Fata Morgana Reappears Following Hiatus and Controversy

An empty GDS dance studio. Photo by Reid Alexander.

After a yearlong wait, the heads of Fata Morgana released a spring 2021 video performance on June 1. It is the only performance that GDS’ student-run dance company has presented this school year and the first video the club has released since it faced criticism online about its leadership selection process last summer.

“We’re still around,” said dance and acting teacher Maria Watson, Fata’s faculty advisor.

After the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, Fata produced a video showcase filmed entirely at home. When the fall rolled around, the club’s heads, junior Lauren Lemer and senior McKenzie Jameson, surveyed students to gauge their interest in participating virtually. Given a lukewarm response, they made the decision to go on a hiatus.

At the beginning of the spring semester, the heads revisited the conversation. “We were like, we have to do something; we cannot go a full year without doing Fata,” Lemer said, “so McKenzie and I sent out another survey asking if anyone was interested, if they would want to participate in a virtual video.”

More students expressed interest than in the fall. Lemer and Jameson choreographed a dance to the Cascada song “Evacuate The Dancefloor,” recorded themselves teaching the steps and sent it to everyone who indicated that they wanted to participate. Students learned the dance individually and recorded clips to send in.

While no official meetings were held in person, seniors began to meet at school in April to rehearse. “To actually be here and be in the dance studio, that was great,” Watson said.

The ten-minute spring 2021 video was shared with students, faculty and staff via email and posted to Fata’s Instagram page on Tuesday, June 1. It featured three dances and a montage dedicated to the seniors in the club. It had been 382 days since Fata, which normally holds two live performances a year, produced content.

And the video came 336 days after an anonymous post on the Instagram account Black at GDS in June 2020 called out Fata for “a history of only electing white female heads.” The post initiated a conversation among current and former GDS students, including those who thought that Fata had a history of its heads choosing successors of the same race, social circles and outside dance studios.

On July 1, the day after the Black at GDS post, Lemer and Jameson, who are both white, shared a statement on the Fata Morgana Instagram account responding to the grievances and outlining the criteria by which Lemer and previous heads were selected. They said that past club heads primarily considered organizational and leadership ability and tended to favor sophomore applicants who can serve as head for a longer period. Lemer joined Jameson as a head at the beginning of 2020, their terms staggered to improve fluidity.

The two heads also wrote in their June 2020 statement, “During our time in Fata, decisions about leadership positions have not been made on friendship, or popularity.” They have since taken the post down.

The day after their first statement, the heads released a second one, this time announcing that Fata heads will be elected by the club’s members moving forward.

Lemer was asked to answer for her selection six months after it was announced. She said the controversy “was difficult for me because I had no part in the picking of the heads.”

Senior Kendall Watts, a Black dancer who applied for the head position for which Lemer was chosen, was a subject of the conversation sparked by the Black at GDS account. In private conversations and responses to the Fata heads’ statement on Instagram, some students implied that Watts should have been chosen. “It was definitely awkward,” she told the Bit. “Everybody’s eyes were on me in that moment.”

Lemer expressed concern that the Black at GDS post and subsequent dialogue might dissuade rising freshmen from joining Fata.

Freshman dancer Anissa McGinnis said she heard of the Black at GDS post about Fata before joining the club for its virtual season this spring. “It didn’t deter me from joining, just because I kind of expect that out of a club at a PWI [predominantly white institution].” McGinnis added that she has not detected any cause for concern thus far.

Fata’s leaders plan on returning to normal with in-person practices and shows next year. Jameson, whose term was extended to this spring after the hiatus, is heading to college, but Lemer has not set a plan for when she will be replaced.

Watts was among the dancers in the recently released video after having been at the center of the debate over Fata’s head selection process. “We obviously haven’t done as much as we usually do,” Watts said, but the two co-heads have “done a pretty good job of trying to still keep that Fata energy.”

Andrew Mikhail ’23

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