Author Archives: Tara Thean

HighSteppers perform on TV, return in time for Dean’s Date deadline

For some Princeton students, Dean’s Date is a campus-wide marathon of suffering; for others, it was a day for dancing on NBC’s The Today Show in Manhattan.

Millions of viewers watched the Princeton University HighSteppers, a co-ed step team at the University, stomp, slap, and shout live in Rockefeller Plaza on May 14. The team arrived in Manhattan at 5:15 a.m. and had its final rehearsal at 8:30 before beginning to shoot teasers for the live segment.

HighSteppers president Somers Fairchild ’15 called the experience “exhilarating,” noting that many of the group’s members had been eager to participate even though the event coincided with Dean’s Date. “Usually it’s kind of… I don’t want to say ‘pulling teeth,’ but it’s hard to get people to perform because people are busy all the time,” he said. “But I got flooded with emails [saying yes].”

After discovering the HighSteppers from YouTube videos of competition performances, The Today Show staff emailed the group to ask if they would perform for the show’s Varsity Week. “Of course that was a yes,” Fairchild said. After the email, which Fairchild received three weeks ago, the group began supplemental practices for their TV appearance at the same time as they were rehearsing for a guest performance at the BodyHype Dance Company spring show. 

The group arrived back in Princeton at 11:30 a.m., giving some members time to continue working on their Dean’s Date papers to make the University’s 5 p.m. deadline. “I napped for an hour and tried to finish all my work,” said Fairchild, who turned his final paper in at 4:58.

Video: Watch the HighSteppers’ Today Show performance below.


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Tiger of the Week: Mark Nelson ’77


Mark Nelson ’77, right, with Ari Brand in My Name is Asher Lev. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Mark Nelson ’77’s starring role in the off-Broadway play My Name is Asher Lev is more than a job — it represents what was for Nelson an adolescent validation. The play, which is based on a Chaim Potok novel of the same name, tells the story of a Hasidic Jewish youth whose artistic inclinations do not align with the religious undercurrents of his community. After reading the story at age 16, Nelson came to an understanding from its narrative that “there were lots of ways to be a good Jew.”

Nelson needed to hear that “sometimes parents don’t get it — that one’s particular nature needs to be honored sometimes at difficult cost,” he said, describing the challenges he encountered in reconciling his drive to make art with his family’s ideas about worthwhile pursuits. In working on the play, Nelson has found numerous people on whom the novel My Name is Asher Lev also had profound influence. “A lot of people need that affirmation that sometimes it’s more important to be happy than to be normal,” he noted.

Though Nelson struggled with his family’s views, he soon found a support system in Princeton friends and teachers — many of whom were involved in theater. Theater Intime was “a community of like-minded spirits,” and Nelson found a mentor in the late Daniel Seltzer ’54. Selzer taught modern drama and English; Nelson took every class the professor taught.

“The idea that someone could be a great scholar and actor at the same time was very inspiring to me,” Nelson said.

Nelson is now teaching at Princeton himself as a lecturer in theater at the Lewis Center for the Arts. He holds this appointment during the fall, which leaves him free to act and direct during the rest of the year. This March he received the 2013 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship, which will allow him to participate in a weeklong master class with six-time Golden Globe winner and five-time Emmy Award winner Alan Alda.

But working with students is a huge priority, he said.

“It’s just really satisfying to help students find their own power, their own voice, their own beauty,” he said. “I’m crazy about teaching.”

Like many of our Tiger of the Week honorees, Mark Nelson ’77 was nominated by a PAW reader. Do you have an idea for a future Tiger of the Week profile? Let us know.

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Freshman journalists connect with alumni professionals

Journalists Landon Jones ’66, Griff Witte ’00, and Jim Merritt ’66 shared their experiences with students from the Class of 2016 at a recent reception in Princeton. (Photo: Courtesy Charles R. Plohn k’66)

“I can’t believe they let me do this and pay me for it.” That’s how Landon Jones ’66 described his career in journalism to a group of 20 Princeton freshmen who gathered at his home April 7. 

Jones, a former managing editor of People (and former editor of PAW), said journalism has allowed him to satisfy his curiosity about virtually any subject. His speech kicked off “An Evening of Journalism and Writing,” organized as part of an ongoing effort to create a special relationship between the Class of 2016 and its “grandparent class,” or the class that will have its 50th reunion when the freshmen graduate.

Previous events have included a Campus Club pizza party and an oyster-eating contest at Blue Point Grill (during which Dominique Ibekwe ’16 ate 65 oysters in two minutes). “Tonight’s event will have a somewhat higher intellectual component … but the same spirit,” Class of ’66 president Charles Plohn Jr. said in his introductory remarks.

