Dirty Dancing as collaborative research?

Presentation of group collaborative research project
L-R, Cameo Lethem ’14, John Schneider ’14, Emily Pacilio ’12,
and Corry Ethridge ’14 discuss their project “Choreography
for the Camera” August 2 at the Faculty-Student Summer
Research Program final presentations.

Cameo Lethem ’14 is a double major in dance and neuroscience with newly acquired expertise in dirty dancing.

This summer, the Hawaiian native was one of 77 students and 32 faculty members who participated in the just-concluded 2012 Skidmore Faculty-Student Summer Research Program. So, of course, she did dance research in dirt and in water. Dance research? In dirt and water? Really?


Titled “Choreographing Environments for the Camera,” Lethem, Corry Ethridge ’14, Emily Pacilio ’12, and John Schneider ’14—under the guidance of dance professor Rubén Graciani—choreographed, performed in, filmed, and produced two professional-grade dance movies in distinctly different media.

“Stage work is very kinetic,” says Graciani, who plans on submitting both movies to film festivals: see dirt and water. “I wanted to confine ourselves to spaces where movement was harder. And I also wanted to deliver the product via video on the Web—another distinction from the standard stage production. We wanted to push the envelope.”

Virtually every day, the dance team shot video and stills and headed back to campus to review, discuss, and edit the latest material. Says Lethem, “You’re constantly analyzing your own body movement. I also did a lot of outside research, looking at footage of others dancing in dirt and in water. And internal research, too. You get in touch with your own body. And you start asking the question, ‘How would I?’ ”

Performing the Water Dance
John Schneider '14 and Cameo Lathem '14 performing
their water dance.

Schneider, an economics major from Arizona who partnered with Lethem in the water movie, particularly loved “telling a story with movement rather than through words or speech.” He also conceded that his vision of both films was often different from his peers. “I learned to let go of an idea I was very attached to,” he says. “It was important to focus on the whole.”

“I took the hammer to some things,” admits Graciani, who plans on submitting the movies to various film festivals (see movie links below). “I could feel the angst and tension watching the students let go of it, then trusting me to destroy their work in the interests of making something even better.”

The choreography project was one of 46 faculty-student research projects, ranging from health issues such as obesity, malaria, and pyroglutamates (an uncommon amino acid derivative); to topics such as the qualitative analysis of racially charged humor, differential equations, and quasi-experimental design with artificial streams; how children learn by watching adults, creating a large-scale tapestry weaving influenced by Islamic art, and making computers run faster.

Since 1989, Skidmore’s summer student-faculty collaborative research has given students the singular opportunity to work one-on-one with a faculty member. The research often forms the basis for a senior’s honors thesis or can lead to published articles in peer-reviewed academic journals. Long-term, participation can help students gain admission to graduate schools or launch research careers. The program is made possible by the generous support of many foundations, alumni, and friends. For the full list since 1989, click here.

Movie Links: