Here's What College Dancers Care About Today
What's on the minds of college students today?
I recently had the honor of adjudicating at the American College Dance Association's National College Dance Festival, along with choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess and former National Endowment for the Arts dance specialist Douglas C. Sonntag. We chose three winners—one for Outstanding Choreography and two for Outstanding Performance—from 30 pieces representing schools throughout the country. It was a great opportunity to see what college dance students are up to—from the issues they care about to the kinds movement they're interested in exploring.
Here were the biggest trends and takeaways:
They're Addressing Racial Justice Issues
Who R U?, choreographed and performed by Stephanie Banes of Columbia College Chicago, touched on the Charlottesville riots. Photo courtesy ACDA.
From Every^Man (Alright), a powerful solo in which University of Montana student Tsiambwon Akuchu mimes being lynched over and over again, to Northern Illinois University's Enuf, featuring a energetic cast of 11 and music by everyone from Michael Jackson to Common, many works showed how deeply students are engaging with racial justice issues. It was fascinating to see racism addressed through so many different lenses.
They're Experimenting With Complex Design Elements
Umbilic, choreographed by Jared Doster of Sam Houston State University. Photo by Lynn Lane, Courtesy ACDA
Umbilic, which earned the Outstanding Choreography Award, featured a hamster wheel-like sphere that the two performers danced inside of and rode on top of. A prop that could have come across as cliche instead created intimacy between the two dancers through the limitations it placed on them, not to mention the dynamic movement possibilities it allowed them to explore. Other pieces featured a set of barres that dancers climbed on, flashlights that provided the only lighting, and costumes that doubled as projection screens for live video.
They're Telling Challenging Stories
One of the most daring performances of the festival was fleeting things, a duet in which two dancers whispered the story of a boy's relationship with an older man, who seems to have died of AIDS. Though there wasn't much dancing, the final image—of one dancer slowly arching backwards—was haunting. One of the Outstanding Performance winners, Samantha Lin, danced a solo called Shikata ga nai about the Japanese internment camps; "...and I will never, ever let you down." from Connecticut College tackled sexual assault.
They Aren't Afraid to Have Fun
A Bar in Jerusalem, choreographed by Issa Hourani of MiraCosta College. Photo courtesy ACDA.
Yes, there were lots of serious works on the ACDA stage this year. But that doesn't mean no one was having any fun. A Bar in Jerusalem, a duet choreographed by Issa Hourani of MiraCosta College played with witty gestures and partnering. And in Focus, danced by Orange Coast College students, a dancer's inner monologue came to life through the hilarious dialogue and high-energy hip hop of his castmates.
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The Primetime Emmy Award nominations are out! Congrats to the seven choreographers who earned nods for their exceptional TV work this year. Notably, that work was made for just two shows, "So You Think You Can Dance" and "World of Dance."
And there was a particularly remarkable snub: While the dance-filled hit "Fosse/Verdon" earned 17 nominations across many of the major categories, Andy Blankenbuehler's fabulous Fosse remixes weren't recognized in the Outstanding Choreography field.
Here are all the dance routines up for Emmys:
"Dancers can do everything these days," I announced to whoever was in earshot at the Jacob's Pillow Archives during a recent summer. I had just been dazzled by footage of a ballet dancer performing hip hop, remarkably well. But my very next thought was, What if that isn't always a good thing? What if what one can't do is the very thing that lends character?
Capezio, Bloch, So Dança, Gaynor Minden.
At the top of the line, dancers have plenty of quality footwear options to choose from, and in most metropolitan areas, stores to go try them on. But for many of North America's most economically disadvantaged dance students, there has often been just one option for purchasing footwear in person: Payless ShoeSource.
When Sonya Tayeh saw Moulin Rouge! for the first time, on opening night at a movie theater in Detroit, she remembers not only being inspired by the story, but noticing the way it was filmed.
"What struck me the most was the pace, and the erratic feeling it had," she says. The camera's quick shifts and angles reminded her of bodies in motion. "I was like, 'What is this movie? This is so insane and marvelous and excessive,' " she says. "And excessive is I think how I approach dance. I enjoy the challenge of swiftness, and the pushing of the body. I love piling on a lot of vocabulary and seeing what comes out."