Studying Joy

sawyer kadel hs-500-72
Sawyer Kadel is a Dance major in the Honors College who has created "Life of the Party" as part of a capstone research project, "The Social Aspect of Dance: Exploring Community Connection Within Movement.”

Sawyer Kadel (they/them), a senior Dance major in Radford University’s Honors program, thinks about dance in ways most people never consider. On February 24, people attending a performance called “The Life of the Party” will have a chance to see just what that means. 

The performance, which will include a question-and-answer period afterwards, is part of Kadel’s Honors Capstone project called “The Social Aspect of Dance: Exploring Community Connection Within Movement.”  

For most of this academic year, Kadel has been culling academic research and combining it with firsthand inquiry and experimentation. 

“We think of movement as simply a physical thing,” says Kadel. “But it’s really interesting to examine how it affects us as a people, how it affects our connection to one another and how it builds and changes relationships.” 

Kadel is also carrying a Psychology minor and says this contributed to the work. 

Academic dance study tends to focus on aesthetics, form and technique. In contrast, Kadel wanted to explore the “humanness” and interaction of dance in a way that mirrors the social way most people experience it. 

In other words, the vast majority of dancing takes place far from a professional studio or stage. People dance mostly as a spontaneous impulse when they connect with music at concerts, at home or at parties. 

In fact, it was party dancing that got Kadel thinking about these differences. 

“I’m really interested in parties, but in the nerdiest way possible,” Kadel said with a laugh. “I’m curious about what creates the perfect social environment for everyone to have a good time.” 

Having a good time is a significant part of Kadel’s inquiry, because professional dancers can lose a sense of joy as they focus on the work involved.  

Consider, for example, how much devotion and physical and mental discipline dance training, rehearsal and performance requires. 

Dancers can spend eight hours or more each day in a studio, in front of mirrors, trying to perfect specific movements and stretching their skills and abilities. They may also have additional exercise requirements, a diet to maintain and the simple demands of everyday life. 

All of that can take a toll, Kadel said, so they wanted to study what would happen when dance majors were given freedom to interact the way they wanted to. 

Since the performance is part of an academic capstone, there is a solid foundation in research as a starting place. To anchor the work, Kadel dove into studies published in the Dance Research Journal, the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, and the Journal of Social History, among others.


But the literature is only a framework for understanding and not a substitute for invention, experimentation, and observation. 

Therefore, under the mentorship of Professors James Robey and Amy VanKirk, and with additional guidance from the director of the Honors College, Dr. Niels Christensen, they brought together 15 dancers for the project. 

Rather than a strictly choreographed show, what emerged is a “set improv,” or a “score.” Dancers have a set of rules they have to follow, but the shape of the dances can change each time and the dancers are essentially creators. 

Dance major Toni Latham is part of the ensemble. She appreciates the opportunity explore dance in this way and has found “Life of the Party” invigorating and interesting. 

“We get to be our authentic, genuine selves in this piece,” Latham said.  

“The focus is on our social interaction with each other and the music,” she explained. “Music drives all of us and a change in the music can affect how we interact with one another.” 

Dance and Music major Meridythe Witt has contributed to generating ideas and movements for “Life of the Party.”

Witt said she’s enjoyed the rehearsal process and sees its unique value. 

“Sawyer’s design of their capstone and emphasis on breaking barriers between audience and dancer is such a fresh idea,” Witt noted. 

“This brings a new approach to performances in general and gives us performers a taste of what the dance world may look like in the future.” 

“Life of the Party” is open to anyone who would like to be in the audience and admission is free. It takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 24th in the Albig Studio in Peters Hall on Radford’s main campus. 


Kadel (right) observes as dancers experiment with communication through movement.

Feb 21, 2023
Sean Kotz