The evening’s speakers were generally encouraging about the journalism profession, despite its financial challenges. Washington Post deputy foreign editor Griff Witte ’00, son of Michael Witte ’66, said he appreciated the opportunity to be “constantly discovering” as a foreign correspondent. “Your preconceptions about the world are almost always wrong,” said Witte, who is teaching a course at Princeton this semester.

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Tiger of the Week: Courtney Dressing ’10

Just three years into graduate school at Harvard, Courtney Dressing ’10 has helped to find an earth-sized, potentially habitable planet that may be pretty close by. In astronomical terms, “pretty close by” is still 13 light years — about 76 trillion miles — away, but this is a small distance compared to the vast expanses astrophysicists are used to dealing with.

Earth-like planets are of a certain size and distance from their host stars, Dressing explained, and may thus have surface temperatures that allow them to have the “right” amount of liquid water.

Courtney Dressing ’10 (Photo: Courtesy Courtney Dressing)

In finding the possible neighbor planet, Dressing has become well-acquainted with the Kepler telescope, a NASA-launched spacecraft whose mission is to find planets similar to the Earth circling other stars. She, together with Harvard astronomer David Charbonneau, used data from the telescope to examine red-dwarf stars and 95 of their planetary companions. Red-dwarf stars are excellent candidates for planet hunting. They are about a third as large and one-thousandth as bright as the sun, which makes it easier for scientists to locate planets — one the size of the Earth, for example, would block more of the red dwarf’s light than it would the sun’s.

Dressing and Charbonneau determined that 6 percent of the red-dwarf stars had potentially Earth-like planets circling them, and 60 percent have planets smaller than Neptune. Their results will soon appear in The Astrophysical Journal.

Dressing’s study has gathered considerable public attention, receiving coverage in publications such as Scientific American and the Los Angeles Times. “I think the natural curiosity is to wonder if we’re alone in the universe or not,” Dressing said. “Just knowing that there could be another planet like the earth so close is comforting.”

This is not her first attempt at finding planets — her senior thesis featured an investigation of an imaging technique used to acquire planetary observations. Dressing said she remembers learning a great deal from her independent work in astrophysical sciences, and appreciated her department’s small size.

Like many of our Tiger of the Week honorees, Courtney Dressing ’10 was nominated by a PAW reader. Do you have an idea for a future Tiger of the Week profile? Let us know.

Levine ’71’s concert tribute to Cone ’39 to be screened on campus Feb. 13

Edward T. Cone ’39 (Photo: Robert Matthews/ Office of Communications)

Forty-two years after getting his Princeton diploma, Sir Gilbert Levine ’71 still remembers his studies with musician and composer Edward T. Cone ’39 — so much so that he has created a concert film centered on Cone’s music. A screening of his PBS film, Out of Many, One, will take place in Princeton’s Taplin Auditorium Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. The film showcases an April 2012 performance of Cone’s Psalm 91 by the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus in Chicago’s 2,522-seat Orchestra Hall. 

Levine said he hopes that more people will grow to appreciate the music of Cone, whom he describes as a rare talent in both performance and musical analysis and “a terrific person to study music with.” Cone’s music, according to Levine, is truly original.

“There’s no derivative aspect to it,” Levine said. “I think the hallmark of really important composition is that it just doesn’t sound like anyone else. It’s romantic without being cloying at all.” Levine also said he was enthusiastic about presenting the work of a remarkable but lesser-known composer to the public. The performance, which represents the first ever collaboration between the two Chicago ensembles, also features performances of Bach’s Magnificat and Beethoven’s Eroica.

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Meet the grandparents: Classes of ’66 and ’16 bond over pizza

In four years, the classes of ’66 and ’16 will celebrate together at Reunions. Last week, they introduced themselves over pizza. (Photos: Courtesy Marguerite Vera ’79)

Members of the Class of 1966 might want to know that they have just adopted 1,364 grandchildren, thanks to several members of their class who made an early effort to foster a relationship with the Class of 2016.

This year’s freshmen met with their “grandparents” — members of the class that will have its 50th reunion when the freshmen graduate — at a pizza party during intersession Jan. 30. The event began with opening remarks from Class of ’66 President Charles Plohn, after which the two classes shared 60 pizzas in Campus Club.

“Everyone loved meeting the grandparent class,” class council member Gwen Lee ’16 said. She added that many of the freshmen also appreciated the opportunity to meet other members of their own class who were on campus during the week after fall-term exams.

According to Plohn, little seems to have been done to encourage the grandparent-grandchild class relationship in the last few years. “[The pizza party] is certainly the first event of this nature that any grandparent class has done for any grandchild class,” he said. “We decided ‘let’s make something of this.’”

Lee and other ’16 classmates hope to continue the connection. A tentative plan is underway to meet in smaller groups with local members of their grandparent class, class council member Molly Stoneman ’16 said.

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