Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Move yo’ graFEETi

Showgirls in Vegas should wish they had half the leg extension of a Graffiti dancer. When you’re that limber, doing the splits is a greater-than-90-degrees affair, and it is possible to hold an entire conversation while your leg lays idly up a wall, toes pointing to the ceiling. Having tendons that bend like ropes of fresh licorice is, in fact, a prerequisite to be considered at the annual Graffiti Dancers’ audition.

Of course, flexibility is not impressive to the judges — the returning members of Northwestern’s premier independent dance group — who are tired of naive inquiries as to whether or not they can do the splits. They have never not been able to do the splits.

To be like the Graffiti Dancers, it would behoove you to own at least five pairs of stretchy yoga pants and to know the technical differences between jazz and hip-hop. You should also have an unbridled passion for dance of all genres and a willingness to spend most of your time in smallish rooms with black floors and scraggy foil mirrors.

Communication senior Amy Christensen, a second-year Graffiti dancer, estimates that most of her time is spent in pants made of a spandex/cotton blend and in rooms where the walls thump with bass. If the 2003-2004 season is anything like the previous season, she and the other 16 members — who are all female, though there have been male dancers in years past — will practice together on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays in preparation for their spring shows on April 15-17.

Graffiti Dancers has presence: that elusive but coveted ability to invoke anticipation simply by flyering the campus to promote their yearly gig at McCormick Auditorium. Of course, some of the motivations that spur students to attend the show — high leg kicks, writhing to music — are not quite the incentives that the Graffiti Dancers would choose. They would rather entice an audience with a profound respect for dance or an appreciation for physical expression.

“The frat guys all think: Girls. Tight pants. Let’s go see them dance,” says Jenny Shore, Communication ’03, who spent two years as the group’s artistic director.

The dancers, however, prefer to not be primarily referred to as “hot,” “booty shakers” or “tight pants.” And it’s not that they don’t appreciate their male fans and every ticket buyer, because they are glad to have enthusiastic supporters. In fact, a lot of people know who they are. It’s just that not many know what they’re about.

For all of Graffiti’s physical vitality, its historical memories are lackluster. Its presence in the Northwestern University Archives rests in a handful of bright fliers and a couple of programs from the early 1990s. “Graffiti Dancers is one of the groups that we have the very least on,” says archivist Patrick M. Quinn. “We’re only as good as the people who bring things to us.”

The Northwestern Dance Company was formed in 1974 and soon merged with four other organizations — Orgy of the Arts, the Dolphin Show, Garden Party Productions and the Gilbert and Sullivan Society — to compose Arts Alliance. By 1983, the clunky moniker was shucked in exchange for the edgier Graffiti Dancers. During the closing piece of the 1982 spring show, company members spray-painted graffiti on the “back wall” (butcher paper camouflaged as wall) of McCormick Auditorium. The image and the choreography were so well received that the group was inspired to change its name accordingly, and the piece was revived several times in the following years.

Today, Graffiti Dancers is still a satellite of Arts Alliance, now the nation’s largest student-run production company, which puts up most of the money and provides a rich well of human resources from which the two Graffiti producers can build their extensive production team — about 25 heads with one goal in mind, a glitch-free spring show. In return, the dancers raise money by holding fundraisers and enticing their families to buy ads in the program. Graffiti also brings in revenue from its shows — which almost always sell out — as well as a raw hipness to a studious campus not exactly known for breaking it down.

On a recent Sunday evening, the group convened for practice at the Theatre and Interpretation Center. During the initial warm-up that consisted of a series of increasingly distorting poses, the girls — 10 of them, all wearing some form of second-skin pants, many with dangly earrings and bare feet, and none taller than 5’7″ — could have been mistaken for contortionists trying out for Cirque du Soleil.

Not to be outdone by Liz Kimball, the Communication sophomore who was leading practice, each girl pointed her butt bones due north, as if asked to prove she could smell her knees. Moving through an array of yoga-on-acid poses, there were heads between legs, legs over heads, feet as far apart as one’s feet can get, toes on noses and, of course, the answer to the laity’s most popular question: the splits.

Ten minutes in and conservative Baptists would have been disapproving. And then came the dancing. Kimball strung together combinations of steps for the girls to mimic along an invisible diagonal line that spliced the room in half. Prince sang out obligingly from the boombox –“You sexy motherfucker” — as they danced in pairs toward the opposite corner. Liz emphatically listed off each movement: “Pas de bour

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Move yo’ graFEETi