so little.”

She found it fascinating how people could interpret something she had created in so many ways. 

Ndubuisi-Obi, who doesn’t know what she will major in at Northwestern University, is happy she took Honors in Dance.

“I knew I wanted to create something meaningful,” she said. “I wanted to be as creative as I could in this moment of time.”


Destiny Ndubuisi-Obi '24 said choreographing her dance taught her the arts are about the perspectives people take from performances. (Photo by Andrew Crowell '18)


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