• Zoe Phillips

From Scrolling to Dancing

Moments of Musicality Online

Last Tuesday, I found myself laying in bed when I should have been making myself a proper dinner. My thumb had settled into the routine up-down motion that all Instagram users know too well. Images of dancers and clips of dances floated through reflections in my glasses as I glazed over in a bored stupor. Each post seemed more cliché or downright stupid than the last, and I found myself teetering on the familiar consideration of quitting Instagram for good when my thumb hit one final video: a clip of a dance set to “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers. 


The post came from dancer/choreographer Nicholas Palmquist and was captioned with a plug for his upcoming class at Steps on Broadway, a famous New York City dance studio. Though well filmed, the clip is more of a rehearsal than a performance; the dancers wear leggings and t-shirts and stand inside a studio lined with bags and water bottles. The purple light coming in from the windows tells me that it was filmed in the evening, most likely at the end of another average workday for the students who dotted the studio’s floor. 


The dance, however, feels very much above average. Palmquist’s choreography uses the section of The Killers’s song that layers a fast drum beat underneath the slow repetition of the words “I got soul but I’m not a soldier.” For a choreographer, this poses a question: Which rhythm should I follow? Palmquist somehow melds both. Dancers bounce their shoulders quickly and then whip their upper bodies in slow motion. They move through intricate jumps only to stop and luxuriate through the air in relaxed power poses. It’s a brilliant mix of tension. 


Most of all, I’m captivated by one dancer — specifically the woman in the front. Though Palmquist tagged everyone in the clip, I don't feel comfortable making assumptions about which handle is hers. Perhaps the mystery becomes part of my intrigue. From beginning to end, she dances with a joy that builds in both ferocity and subtlety. She starts by whipping her head to the front to make eye contact with the camera and then breaks into a sly smile as she dips her head backward. Her entire chest and neck open as her upper body releases. It’s a vulnerable position, but her command over the space makes it powerful at the same time. 


As the music and choreography build, so does this fierce combination of strength and grace. The steps increase in size and sinuosity, but her musicality does not waver. The entire time, she stares down the front of the room with a beautiful intensity that only makes me want to keep watching. 


By the end, all the dancers break into their own informal jumping as if all those structured steps have finally bubbled over into pure, intense bliss. The front dancer lifts her palms to the sky and tips her head back as if she’s a girl in a made-for-television romcom, dancing in the rain. 


The first time that I found it, I watched the whole clip four times back-to-back. I saved it to my Instagram archive and watched it again the next day. The day after that I linked it in my story because I couldn’t get enough of it. This weekend, I watched it some more. Today, I started to think about the serendipitous events that allowed me to come across the video at all. 


I don’t remember any of the other content that floated by my eyes in the time I spent scrolling last Tuesday. I only remember a sense of gray frustration over how mundane everything online was, and the specificities of that time are gone forever. 


Despite this, I am left with the innate sense that time must not be equal, as this one-minute dance easily makes up for an hour lost somewhere else. Palmquist’s dancers’ fiercely joyful attack to musicality is enough to keep me on Instagram, wondering where my scrolling will take me next.

I wrote this article for The Michigan Daily. It was published on Nov. 18, 2019

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Updated 2020. Many thanks to Emily Considine for the header art at the top of my page!