Student research illuminates historical prominence of Philadelphia ballet

Emily Hawk ’16 researched history of dance in Philadelphia.

Emily Hawk ’16 (left) researched history of dance in Philadelphia with Lynn Brooks (right), Arthur and Katherine Shadek professor of humanities and dance and Brooks College House don.

By Tracey Nguyen, Contributing Writer ||

Alongside Lynn Brooks, the Arthur and Katherine Shadek professor of humanities and dance and Brooks College House don, Emily Hawk ’16 researched the cultural influences within the Philadelphia dance scene between 1820 and 1860.

Hawk began by theorizing about possible factors that led to the prominence of dance in Philadelphia, including the goal of emulating Europe.

“Finding connections that came from all these different places of my life and bringing it together for this project, I finally felt like a historian,” Hawk said. “It made me want to research more.”

For Hawk, dance and history, which are the two majors she is pursuing, did not intertwine until this past summer when she participated in the Hackman Scholar Program.

This program gives students the opportunity to work side by side with professors or advisers to complete extensive research in an area of interest. The research takes place over the course of ten weeks during the summer.

“Most people would think of New York City when they think of a big city for dance, and that was true — New York City was a cultural hub — but Philadelphia was still very prominent in the dance scene,” Hawk said. “Professor Brooks and I were interested in seeing why that was so.

“Three out of the four big ballet stars at the time were based in Philadelphia, but nobody thinks of Philadelphia as a dance city now,” she continued. “We were looking at the three dancers in particular: Mary Ann Lee, George Washington Smith, and Augusta Maywood. From there we discovered many other people that performed in Philadelphia at the time, but that was our springboard.”

With the resources from The College’s Shadek Fackenthal Library, Brooks and Hawk assembled a chronology of performances with their respective locations, titles, and performers. The two also traveled to The Library Company of Philadelphia, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts for their research.

“That was where we started filling in the gaps of information,” Hawk said. “We would find playbills and on the playbill would be all the missing information of who was playing what part that wasn’t listed in the book that we had here at Shadek-Fackenthal.”

Throughout the research process, Hawk and Brooks handled actual documents from the 1800s that they have been cataloging for their research.

“It was now in my hand,” Hawk said. “That was really exhilarating.”

Using Google Spreadsheet and a research tool called Zotero, Hawk and Brooks organized the photos they compiled and information they acquired.

“Professor Brooks was very trusting in that I wouldn’t overlook a lot of the information, so she let me have my own system with my notebooks, my laptop, my spreadsheet to organize all the information and keep it,” Hawk said.

Hawk is hopeful that all this research will help her with her future studies and is appreciative of the experience the Hackman Scholar Program gave her.

“To get this kind of experience and to get paid to do it — it’s like a dream,” Hawk said.

“Just the experience alone would’ve been great,” she continued. “It wasn’t just the academic components, but it was also the social components and the connection that you make with the professor. I would definitely recommend the Hackman Scholar program to anyone that gets asked to do it.”

First-year Tracey Nguyen is a
contributing writer. Her email is
tnguyen4@fandm.edu
.

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