Only ’90s kids remember the New Student Dance

October 9, 2019

The Monthly

If you remember the New Student Dance, you’re now officially old. The dance, which was taught to new students during Wildcat Welcome, has been scrapped due to accessibility issues and a lack of student engagement. Goodbye to tacky-but-memorable dance names (Spoons Not Forks! Alligator shoes! March ‘round the hole!) and awkward smiles shared between students as they step on each other’s toes and elbow each other.

When Wildcat Welcome first introduced the dance in 2013, Director of First-Year Experience Josh McKenzie said he remembers the excitement surrounding the inaugural pick: “Best Song Ever” by One Direction. The pop masterpiece is the quintessential example of a Wildcat Welcome song –– upbeat, free of swear words and absolutely, unironically positive. Back then, the dance was taught during a day-long Purple Pride event held at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Wildcat Welcome has always been informational, McKenzie said, but the dance was a creative way for the team to bring up topics beyond how to register for classes or navigate around campus. The goal was to introduce the broader spirit and traditions of the University, and they found that introducing a unifying song and dance could achieve that objective.

“For many, memories can be tied easily to sound and to a song,” he said. “And so when a single song is used frequently in the course of a time period, then you’re more likely to have memories attached to that song. No matter what school you’re in, or (what) advising or registration process you’re going through, that was one of the common pieces that anyone had within that class.”

A run of six years, however, has taught his team that the dance presents accessibility issues –– both physically and mentally.

As his team reconsiders the definition of “fun,” he said they’re recognizing the need for an activity that is more inclusive for all students. The thought process behind creating the programming for Wildcat Welcome has changed, McKenzie said, which is prompting important discussions about creating a program that is welcoming to all students.

“Our community is wanting that conversation, but also, (this is) who our students are right now and who we are as a community,” he said. “That’s what we want, that we didn’t necessarily have a voice for in 2013.”

Weinberg senior Jeanne Paulino, who has been a peer adviser for the past two years, said she’s glad that the community is doing more to make the programming more inclusive.

“Initially, we were really bummed out because we’re all really obnoxious and want to spread our enthusiasm about Northwestern and continue the traditions that we had during Wildcat Welcome,” she said. “But then we realized accessibility issues are certainly an issue of concern, and we need to be mindful and inclusive about those issues.”

Student feedback also pointed to a simple fact, McKenzie said: Freshmen were just not into the dance.

SESP sophomore Hope Salvador, who was in Paulino’s PA group last year, said she simply didn’t see the purpose of the dance. For Salvador, the dance itself contributed little to building a sense of community –– which was the activity’s original purpose. Rather, she said it was her connection with Paulino that helped her feel like she belonged at NU, and she hopes that the University focuses more on building such personal relationships during Wildcat Welcome.

Without the New Student Dance, the University is still looking for ways to use music as a community builder during orientation, although now in more subtle and voluntary ways. For starters, there’s no longer a single class song. Instead, this year, Wildcat Welcome embraced a number of songs that were picked by the students themselves. Freshmen submitted their favorite pump-up songs in their introduction sheets prior to Wildcat Welcome, and these tunes were then played during activities. The top three pump-up songs, per the class of 2023: “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen; “Dancing Queen” by ABBA; and “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo.

These songs were also closely tied to the University’s commitment to encouraging wellness throughout the program. At the beginning of Wildcat Welcome, every student received a note that reminded them to take a breather during their week, which can often be overwhelming and exhausting, by listening to a song recommended by their peers.

Paulino said she still used music –– minus the mandated dancing –– as a unifying factor for her PA group by making a group playlist filled with their song recommendations. Her PA group built a community around sing-alongs to Frank Ocean and Justin Bieber throwbacks, she said.

“I would play a song that someone had suggested over email in summer, and then they’d smile and be like, ‘Oh, you remembered,’” she said. “Blasting music (while) walking down the road –– I miss that.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @ck_525