A dancer myself, it was difficult to contain my excitement as I sat down with both Sarah McCaffery and Zoey Best, co-presidents of Defining Movement, AKA defMo, one of the most well-known, fierce, and legitimately kick-ass dance groups and student-run organizations on campus. From the impressive and creative dance choreography, to defMo’s dedication to service and multiculturalism, I had the upmost respect for the direction leaders of the group. Maybe they could teach me a move or two? I wonder if the wobble counts…
While speaking with both Sarah and Zoey, I got the impression that these two individuals were exactly that, very individual and different from one another with distinctive ideas and creativity. But what better way to support a multicultural group, than with diverse backgrounds and experiences? Sarah is a Political Science major and Dance minor. Although a Georgia native, she traces her roots back to her entwined Japanese and American cultures. Interestingly, both of her parents are professional dancers, and met in a dance class in the artistic world of New York City. Because of her father’s strict professional career as a ballet dancer, she grew up with a ballet world mentality. Comparing it to that of an “Olympic athlete,” she shared that her lifestyle was very structured and discipline. Whereas before, every decisions was made to “help you be the best dancer you could be,” now she embodies the mentality of a “change agent,” one who inspires the world to think differently through a artistic creative language. Originally, she had planned on pursuing dance in a Company or going to a conservatory, but soon discovered that a passion for learning complements her passion for dance. She explained, “I can gain new inspirations and derive a deeper context for my work in dance and art making.”
Biology major, Zoey is from a small rural town right outside Durham. How did she get involved in dance? Zoey laughs as she explained, “I’ve been told by my family that at age 3, I begged my mother I needed to learn how to dance, so that I could dance at my wedding.” Smart kid. She immediately began classes, and over time became a pro in the world of competition style studio dance. While Sarah focused on ballet, Zoey was trying her hand at multiple dance styles such as jazz, tap, ballet, hip-hop, and musical theatre. She admitted, though, that even with her varied background, her passion for dance has diversified even more over time. Her first exposure to Bhangra in defMo was a bit of a “culture shock,” but since then, she views dance a lot differently: “Before I liked dance because I loved moving and expressing myself in that way, but now I’m starting to understand different concepts of life through dance.” Although different, there is no doubt that dance means more than simply leaps and turns for the both of these women.
Why Sarah got involved in defMo is similar to why she ran for president. According to defMo’s mission statement, their purpose is to provide an outlet on campus where students with a common passion for dance can come together to freely express themselves while cultivating lasting friendships and to serve the community through dance by promoting cultural awareness. Sarah has always felt that what she did with dance was greater than just movement. It would inspire people to think differently, and could be a catalyst for social revolution. She also explained how multiculturalism and the fusion of cultures were important to her, because she’s had to live it. Coming from a more inquisitive and curious background, Zoey admitted she was initially reserved about defMo because of “assumptions she held and naiveté as a freshman.” She continued, “It was when I thought you couldn’t do things that you would be uncomfortable with.” When she noticed the words “jazz” on a flier (better flier for that show dancers!), she thought, hey, maybe this is something I can do. 4 years later, Zoey shares how all of her best friends are in defMo, and without it, her life at Duke would have been dramatically different.
Despite their individual tracks leading up to defMo, they can both agree that they are passionate about creating a community of openness and understanding, facilitating collective conversations of what music, type of dance, choreography, costume, and more, is appropriate to use, and expressing their passion and multiculturalism through dance. Highlighting that one of defMo’s pillars is to promote cultural awareness, Zoey explained that the group composition is “in itself multicultural. We embody it as who we are.” One visit to a show can definitely prove this!
Although Sarah and Zoey’s differences may lead to ups and down, they certainly don’t prevent them from being the inspirational and innovative leaders they are. Rather, Sarah explains that each of their unique interpretations of defMo’s vision creates a balanced union that in the end helps achieve what the members want. Zoey praised Sarah of her superb artistic vision and ability, and explained how supportive they are of each other. Whether it is during practice, and they share a glimpse of acknowledgment, they always have each other’s backs and are continuously checking in with one another.
When it comes to their passion about defMo both Sarah and Zoey could not be more in sync. Sarah explained, “Our shared love for dance connects us in an unexplainable way and after that, we develop friendships that make those bonds even stronger.” Zoey added, “We’re not trying to exclusive, though. It’s just that we love each other so absurdly much! Going through the process of learning new dance styles and choreography, struggling and learning, processing, and experiencing together, creates strong friendships.” It was evident that their dedication and love for defMo is difficult to describe in words. When I first asked the question, both of their faces absolutely lit up, they moved their bodies forward, and eyes got wider. For lack of a better term, began Zoey, “I am obsessed with defMo. Any good president has to be. It has to grip you and move you.”
Zoey explained that her role as co-president created a new relationship with the group. Known as “defMo’s mommy,” she kept saying, “I love it so much I just want what’s best for it.” Pinpointing it as highly different from the other three years, she explains that she is “trying to shape it in the right direction and be as efficient as possible.” The new tune of the day will soon be, “defMo’s mom, has got it going on,” I’m sure. Sarah is also using her president position to propel the group forward, and to fulfill its mission statement. She shared one of the challenges she faces: “Because I have so much faith in this group, I sometimes have to push the group both socially and artistically, which can be rather demanding on the dancers.” Sarah hopes to one day be a part of an arts community that uses different art forms to raise awareness about certain social justice issues to create change.
When I asked about the upcoming show (April 20th, 8pm!) I was immediately hit with excitement and fervor. Sarah’s comment, “Oh my god it’s going to be crazy. Actually ridiculous,” complemented Zoey’s “It’s going to be the best f*cking show in the history of shows. I’m dying,” quite well. The show is a culmination of 10 years of defMo’s presence on Duke’s campus, and will feature alumni representatives from all ten years! The dance group is presenting 10 all new pieces, guest performances, two videos, and DUI as the MCs. Because the weekend is centered on an evolution of defMo, the theme, Genesis, is rather appropriate. Sarah emphatically shared, “It’s a lot more than just a showcase. It’s a definition of defMo for a decade, and for that, it’s more of a team effort this year because we are delivering more than we usually do.” Zoey added, “I can’t think of an aspect of the show that isn’t going to be fantastic. Everyone is going to be freaking out for every single piece.” At one point, she was trying to speak, but no words came out. I laughed – she was clearly speechless with excitement! She spoke of how inspiring it was to see things come together in little parts, and how amazing it was to finally see it come together. Both of these rock stars started planning out the showcase the day after they were elected co-presidents.
I asked both ladies what their favorite style of dance is, and learned that this was one of Zoey’s least favorite questions. After getting to know her in our interview, and of her spunk and multifaceted interests, I wasn’t surprised when she answered, “I love so many so much; it really depends on my mood.” One day it may be salsa because the Latina music just speaks to her. The next day she may feel some serious swag, and hip-hop will be the one. Although Sarah replied with “contemporary ballet,” she hesitated and also added “vogue.” She tried to find the words to describe what that meant, but I was way ahead of her. Remembering her fierce performance at the LNY Fashion Show, one that was THE physical representation of avant-garde, I wasn’t surprised either.
Their energy and passion for this group, and for dance itself, reminds me of why I love Duke. Here are two women who show dedication, diligence, vision, grace, and enthusiasm. Whether it be breaking it down on the plaza, leading defMo to its success in a crazy show, or dancing their hearts out in an empty room, it’s obvious that both Sarah and Zoey know how to work it.
Excuse me, I meant,
defMo Showcase 2012: Genesis
Friday, April 20th, 8pm
Get your tickets on the plaza!