Video: Josh Magno ’11 Dances His Way to Watson Fellowship

Story posted April 15, 2011

Josh Magno ’11 is one of only 40 students across the country selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants to receive a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to pursue what the Watson Foundation calls “their unique passion or dream” for a year of independent exploration and travel outside the U.S.

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Josh Magno '11. Photo: Brian Wedge '97

Magno, a neuroscience major from Wheeling, Ill., plans to travel to Argentina, the United Kingdom, France and possibly Egypt, for a project he calls, “5, 6, 7, 8, Instep, Outreach: An Exploration of Dance as Community Service.”

“My project has essentially combined two of the most prominent elements of my life: dance and community service,” says Magno, who plans to visit dance companies that aim to mend a separation in their community induced by various issues including sexuality, environmental issues, disabilities and AIDS awareness.

Magno says he hopes to learn how teaching and choreographing techniques are influenced by culture, dance style and the issues they confront, and says he’ll do that by volunteering at non-profit organizations, learning choreography and possibly performing with them.

Dancing Around the World from Bowdoin College on Vimeo. Video by Brian Wedge '97.

“Once the idea was developed, finding dance companies that combined the two was really the fun part: I found a parkour group in Egypt that promoted environmental awareness, and an African tribal dance group in Uganda that educated people about AIDS. A traditional folk dance group in India teaches to and performs with the blind, and several contemporary dance groups in the U.K. choreograph with the physically disabled — most of them in wheelchairs. Finally, ballroom studios in Argentina and France teach salsa, meringue, tango, flamenco and waltz to same-sex couples, and there are actually regular dance competitions for them. As a dancer and someone who's been involved with community service since seventh grade, I've surprisingly never done something that blends the two together.”

Among his many extracurricular activities, Magno has served as an Alternative Spring Break and Common Good Day leader, program organizer for Residential Life, Campus Out Peer, and founded the EleMental Lyrical Hip Hop dance group, for which he also choreographs.

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Josh Magno '11 (far right) leads a 2010 Alternative Spring Break trip to Maryville, Tenn., focusing on organic farming in a Cherokee Indian reserve. Here, Magno with (l. to r.) Cassandra Rodrigues '10, Abriel Ferreira '10 and Sheela Turbek '13 help build a fire pit for their hosts.

“When I first started to dance in high school, I thought that the only way to be legitimately good at it was if you were lucky enough to be born into it, that your parents had you dancing at the tender age of four,” says Magno. “Looking back at everything I've done with dance and community service, I realize that's just simply not true. If the commitment and passion is there, it's possible. I guess that's why I proposed a project like this; I want to meet people who have that same commitment and passion to do something they love, regardless of how much the world makes it seem like they shouldn't.”

The 40 Watson Fellows come from 21 states and four foreign countries, and exhibit a broad diversity of academic specialty, socio-economic background and life experience. As the 43rd class of Watson Fellows, they’ll traverse 71 countries, exploring topics from sword dancing to pro-gaming, from gay marriage to voluntary poverty, from migratory fish to nomadic societies, from transnational jazz dialects to endangered languages, and from fiber art to fly fishing.

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Josh Magno '11. Photo: Brian Wedge '97

“These awards are long-term investments in people, not research,” says Cleveland Johnson, director of the Watson Fellowship Program and a former Watson Fellow. “We look for persons likely to lead or innovate in the future and give them extraordinary independence to pursue their interests outside of traditional academic structures. Watson Fellows are passionate learners, creative thinkers and motivated self-starters who are encouraged to dream big but demonstrate feasible strategies for achieving their fellowship goals. The Watson Fellowship affords an unparalleled opportunity for global experiential learning.”

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was begun in 1968 by the children of IBM founder Thomas J. Watson Sr. and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, to honor their parents' long-standing interest in education and world affairs. The Watson Foundation regards its investment in people as an effective contribution to the global community.

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