Reflecting on 19 years of dance through a movie

My name is Olivia Rockvam and I am a senior biology major and psychology minor. I danced with the Wheaton College Dance Company and Tap Out Loud all four years at Wheaton, and this year I was a co-captain for Dance Company.

Senior Company members are invited to choreograph and perform individual solos during the fall and spring semester shows. I have always enjoyed watching these pieces since I knew they were created to showcase the talents of one person instead of a group. I was scheduled to perform mine during the Company’s spring show this year (April 23-25, 2020).

Once the college moved to remote operations due to COVID-19, I knew that I would no longer have this opportunity. However, I believe that talking about this piece can be as valuable as performing it because I can explain what it means to me.

I was eight years old when the movie Happy Feet was released, and since then the emperor penguin has been my favorite animal. I also learned a couple life lessons.

The movie emphasizes the power of individuality and refusal to change for others. Mumble is an emperor penguin who cannot sing. Normally this spells doom because every penguin uses their own heart song to attract a mate. However, Mumble is an incredible tap dancer. He struggles to belong and, at one point, is exiled and blamed for being the cause of an environmental crisis. He decides to set out on an adventure to find the true source of the problem and ultimately becomes a hero when he solves it. He is accepted by the other penguins and even attracts a mate who loves him for who he is.

I had always considered myself unique compared to the other dancers in the Company because I grew up mostly trained in classical ballet (and Broadway tap and jazz). Aside from a just-for-fun class that I took annually during my studio’s summer workshop, I had never been exposed to contemporary or modern dance prior to Wheaton. I ended up enjoying the two styles, but I continued to keep ballet, tap, and jazz close to my heart. Whenever I choreographed for either Dance Company or TOL, I always tried to be different in order to add variety to the shows. I think it worked out because it sounded like the audience enjoyed my choreography.

As a biology major, I was also impacted by the environmental message from the movie. It did a wonderful job at portraying some of the current issues in an age-appropriate manner. In addition to the movie, I noticed the impact of these problems while studying abroad in Australia last spring. If there’s one thing we can do, it’s take care of the world around us.

I knew I wanted my solo to be particularly unique, so I decided that I would portray myself as Mumble and tell his story. Using music from the movie, I learned advanced tap combinations to mimic his dancing, and added some ballet to fill gaps.

I’m sorry that I was not able to perform this in April. I know it would have been enjoyable, but now it’s on to new adventures. I have no idea where I’ll be in ten years, but I look forward to seeing what opportunities come up.

I’d like to thank Professor Cheryl Mrozowski, Professor Julie Searles, my other dance instructors, fellow Company dancers, TOL dancers, and anyone else who helped me grow as a dancer and individual here at Wheaton. It has been fun!