Dancing to college

Nov. 30, 2005, midnight | By Anna Coughlan | 15 years, 1 month ago

Blazers get a lift from Washington Post Scholarship Awards

Senior Rachel Martin's arms flow like water and her back arches as if she were spineless. Her hips sway in rhythm with the Middle Eastern music and the bells on her skirt jingle as she captivates the crowd at last year's SGR Spectacular. Half a year later, Martin uses her dance skills hoping to get a college boost in a scholarship competition.

Martin and senior Jessica Harris joined students from all over the metropolitan area this fall for a chance to win $15,000 in scholarship money in the Washington Post Music and Dance Scholarship Awards. Although neither of the seniors won a scholarship, both Martin and Harris received a certificate of distinction and a letter of commendation, which will help them pursue their love of dance later in life.

"They can use those two awards for building blocks to college," says the associate producer of the awards, David Jones.

Ethnic Dancing

All of Martin's success began as a three year old pursuing a hobby by enrolling in Flamenco classes. "I just liked dancing since I was little," she says, "[Flamenco] was a good place to start."

From ages three to 13, Martin practiced Flamenco in her native country, Argentina. She quit Flamenco classes when she moved to the United States but later learned Middle Eastern dance after joining the Blair club of the same name. "I just kind of picked it up," she says.

Martin's mother has encouraged her daughter to dance and has taught Martin some of her own belly dances. Her mother was also the one to push Martin to enter the Washington Post Awards. "Oh, you really should do this," Martin remembers her mother saying.

Several years ago, Martin also took classes in Kathak, an Indian dance, but she later quit because she wanted to perform more. "It wasn't like a structured thing," she says of the Indian dance class. "I wanted a place where I could showcase [my dance]."

Since then, she has been able to perform often, whether teaching children at the YMCA, dancing at parties or performing at the Washington Post Scholarship Awards. "A lot of times, when there are random things, I perform," says Martin.

For the awards, Martin choreographed a dance that combined Middle Eastern, Flamenco and a flare of Indian to Shakira's song "La Tortura." "[The dance] was just an expression of that song," she says.

When designing her dance for "La Tortura," she improvised movements while listening to the song, and then tried to remember what she did. For some repeated lyrics, Martin would do the same steps. "Then when she says this, I'll do that every time," she says, recalling her technique.

Ballet and tap and jazz . . . oh my!

Harris started dancing when she was three and now balances modern dance, tap, jazz and ballet. Her pastor knew she danced and mentioned the Washington Post Scholarship. Harris initially "blew it off" because she had not heard of the program before, but later decided to apply. "I just figured I would try," says Harris.

Harris's church community as well as her family and friends have been very supportive of her dance. Her mother enrolled her in a class at a young age simply as something to do for the toddler. "My mom has been my main influence," she says.

Over time, Harris's interest in dance evolved and she grew more serious and joined the dance troupe for her Briggs Chaney studio. "It was the next step to challenging myself," she says. "Ever since then it's kind of been like that."

For Harris, dance enables her to develop and explore. "You can always grow in dance. You can always learn something new," she says. "That's what I like about it."

Harris's favorite types of dance are jazz and tap because she can express herself with the more "loose" styles. "There's more room to be your own self [with jazz and tap]," she says.

Future Aspirations

Harris plans to combine dance and psychology to achieve a graduate degree in dance therapy in college. In dance therapy, "you help people through movement," she says.

Martin hopes that her passion for dance will carry her past high school. "I love dance," says Martin. "That's what I'm going to do [in college]."

Ricky Payton Sr., the producer and director of the Washington Post Awards, says it is difficult to choose the winners out of a pool of gifted students who will all do well in college academically and artistically. "Every year it's hard because so many of them are talented," Payton says.

Whether Martin continues dance in college or beyond, she's already made promising achievements. "We think Rachel is tremendously talented," says Jones. "She's got a great attitude. She's got a good foundation to build upon."

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Anna Coughlan. Anna is a CAP junior who can't believe she's an upperclassman already. She likes to run Blair cross-country and track, do yoga, play soccer, and chill with fun-loving people. Anna is a big movie fan and loves the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Star … More »

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