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.
More than once, when I'm sporting my faded, well-loved ballet hoodie, some slight variation of this conversation ensues:
"Is your daughter the dancer?"
"Actually," I say, "I am."
"Wow!" they enthuse. "Who do you dance with? Or have you retired...?"
"I don't dance with a company. I'm not a professional. I just take classes."
Insert mic drop/record scratch/quizzical looks.
You nominated your favorite dance moments so far in 2019, and we narrowed them down to this list. Now it's time to cast your vote to help decide who will be deemed our Readers' Choice picks for the year!
Voting is open until September 17th. Only one vote per person will be counted.
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
The 2019–20 season is here, and with it more performances than any one person could reasonably catch. But fear not: We polled our writers and editors and selected the 31 most promising tickets, adding up to one endlessly intriguing year of dance.