Girls in Motion Brings Community to Cat

Anne Pride-Wilt, Arts Editor

It can be easy for Oberlin students to forget that the world isn’t entirely peopled by 18to 22-year-olds, with the occasional professor thrown in for good measure. The bubble isn’t always a bad thing, but aside from the altruistic souls who volunteer in the community, most of us go weeks without seeing anyone under the age of 13. During the Girls in Motion dance performance in the Cat in the Cream on Wednesday night, any curious college student could have remedied that dearth — the performance was about anything but college students, as local elementary and middle school girls and their families took center stage.

Girls in Motion was founded 10 years ago by Professor of Dance Ann Cooper Albright. At twice-weekly meetings, student mentors lead the girls through physical activities like dance and yoga; the program seeks to foster mentorship between Oberlin girls and Oberlin College students with the goal of encouraging confidence and health. The after-school program for girls began at Oberlin’s Langston Middle School but eventually expanded to Prospect Elementary School and the Oberlin Boys and Girls Club. All three groups were represented in Wednesday’s show.

The audience in the packed Cat was, unsurprisingly, a jumble of local families, complete with countless tottering younger siblings and grandparents. The evening’s unofficial MC, College sophomore and Girls in Motion mentor Emily Schcolnik, kept things moving quickly despite the slightly chaotic atmosphere. When the first group, about two dozen girls from Prospect Elementary, took the stage, it was in a flutter of giggles, smiles and shy waves to parents in the audience. Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” set the soundtrack for their dance, a charming and kid-friendly choice that was mirrored by the girls’ attitudes. The dance was simple but sweet, and if some of the smaller girls were a little behind the music, who was complaining? Their parents, whooping and cheering in the audience, certainly weren’t.

After the Prospect girls filed off, the Boys and Girls Club of Oberlin (the “Girls” half, that is) and their enthusiastic College mentors performed a dance to “One Step at a Time” by Jordin Sparks. The song’s feel-good, self-empowering lyrics seemed appropriate considering the mission of Girls in Motion. However, the next song, Katy Perry’s “Firework,” performed by next year’s Girls in Motion mentors, didn’t. One wonders if any preteen girl has ever really felt “like a plastic bag,” but nonetheless the five older girls’ dance was languid, pleasant and age-appropriately, a step or two up in difficulty from those of the Prospectand Boys and Girls Club girls. A pair of the five broke off to do a brief, cartwheel-happy bop to the earworm “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” by Fergie, and then a second pair did the same for a version of Chris Kenner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances.”

But the dancing wasn’t really the point. After Professor Albright’s mid-show bevy of announcements, the 15 or so College mentors lined up onstage to introduce themselves, with accompanying offstage screams from the girls for particularly beloved mentors, before the mentors turned around to present awards to the girls themselves, culminating in a round of “Happy Birthday” for an adorably starstruck birthday girl.

After a heartwarming, if too-long, slideshow of Girls in Motion photos, the girls all performed their dances again. Then, to the collective groan of the parents in the audience, everyone was invited to the stage to dance with the girls, with many an unenthusiastic sibling hoisted onstage by their sisters.

It wasn’t about the College students, or even the mentors — although they certainly had a little well-earned time in the spotlight — and especially not about whatever random college students happened to wander into the Cat after dinner that evening.

It’s surreal, but a good surreal, to see a space so associated with the College put to such vibrant, cheering, community use. There are kids in Oberlin, folks, and they dance.