When we first arrive on campus, we are viewed as a blank slate to this University. We are a horde of bright-eyed, well-rested freshmen, with numerous pathways laid before us, providing us with what we can and will become. At the University, we excel in academics and in athletics, but a large component of what makes our student body unique is our extracurricular activities. The dance groups on campus range from beginner to expert and cross a huge breadth of styles, and I was able to talk with Meredith Njus, the co-director of RhythM Tap Ensemble. A senior and neuroscience major, Meredith joined RhythM her freshman year, and has since risen to an executive position.

Sara Shamaskin

RhythM, established in 2000, was a group for girls with tap dancing experience. Though the dance community was smaller back then, RhythM quickly rose to become “an elite tap group,” according to Njus. With the skill set high, RhythM opened for business, accepting girls and encouraging them to keep dancing throughout college. The 15-person group wanted to show the dance community that tap could become, yet again, a popular performance medium. Meredith told me that tap is considered the truest American dance form, made popular by the likes of Fred Astaire in the 1920s. Now, RhythM puts the traditional steps and movements to popular tunes. “We use modern music, like hip hop tracks, because people on campus and audiences really respond to that a lot better than if we use something random or offbeat,” Njus said. Combining the old with the new helps to grab attention, for those that see RhythM as a saucy bunch of talented women or as a dance group with unmatched skill.

Upon first arriving to Michigan, we are bombarded with messages to find ourselves and to do what makes us happy. We each want to find a group that allows us to have great friends, to grow within the group and to have a lasting impact on our campus and within ourselves. Several studies have shown that being involved in a group on a campus, be it a large or small school, provides many benefits to students, both socially and academically. In the paper “College and its Effects on Students” presented in the Encyclopedia of Education in 2003, several authors addressed the link between a student’s extracurricular participation and their overall success in school. One of the nine generalizations that the authors Feldman and Newcomb said impacted students was: “… the more incongruent a student is with the overall environment of his [sic] college the more likely he is to withdraw from that college …” By finding something that closely fits the personality of a student, a student will obviously want to stay involved. Leaving college is no easy task, but tearing away from a student group within which you have immersed yourself is even more difficult. Other authors show that there is a positive association between having relations with student peer groups, faculty and academics and a student’s learning, educational performance and even social self-concepts. The difficulty of feeling as if you are one of several thousands of people is quickly diminished once you find a group that can make you feel like a vital team member, that the group would be incomplete without you present. The feeling that you matter, that you can elicit change, make people listen is a powerful feeling. A feeling that makes you want to stay at a university and continue to be a part of something that will forever remind you of college.

But it doesn’t need to just be a performance group. It could be volunteering, juggling, anime, archeology and so on. To the girls in RhythM, it is the group in which they became empowered on this campus. RhythM provides the University of Michigan with a tap dancing group that strives to allow the women they take in to find their sure-footing in a metal-tipped shoe, and to expand their repertoire of dances while still feeling like they have the ability to be outstanding in their style of dance and on the stage.

Sara Shamaskin can be reached at scsham@umich.edu.

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