Arts & Culture

Professors take to floor for dance-off

Popular Dancing with the Profs tradition returns to campus after four-year-long hiatus

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 2015

Associate Professor of Computer Science and department vice chair Thomas Doeppner and Madeline Day Price ’15 prepare for Friday’s performance.

This post was updated February 6, 2015 at 6:08 p.m.

If there is one thing students wouldn’t expect to see on a Friday evening — or ever — it’s their professors flaunting some moves and jiving away on a stage.  Yet seven professors, each paired with a student dancer, will perform Friday at Dancing with the Profs, a competition that will conclude more than a semester of weekly dance lessons and rehearsals.

“My dance has a surprise in it,” said Monica Linden, lecturer in neuroscience. “I also wear a very fancy dress — bright red and sparkling — so people should definitely come and see.”

The Brown Ballroom Dance Team, which organized the event, anticipates a big comeback  after a four-year-long hiatus, said Kevin O’ Farrell ’16, one of the team’s captains and Linden’s partner.

While efforts have been made to bring back the event since 2011, the planning did not come through until this year, said Claire Dong ’16, one of the event’s coordinators. Last year’s team seemed particularly keen on reviving the competition and passed the task on to Dong and three other coordinators, Alice Chu ’17, Ruby Goldberg ’17 and Serena Liu ’16.

The coordinators started planning last April, when they sent more than 200 emails inviting professors to participate, Liu said.

The invitation email included YouTube clips of Dancing with the Profs from previous years, said David Cane, professor of chemistry. Knowing colleagues who had previously participated and taking their recommendations into account influenced his decision to take part, Crane added.

Interviewed professors expressed little to no previous dancing experience.

Michael Littman, professor of computer science, said he is “part of a family that likes to perform.” His wife loves dancing in particular, and he joined the event with the hope of acquiring more dancing skills to teach his spouse, he said.

“I said no a bunch of times because I’m a terrible dancer,” said Rachel Toncelli, director of English language learning. Though she was initially intimidated by the idea, she ultimately accepted the invitation as a way to impress her children.

“I’m trying to be courageous and be a good model for my kids,” she said. “I have an intern who said to me, ‘When you’re out of your comfort zone, you grow.’ I should be six feet tall then!”

Michael Stewart, lecturer in English, described his experience since the first day of rehearsal as “humbling.” Though he had no prior dancing experience, his partner, Angelia Wang ’16, a Herald illustrations editor, was patient and the learning process went faster than he had expected.

“It’s nice to be a novice at something … with no real expectation that you’re going to be great at this,” Stewart added.

“I’ve never been so closely involved with a student organization at Brown,” Linden said. “I was reminded of how passionate Brown students are to their extracurriculars.”

Some student participants said they felt a new level of closeness with faculty members through dancing, adding that the opportunity to teach professors broadened their perspective.

“It’s interesting to have that peer level with a professor when working with them,” said Julia Tatiyatrairong ’16. The age difference seems to disappear while dancing, she added. “When they are able to dance, it’s very youthful.”

Also participating in the competition are Bjorn Sandstede, professor of applied math, and Tom Doeppner, associate professor and vice chair of computer science.

Dancing with the Profs will take place Friday at 7 p.m. in the Alumnae Hall Auditorium and will be open to the public. Tickets will be sold at the door: $7 for students and $10 for community members.


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