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JanTerms: embracing the arts and expression


To many, JanTerm is considered quintessential Westminster. While the weather is cold, students’ hearts grow warm at an opportunity to engage in experiential, project-based learning. What better way is there to “love, challenge, lead, [and] change” than through the making and learning of the arts? Below, students share reflections of some of Westminster’s most beloved arts Janterms. 

Culture of Entertainment: Dance

Culture of Entertainment, taught by Nurfatimah Merchant and Christopher Allen, explores styles of dance such as swing, salsa, tango, and more, as well as the connection that music and dance have to transculturation. But what is transculturation? 

“Transculturation [is] how different cultures and interpretations mix to create something new,” said senior Alexandra Yuan. “Ever since we looked at styles of dance and how they have transculturated over time, I’ve definitely begun to notice it more…in Flik’s Asian-fusion dishes.” 

Dance is also quintessentially Westminster: it’s bold, challenging, and expressive. At the same time, the beauty of dance lies in its difficulty and the dedication required to master it.

  “Something unexpected that I learned from the dance JanTerm was the insane amount of time that competitive ballroom dancers put into their routines, and more impressively how many of them do it while working a full time job!” said junior Augie Bunting. “Mr. Allen…a physics teacher here at Westminster, became the amateur [ballroom] national champion all while working a full time job and only practicing with his partner in the afternoon. [It makes] me appreciate the sport even more.” 

Culture of Entertainment culminated in a flash mob dance in Malone, easily the most memorable activity of the month. 

“My favorite assignment would probably be the flash mob we orchestrated in Malone,” said Yuan. 

The WaltzCats had planned to subtly stand up in pairs and begin swing dancing as Walk the Moon’s Shut Up and Dance played over the loudspeaker in the lunchroom. However, initial technical difficulties meant that the music didn’t start on time, leaving the eight in the Janterm unsure of whether they could pull it off. 

“We were all nervous to perform…and the added suspense of not knowing when the music would start made it more stressful,” said Bunting. “We got the loudspeaker working eventually, and two by two the members of our JanTerm got up in pairs to swing dance to the music. It was a bit awkward with all the chairs and people, but I’m really glad we got to do it.” 

Of course, one of the most valuable elements of dance is the embrace of freedom in spontaneity, a quality that can help one not just in dance but in life. 

Live Performance: Experiment, Collaborate, and Present!

Live Performance, led by Asha Dawson, Jason Maynard, and Jack Morgan, encourages students to explore areas of live performance such as spoken word, comedy, improv, and music. 

“Live Performances is a class for anyone willing to put in the effort to try something new and to put themselves out there,” said freshman Erick Gonzalez. 

The exploration doesn’t stop there; the final presentation of the course is a show for all of the students to showcase their performances for the school. 

“An incredible amount of work went into practicing the songs, rehearsing, setting up the stage, and also adapting to any other problems before and during the performance itself. The end product felt so fulfilling since we got to apply everything we had learned about improvisation, music structure, blues, jazz, and performances…it was fun to play with a group of people we all felt comfortable with. I will never forget [the final performance],” said Gonzalez. 

Live performance, according to the people in it, is one of the best ways to express oneself and grow comfortable with one’s own voice as an artist.

Experience of Time: Physics, Philosophy, Music and Film

Experience of Time, under Brianna Slone, Mario Chard, and Caleb Boone, leads students in an exploration of the meaning of time, through lenses such as general and special relativity, time travel (including many film and literary depictions), social experiments involving time, musical time, brain research on time and executive functioning, photography, dream analysis, and a lot more.

“During my JanTerm, I learned how much time impacts my daily life and how it can change my perception of the world around me….I realized that my life is purely centered around tasks and activities that have a strict beginning and end….my thoughts are always centered around time,” said freshman Anna Stewart. 

Thinking about time also ultimately leads one to try not to think about time–that maybe what matters most isn’t the question of how time works itself but how people can live full lives no matter how much time one has.

 “This difference in perception is [because of] our psychological and emotional understanding of time, which varies from person to person. I thought that the emotional connection that our brains have to time was interesting, and I enjoyed learning more about how our emotions affect the way we think about time,” said Stewart.

Experience of Time culminated in a trip to Pisgah Astronomical Research Center in  North Carolina, which Stewart cited as her favorite part of the JanTerm. 

“[At the Research Center], we stayed in a dark sky reserve…once the sun had set, we were able to see the Milky Way, stars, and planets of our solar system…I will take [the experience] with me forever.”

Many of the artistic JanTerms offered this year held a special place in the hearts of those who took them. From flash mobs to observing the Milky Way, these Wildcats took away important lessons from the month of January.

Edited by Helen Hong

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