SOC seeks to change name to reflect group makeup

Members of Spirit of the Creative, formerly Spirit of Color, perform at the group's winter 2017 show. (Courtesy Ray Bernoff)

On Jan. 19, dance troupe SOC posted a statement on its Instagram account announcing its decision to change its name from Spirit of Color to Spirit of the Creative.

According to the statement, members of the black community have expressed concern in recent years that the low number of black students in SOC made its original name inappropriate.

Spirit of Color was created as a space for Students of Color at Tufts, and more specifically Black students. However, the makeup of our group no longer reflects the purpose and intention of our group’s original name,” the statement reads.

These concerns were originally ignored by SOC because of the significant number of students of color in the group, the statement adds.

“What we were failing to acknowledge was the difference between a lack of People of Color, and a lack of Black students on the team,” the statement reads.

Kelly Burk, a director of SOC, told the Daily that the group is unable to provide detailed statistics on the racial or ethnic identities of its members, as such data is not actively collected.

“Previous attempts to quantify our diversity have resulted in very complex and frustrating emotions, especially for multiracial members, and also had the potential to lead to tokenization of various members of the group,” Burk, a senior, told the Daily in an electronic message.

In the spring of 2017, SOC began to have conversations about the criticism that they had received due to their lack of diversity and representation, although these two meetings were initially closed for only SOC members, according to Burk.

“It took some time for the group to accept the criticism we were receiving and stop being defensive,” Burk said. “It also took some time to figure out the best way to have productive conversations about what was happening.”

According to SOC‘s statement, in November 2017, SOC held a meeting that was open to members of the black community at Tufts. Junior Caila Bowen attended this open meeting and expressed her discomfort at the group no longer living up to what its original name, Spirit of Color, represented.

“People do not give enough credit to names. Names when said can evoke a plethora of emotions. And seeing a group full of mostly white people dancing under the name “Spirit of Color” doesn’t evoke anything positive,” Bowen told the Daily in an electronic message.

Burk explained that members of SOC ultimately voted on changing the group’s name before their show last fall. She added that after brainstorming and considering different options, the group chose Spirit of the Creative, which was originally suggested on the Black Jumbos Facebook group. 

“One of the things that was important to the group was keeping the same letters ‘SOC’ as our acronym,” sophomore David Park, an SOC member, said.

According to the statement, members of SOC felt that it was necessary to change the group’s name after realizing that they had lost touch with its history as a dance group for black students. Several other groups on campus openly discussed their history as artistic spaces created by and for black students in a Feb. 21, 2017 article in the Tufts Observer.

Sophomore Desmond Fonseca, a member of BlackOut Step Team, shared how his team continues to honor its history as a space for black students.

“I can’t imagine a BlackOut that doesn’t center blackness and black student experiences,” Fonseca told the Daily in an electronic message. “The team is mostly black men. The art form of step itself is black. The music we step to is black. Our skits are often directly tied to a black American culture. Even with a white captain, BlackOut is unquestionably a black space for black students at Tufts University.”

A long-term goal of SOC’s current leadership is to educate members on both the history of the group and the history of hip-hop as a black art form, according to both Burk and Emma Bednarski, an assistant director of SOC.

“It will take time to implement this because we’re currently not equipped to teach this and there is a lot we need to learn, but we hope to someday be able to share with our members why the history of hip-hop and the history of SOC are important,” Bednarski, a sophomore, said.

Another one of SOC’s new initiatives is an overhauled audition process. Previously, the group’s auditions required dancers to learn and perform the choreography in the span of just of a few hours, according to the statement. The new process introduced two sessions for students to learn the choreography and an optional review session, all of which took place the week before auditions, according to a video posted to the group’s Facebook page.

Park noted that having time to learn and review the choreography may encourage students who have not had formal dance training to audition for the group.

“This new process is more inclusive of all socioeconomic backgrounds, because in the past, the audition process was easier for those who could afford to take dance classes and had a dance background prior to auditioning,” Park said.

First-year Zoe Adamopoulos was successful in both last and this semester’s auditions and expressed support for the new audition process.

“I think what they did for auditions this semester was really great because it allowed for people to not only have a week to practice the audition piece, but also gave them a good idea of the level of dance with SOC,” Adamopoulos said.

Sophomore Kingsley Udoyi auditioned for SOC every semester since his first year at Tufts but was only successful in this semester’s audition. He said that the new audition process allowed participants to focus on enjoying the dance, rather than perfecting the routine.

“They gave people the opportunity to actually ask questions to see what they are looking for, to practice, practice, practice and get it down and to be able to be more comfortable on the stage and show more of their personality,” Udoyi said. “Because you spent all week practicing, it should be drilled into your head.”

Bowen said that these changes are positive steps towards making SOC a more inclusive dance group.

“The end of this audition process alone brought at least three black people on the [team] that I personally know of. I can’t speak to any other [student of color], but considering the history of the group — that speaks volumes,” she said.

Moving forward, Burk said that SOC is excited to continue establishing new initiatives that will make the group more accessible to everyone who is interested in joining.

Park thanked the black community on campus for their time dedicated to expressing their opinions and attending the open meeting, which has been incredibly valuable to everyone at SOC.

“One of the many reasons for the name change was to make sure people felt comfortable with SOC as a group and this insight would have never been possible without the black community at Tufts,” Park said.