By Hannah Stumpf and Hope Bolinger | Echo
The Welcome Weekend Dance has evolved a great deal over the years.
Back in 2014, students gathered in flannels in the Odle parking lot, square dancing with partners to country music lead by MCs such as Bob Davis, according to Brennan Bookmyer ('16). Others loitered by the sidelines, able to snack on hot dogs, corn and chips, as recalled by Sharee Nurse ('17).
Some students enjoyed this version of the TSO dance known as the "Hoedown." Cody Theien ('17), for instance, appreciated meeting new students through partnering up during the various dances: "It was cool because it forced interaction. It was a good ice breaker."
However, others, such as Nurse, appreciated the change of pace into a luau in 2015. "They played more music that was easy to dance to that seemed to represent more genres like pop and hip hop." Nurse said her previous year at the Hoedown felt more isolating for those who had not grown up listening to country music nor having ever learned a square dance.
The past two years of the luau have elicited positive responses from students such as Nurse. Nevertheless, although Theien believed the luau had provided a great space for upperclassmen to meet after the summer, the dance in years past presented a few challenges for the new students coming to Taylor: mainly limited space for dancing and a long snow cone line.
For this year's Welcome Weekend Dance, TSO set forth with a mission to make the event even more welcoming, according to Student Body Vice President Noah Nemni.
"For the Welcome Weekend Dance, we wanted to create a place to welcome new students to campus and to reconnect with friends you haven't seen all summer," Nemni said. "So that meant more space, more light, and more activities for people with diverse interests and personalities."
A handful of these activities - for those who may not have a forte in dance or wanted to try some diverse events - included volleyball, canoe water stations, fire pits with s'mores and high tables for one-on-one conversations. Executive Cabinet Member and junior Sarah Manko, who wore a shark costume during the event, was one of the estimated 55 people who helped set up for the dance and served a 30-minute slot at one of the stations. "We wanted to keep the introvert in mind," Manko said. "Or really anyone who gets tired at large gatherings - and create more spaces for conversation."
With new changes and old traditions in mind, students reflected on last weekend's event. Senior Zach Moore felt the diversity of activities at this year's luau made the event more welcoming for freshmen, but still reminisces about experiencing the hoedown.
"The hoedown was fun because it was a big event where you dance with a lot of people, you don't have to be good at dancing, and how can you not be happy when you're square dancing?" Moore said.
As PA for Samuel Morris' Foundation, Moore felt his floormates connected more over the variety sports: something the luau has expanded on.
"First of all we round everyone up into the lobby and just walked down together," Moore said. "And then it kind of felt like a mother duck walking her ducklings into the party and then they all ran past me and did their own thing" said Moore.
Sophomore Noah Zaleski also noted the variety of activities being a new positive, most notably professional sound equipment and lighting. The location of the dance from the beach to the lawn created a welcoming vibe. The diversity of the activities gave more students options.
"I'm not one to dance really, but I love the fact of I could've went to play volleyball or cornhole or whatever," Zaleski said.
Freshmen on Zaleski's floor embraced the excitement of the event, especially afterward when they shared their first luau experiences with the upperclassmen. Zaleski favored the luau over past events such as the hoedown because it was less specific to a certain type of culture and more about being a summer send off.
Junior Grace Todd described the weekend's event as being more organized and focused more on community when compared to the first luau hosted in 2014. Todd and her floor made it a priority to engage the freshmen in the event: "We made sure that everybody was dressed," said Todd."That everyone had floral clothes or something Hawaiian."
The luau provided a platform for Todd and her friends to expand on. Taking pictures with her brother floor and going to Steak 'n Shake afterward made a night out of it.
Whether in years past or during last Saturday, TSO proved to cultivate community and memories through a Welcome Weekend event that truly dances to a different tune each year.