Oberlin Blogs

Like a College Visit with Less Clothing

November 18, 2008

Daniel Tam-Claiborne ’09

It takes a lot to get me out of Oberlin. And barring dim sum brunch in Cleveland, a conference in a nearby state, or a holiday vacation where food back home is a prerequisite, I almost never leave. Even though this is partly a result of my inability to drive (hey, cut me some slack, I'm from New York!), it stems largely from a true desire to be at Oberlin. For its size, Oberlin is remarkably well-contained, and I find that I am often at a loss not for what to do, but how to choose between all the amazing things that are happening on campus simultaneously. This weekend in Oberlin proved no different, with a performance by OCircus, an International Foods Festival, a football game, a Chamber Music Ensemble performance, a Blues Dance workshop, and the opening weekend for both a theater production and a musical, not to mention a Fall Formal that friends of mine were organizing, and a small get-together planned for Chinese language students.

Knowing that I would be choosing none of those things made it that much more difficult to stomach the idea of leaving, because this time, I had actually made plans to travel. Over this past weekend, I decided to make a trip out to Tufts University in Medford, MA to see a group of friends perform in a Burlesque Troupe that they helped to found on campus. Little did I know that I would get the added bonus of recreating the lore of my junior year college trips.

The trip to Boston was long, thanks mostly to my latent frugality--my decision to fly first from Cleveland to New York and then take a bus from Chinatown to Boston because flights to Boston itself were unbelievably expensive. And so, with the usual airport delays and an almost 6-hour drive to Boston in rush hour traffic (the usual commute is give-or-take 4 hours from NYC), I finally arrived, shortly before midnight, on the Tufts University campus. It was so surreal to take the trip in the first place. I touched down in my hometown without alerting a single family member or friend--doing nothing save for taking the subway to Chinatown--and I arrived in Boston when by all other accounts I should have been out celebrating in Oberlin. The welcome I received in Medford was good, and it was such a great feeling to see my friends there as well as the handful of us who had made trips from our respective colleges in order to see the performance--Scott from Clark University in Worcester, Xavier flying in from Pomona, and Beth bussing up from NYU. We spent Friday chatting well into the night, and thanks to more than enough sleep on plane, trains, and buses, I was happy to oblige, before eventually conking out on my friend's living room sofa.

Holding up packages of cups and soda in a store.
Shopping at Jumbo. From left to right: Beth, Julie, Scott, and Xavier.

Saturday was the reason I got the idea for this "I Do the College Trips So You Don't Have To!" entry, one that unfortunately might not have any real potential past this post (unless of course Ben decides to fly me out to report on other schools across the country!). After a late lunch at my friend's sorority where a few of us decided to cook, my three non-Tufts friends and me were sent wandering around the campus to take in the local ambiance. We hung out at the campus grocery store (kind of like Decafe without the fresh sandwiches and smoothies--although, to be fair, I'm fairly sure there must have been another place on campus to fulfill this universal undergrad need), and also spent a lot of time at a little in-building café/study area that reminded me of a smaller, less-lit Azariah's. We continued on our makeshift campus tour, going to the university library, which was indeed quite sprawling, and made a little side trip into town to do some shopping. I must say that I valued the city aspect of Tufts and its proximity to Boston, which made it convenient to get food and drinks for the show. As much as I appreciate the small-town vibe of Oberlin's Main Street for its low-maintenance, local friendliness, and overall quirkiness, a city environment is what I grew up in, and is something that I often take for granted at colleges I do not attend.

The Tufts campus also had a very different vibe. First of all, there were hills, which in and of itself was kind of a shock. Slogging up steps instead of gliding on predominantly flat grass and pavement was something of a new sensation for my feet. Food was expensive and there wasn't the option of popping into my co-op to grab some quick eats because, well, co-ops didn't exist in lieu of the strict dining hall hegemony. People seemed more serious and even on the slightly larger campus, there seemed to be less to do in the way of actual events. I must say that what it did have in common with Oberlin was the weather, slightly rainy and chilly, and truly indicative of the "lake effect" autumn that Oberlin comes to exemplify.

The burlesque performance itself was great. Save for the MCs, who belabored the most canned script I have ever borne witness to, I thought the show flowed really well. I was shocked to see how talented my friends were in terms of both choreography and dancing and the prominent presence that their group seemed to engender on campus. It reminded me at face value of the burlesque performances that were especially popular at Oberlin during my first year. I think that the main organizer for the group was a senior then, who has since gone on to do professional burlesque, but whose organizational leadership at Oberlin has tapered off since her graduation.

A performer dressed somewhat as a police officer.
One of the MCs, dressed the part for the show's "Locked Up" theme.

To my knowledge, no one has really picked up the burlesque reins in her absence, but back in the day, the shows were quite the talk of the town! Whereas the Tufts show incorporated burlesque not so much as an art form unto itself, but more as a pretense for scantily clad females and males to simply dance, Oberlin's show was more of a true homage. There were significant storylines to the burlesque performances, ones that fit in seamlessly with the music and lent themselves to the art, the gradual and sensual art of stripping--complete with pasties and all.

I will always remember my favorite act during a particular performance at the 'Sco, where a girl conjured a scene of baking bread in Harkness Co-op to the tune of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me." As the climax built, she continued to remove layers of clothing faster and faster, until finally, she climbed onto the table and doused her entire body--and much of the floor--in a mixture of water, flour, and dough. It was quite a sight to behold.

The trip back to Oberlin on Sunday was slightly less harrowing than the one to Boston, and it had the added benefit of my knowing my destination. I learned that though it can be refreshing to leave, I definitely relished the thought of returning home.

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