From Hamline and Back: Soraya Dorvilier

Hamline Alumni Soraya Dorvilier shares her story with dance as she returns to the Hamline University Dance Ensemble, now as an instructor.

Eden Fahy, Life Reporter

Soraya Dorvilier, 2021, returns to campus with passion as she completes a residency with the Hamline Dance Ensemble. 

Born in Florida, and raised across the globe, Dorvilier spent her early years moving. From New York to Connecticut, California, Senegal and back. 

Dorvilier’s home wasn’t the only thing that moved when she was younger.

“What’s funny is [that] as a kid, I actually started out doing figure skating. My parents put me in figure skating when I was 2 years old and I actually excelled,” she said. “And then it was like ‘Just kidding we’re moving to Senegal!’ And there’s no such thing as an ice rink in Senegal … so I had to find something else.”

From there, Dorvilier quickly found her footing in dance and fell in love with the art form.

“Dance has really just been an escape for me. It’s been where I go for comfort in the midst of everything that happens in life. And despite all the doubt and people saying otherwise, I just knew that dance couldn’t be something that anyone took away from me,” she said. 

She trained in jazz, tap, hip hop, ballet and took part in studio dance. In all of her experience, Dorvilier told the Oracle that her favorite dance style is jazz-funk.

“I would say jazz-funk is a mix of jazz and hip hop and little pieces of broadway,” she explained. “Ever since I was a kid, I was just super … crazy and just super diva-ish. And I remember when I was first exposed to jazz, I was like, ‘This is perfect!’ In the midst of that, I was also exposed to hip hop and fell in love with hip hop.”

Unfortunately, Dorvilier explained that somewhere along the journey “life happened.” Soon after she began dance, she had to pull away from the art form. 

“It was definitely a shift simply because dance is what I love to do and dance was really a passion for me,” she said. “So I stopped dancing for a couple of years, and then didn’t find dancing again until I went to Hamline and until I met Kaori [Kenmotsu].”

Dorvilier explained that while meeting with her First-Year Seminar instructor Mark Berkson, professor and program director of the Religion Department, she was introduced to the Hamline Dance Ensemble and its instructor Kaori Kenmotsu.

Dorvilier told the Oracle that there was an instant connection.

“[Kenmotsu] does this really beautiful job of being able to connect what happens in physical space with other people when you dance, but also what happens in your body when you dance. It wasn’t until I met [Kenmotsu] that I realized the community aspect but also the self aspect that comes with dancing.”

This awareness, Dorvilier said, changed her perception of dance and her life for the better. 

“My relationship with [Kenmotsu] … is one that I hold sacred. And little does she know she really saved my college life,” Dorvilier said.

This appreciation was not one-sided. 

In an email, dance instructor Kenmotsu described Dorvilier as “passionate, engaging, empathetic, committed to social justice [and] a beautiful and giving dancer.”  

“I invited [Dorvilier] back to help with Ensemble because I thought who she is as a person and as a mover would help foster community within the current Ensemble,” Kenmotsu continued in her email. 

Dorvilier began teaching and choreographing during her senior year at Hamline. At the time, Dorvilier said that she was still trying out new teaching techniques and learning more about her style. 

When she was invited to teach with the Hamline Dance Ensemble in the spring semester of 2022 and beyond, Dorvilier said that it all came down to the effect that Ensemble had on her when she was in college. 

“I love Dance Ensemble and [it] is something I knew saved me during college and [this is] being able to have access to a space where I felt like I could freely dance and be welcomed,” Dorvilier shared.

Sophomore Emma Routt who is one of the Ensemble’s current members, has appreciated Dorvilier’s work. 

“[Dorvilier’s style] has made me … loosen up in a way that I’m loving now. It is making me love dance again.”

Outside of her Hamline residency, Dorvilier teaches the Heels 101 class at Yirií Dance studio on Monday nights from 7:00-8:30 p.m. and will begin to teach Afrofusion/Afro Heels classes at The Work Room on October 19.

To find out more about these classes and how to sign up, check out Dorvilier’s Instagram @saucy_raya.