Distinguished Achievement Program

Dance Example

Cathryn Lempke read Martha Graham’s autobiography Blood Memory in the summer before her senior year. She had studied modern dance in high school and had discovered Martha Graham during her junior year. The drama of Graham’s choreography and the costumes, colors, and intense expressions of the dancers fascinated Cathryn.

In the spring of her junior year, Cathryn had investigated the possibility of designing a DAP dance project in her senior year. Her dance instructor, Ms. Splawn, encouraged her to consider what she would like to study and the ways she would explore her subject. Cathryn was uncertain about committing to a year-long project until she read Graham’s book. Cathryn felt an immediate connection to the themes and problems Graham faced. She was curious about the relationship of the American modern dance movement, which was originally a women’s movement, to the social history of American women of the same time period.

Cathryn was excited about her DAP project and completed her project proposal during the first month of her senior year. She planned to research the influence of Martha Graham on the American modern dance movement, to examine several contemporary schools of dance, and to choreograph a dance investigating a theme or problem historically important to contemporary dance. Ms. Splawn helped Cathryn find an expert in modern dance in the Houston area to serve as her project mentor, and Cathryn included a brief biographical sketch of her mentor, Mr. Wallis, in her proposal.

According to the proposal, her project would include the following:

  • Written intent of the project
  • A journal tracing the development of the research and final dance
  • Videotapes of several rehearsals
  • An original, choreographed dance
  • A performance of the original dance
  • A presentation on the development of the project
  • Response, justification, and recommendations for future
  • Evaluation and assessment of the performance by the panel, Ms. Splawn, and Mr. Wallis.

Together Cathryn, Ms. Splawn, and Mr. Wallis outlined the project timeline and determined the criteria for assessing the quality of the final performance and presentation.

After extensive research on Martha Graham, several of her dancers like Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham, and the social context of Graham’s work, Cathryn determined the conceptual basis for her original dance. Her research included watching videos of Graham’s dances, listening to recordings of accompanying music, reading interviews with Graham’s dancers and collaborators, and reading Graham’s writings. Cathryn, Ms. Splawn, and Mr. Wallis met regularly to discuss the project’s development and to talk about the evolution of Cathryn’s ideas on dance and choreography. Cathryn researched the theoretical bases of different schools of dance and developed justifications of her own theories of choreography.

After a challenging and rewarding year of research and work with three student dancers, Cathryn spent the last several weeks of school making final preparations for the performance. She organized her presentation of the research and project development. She wrote program notes, invited guests, and confirmed a panel of experts to critique the performance.

On the night of the dance, Cathryn, Ms. Splawn, Mr. Wallis, friends, family, guests, and the panel of experts gathered in a small performance hall. Cathryn gave her presentation on the history of Martha Graham’s modern dance and how it relates to early twentieth-century America, to contemporary modern dance, and to her own choreography. She included a video clip of Graham’s Appalachian Spring and discussed the themes and problems in her own dance. After the presentation, the dancers performed Cathryn’s piece, and Cathryn answered the panel’s questions about her plans for future work and her suggestions for other DAP participants. The panel asked Cathryn challenging questions about her project, referenced the pre-determined assessment criteria, and reviewed notes taken during the presentation and dance. The panel carefully and thoroughly assessed the results of Cathryn’s year-long project before accepting her work. Finally, Ms. Splawn awarded Cathryn her grade.