Summer performance groups: a fun way to find new communities on campus

Faye Benjamin ’25 explores how dance, improv and a cappella groups provide sophomores with a fun outlet and new community.

by Faye Benjamin | 7/7/23 2:05am

by Lila Hovey / The Dartmouth

Towards the end of week one, students from all areas of campus with varying degrees of experience flocked to dance, improv and a cappella auditions. Whether to revisit a long lost talent, try something completely new or meet different people, summer performance groups are a highly anticipated part of sophomore summer, according to students. 

In total, there are seven summer performance groups, all of which have names that are creative spin-offs of their full year names. Five of the groups are dance-based: Shebalite, Ujimelt, Splenda, Raazberry and Soyeya. The two comedy groups are Dog Days of Summer and Summer Casual Thursday, and this summer’s sole a cappella group is Summerphonix.

Students eagerly flocked to auditions for summer dance groups this term. According to Raazberry co-director Eiha Patnaik ’25, there were 300 students who auditioned for all five dance groups. Shebalite co-creative director Elaine Xiao ’25 explained that around 150 students signed up for Shebalite auditions alone — nearly double the turnout that the Class of 2024 had last summer. 

Each performance group conducts auditions differently, making cuts based on the turnout. For example, Summerphonix held one round, Shebalite held two rounds and Dog Days of Summer held three rounds of auditions. 

When asked what they look for in the audition process, most directors had similar answers. In the summer, as opposed to during regular year auditions, experience and skill are not the main factors. 

“Obviously, we get a lot of people who have never sung before… I mean, that’s exactly what I wanted to bring in,” Summerphonix musical director Colby Lish ’25 said.

Instead of mastery of the art, effort and energy are the main priorities. Splenda director and Ujimelt member Rebecca Ronai ’25 noted: “We just looked for people who looked really enthusiastic or like they were trying really hard, even if they were messing up.” 

In addition to effort and energy, Patnaik said Raazberry took into consideration general “vibes” as well, seeking a fun group of people. 

Despite the unprecedented interest in dance groups, a cappella faced a decrease in popularity this term. Lish explained that normally there are three a cappella groups in the summer, instead of one. He speculates that full-time a cappella group members wanted a free summer to pursue other interests. That being said, multiple members of other a cappella groups joined Summerphonix.

Some students said summer performance groups are a highlight of the summer for full-time as well as new members. According to Lulu Alonso ’25, businessman of Dog Days of Summer, their summer improv group is “legendary” and a very big tradition that people talk about all year.

The specific skills and culture differ between summer performance groups, yet they are united by a common desire to have fun and meet new people. These groups present opportunities to spend time with individuals outside of one’s usual social circle. Daniel Lampert ’25, President of Dog Days of Summer, explained, “As much as it is an improv group, it’s very much a social group,” — a sentiment echoed by all the group directors interviewed. 

Each group plans bonding activities such as initiation traditions, new-member pong games and small parties. Dog Days of Summer usually participates in a softball league together, and Raazberry plans to sail on Lake Mascoma. These activities foster new friendships, encourage strong group culture and achieve the main goal: having fun!  

Some groups follow their full-year practice schedule, but most require a less intensive time commitment. All summer groups have a more relaxed rehearsal atmosphere as compared to their full-year counterparts. 

Since it is early in the summer, performance schedules are not fully decided yet. Friends and fans can expect around two to three shows from most groups. Some will be individual group performances, but most are a collaboration. Whether it be multiple dance groups performing together or a dance group and a comedy group, for example, these multi-group performances tend to draw a larger crowd.

Ignacio Gutierrez ’25, full-time member of Dog Day Players and member of Shebalite this summer, explained that last summer, Dog Days of Summer’s comedy shows got more support than he had ever seen. 

“Shows get packed… people are in the windows of frats trying to get in because they want to see their friends perform,” Gutierrez said. 

Summer performance groups also provide leadership practice for the directors and full-time members. Ronai mentioned that Splenda provides the first opportunity for junior directors to try leading a dance group, which acts as a test run before members hold leadership positions during senior year. Gutierrez also noted that teaching improv to his peers has helped him improve his own skills. 

On teaching his fellow Class of 2025 peers, as opposed to younger students, Lampert explained, “I personally find it easier to talk to people who I might know… if we’re equals, it’s just more communal.” 

Gutierrez said he empathizes with the new “summer dogs,” since he is also trying out Shebalite this summer. Although he loves dance, he admits that joining Shebalite and practicing a new skill has not been easy. 

“These people that are in [Shebalite] have all this flow, and they’re dancing in cursive,” Gutierrez joked . “I am dancing in Times New Roman.”

Students in two summer performance groups can draw lessons from one group to employ in the other. Although the hip hop style of Ujimelt is out of her comfort zone, Ronai said that it is helpful for her creativity as a Splenda director and in full-year Sugarplum dances.