Featured Spotlights

Defining Duke

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Midterms, Finals, Projects, Shooters, class… do we ever catch a break? The life of a Duke student can be overwhelming, and hectic times can make us overlook  the amazing things our peers are up to. However DefMo’s videos were sure to wind up in our newsfeed and of course we got hyped. The Duke Arts Scene is an emerging gold mine and it’s student groups like DefMo who remind us that there is more to Duke than tenting and Perkins…

Duke students are seldom impressed. When you go to school full of students that are always doing something groundbreaking or out-of-the-ordinary, you kind of become desensitized to the amazing people around you. So you know it’s big –really big–when the student body comes together to support a student group. In this case: DefMo.

Defining Movement (most commonly known as DefMo) was established fifteen years ago by Christina C. Peng and has been defining the Duke Arts scene ever since. However, in the last two weeks the word “DefMo” has been tossed around more than ever due to their participation in the Red Bull Bracket Reel Challenge (“a bracket-style, video-edit competition in which 16 college dance crews face off to see who can cut the best video”), in which the group qualified for the quarter-finals.  On all forms of social media, the videos were shared, reshared and constantly talked about. DefMo’s incredible dance routines and passion for their art, paired with outstanding videography, was the perfect wake-up call for the Duke community with regards to the arts.

So what is DefMo? And who are the people that make DefMo what it is?

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Since its founding, DefMo’s mission has been to contribute to the Duke and Durham arts community through a mix of multiculturalism and a strong passion for dance. However, in a university with an environment centered around academic and athletic excellence, it is easy to forget, or even disregard, the strong innovation and creativity that stems from a love for the creative and artistic fields.

Nevertheless, the art scene at Duke has been thriving. Fourteen other Duke groups fall into the dance scene and benefit from the school funding that is being put-to-work to provide spaces on campus catered to artistic endeavors. Yet, funding and institutional support only goes so far in life — it takes time, dedication, passion and creativity to move an entire community towards the arts.

On all forms of social media, the videos were shared, reshared and constantly talked about.

Not to mention a strong emphasis on individualism within the group. The students that compromise DefMo don’t necessarily share the same life experiences, interests, social groups, and cultural backgrounds. Instead, what brings the members of DefMo together is a passion for dancing.

“[DefMo has] no specific personality. It is a mesh of personalities that we have already,” Travis Smith, DefMo sophomore, said.

DefMo is a group that prizes individuality and personal artistic growth. Rather than seeking homogeneity, they are able to create harmony by blending their individual styles and exploring new dance expressions. It is this originality that ultimately defines DefMo’s identity: through their different styles and experiences, each member is able to create unique pieces that foster the dynamic vibe that is clear their videos.

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As best expressed by Riley Reardon, Co-President of DefMo, “We got the chance to mix the arts together; [the competition] was a chance for us to explore the choreographic process and to learn how to showcase everyone in their own way.”

“[DefMo has] no specific personality. It is a mesh of personalities that we have already,” Travis Smith, DefMo sophomore, said.

With their multiple projects and frequent participation in showcases, DefMo strives to mix their artistic passions with their professional and academic interests, all in an effort to show the community that there doesn’t have to be a trade-off between a set academic path and individual creative passions. Within the group, each dancer has been able to use dance as a means of explaining and emphasizing specific academic concepts –from Neuroscience projects to individual endeavors to creating the amazing videos that swept us off our feet, DefMo showed us that even though we’re on the grind more than half of the time we’re awake, it doesn’t mean that the only way we can relieve  our stress is through crying after a bad night in Perkins.

More than a wake-up call to Duke about the  power of the arts scene, DefMo’s participation in the Bracket Reel Competition  was a refreshing break from the mid-semester stupor that had settled over campus. Their performance in the competition meant that we saw  our peers dancing on a national–even international–spotlight one day and then walking around headed to their early morning midterms the next. We were suddenly and forcefully made aware that our fellow classmates were doing something outside of what Duke and their professional aspirations demand of them. And not only did they do it, they did it amazingly well.

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As Senior Aurelia says, “What matters was that the longer we stayed in the competition, the longer our message stayed out and the more people it reached.”

And it was a message we heard. Having strangers come up to them at West Union and say “Hi! I voted for you guys!” and “ Great job on the video!” was more than rewarding for the team and Connor Guest, one of the main videographers, as they spent countless hours practicing, choreographing, designing and editing everything about the competition videos (aside from their regular DefMo practice, extracurricular activities, midterms, classes, doctor’s  appointments, lunch, shooters…you know, the usual).

“What matters was that the longer we stayed in the competition, the longer our message stayed out and the more people it reached.”

The fact that DefMo’s participation in the competition brought a surge in the general interest it does not mean that it was not there before. And this is exactly what DefMo and the Red Bull Challenge really emphasized to Duke–a powerful glimpse of the impact a group’s genuine passion for their art can have on an entire student body. Simply through their own engagement with and commitment to their individual and communal passions, DefMo was able to immerse Duke into the art scene. They made us look, and garnered support and appreciation for art by doing so–an outstanding feat in and of itself.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget, in our overachieving, goal-oriented bubbles, that what tangentially defines Duke-culture, what defines us are people like those in DefMo–those that revive our interest and appreciation for other’s passions and those that inspire us to create our own movements.

They made us look, and garnered support and appreciation for art by doing so–an outstanding feat in and of itself.

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Writer: Sofia Velasquez

Editors: Vivian Zhang and Emilie Padgett

Photos by: Sonia Fillipow and Simon Shore

Web: Noa Saint-Marc

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