I took some of the ladies from the Dance Factory up to the Vermont State Dance Festival on Novemer 22nd, a day of dance organized by Rebecca McGregor to bring high school students from around the state together to take classes, perform dance for a broader audience than they are most likely used to, and have opportunities to talk about choreography. My co-adult Meegan and I met up with five lovely teenagers, Lauren F., Eliza, Lauren S., Holly, and Jalessah, at the Springfield Dunkin' Donuts at 6 am to stock up on nourishment before the long trip north to Lyndon Institute. Despite the early morning Saturday adventure, these girls seemed excited and perhaps a tad nervous, not quite sure what they were getting themselves into.
We were greeted by a bright, smiling Rebecca immediately upon entering the Institute, our crew impressed by the beauty of this school's campus. We were given folders with class schedules and Rebecca quickly noted that she had split up the girls, hoping they would use this experience to get to know students from other high schools and studios. After a killer Pilates warm-up (I don't think I've worked my abs that slowly since I was a high school student), I followed a couple students into Paul Besaw's modern class. How wonderful it was for me to take modern class! After teaching for the past couple months, I had forgotten how luscious it can feel to experience someone else's take on modern dance, even a more classically-minded class than the one I teach. The students who take my modern class were surprised by the similarities and differences in Paul's class. I was thrilled they were able to experience modern with another teacher, to have their concept of what modern dance is expanded some in a very brief period of time.
We continued taking classes, the kids particularly enjoying hip hop, Lauren F. getting a kick out of salsa. We were entertained by a break dancing performance at lunch, with a fantastic crew of b-boys, sparking a conversation about the recent addition of boys to the girls' own dance team back at their high school. They began recognizing other students. Eliza went to a summer program with someone at the festival. There were students from schools their dance team competed with during the school year. I felt some of them start to feel like they were part of dance community broader than just their high school or the Dance Factory. I had a similar experience recognizing teachers I had gone to school with or met at a different dance event. Rebecca organized a post-lunch meeting for all of us to talk about our experiences in our educational institutions, our hopes for the festival experience, and ideas for the future of collaborative work. It is so easy to think of yourself as isolated working as a teacher in rural areas. This time and event was a reminder of the plethora of dance that exists in these small spaces and the creative minds and bodies making those experiences possible.
Although I performed briefly at the festival (a newly choreographed solo you gotta make it up highlighting my experiences working with high school students in Springfield decked out in cowgirl boots and skinny jeans) it was the student performances that were the most compelling part of the festival for me and for at least some of the students who made the journey north. The afternoon consisted of a facilitated discussion of student-performed and sometimes student-choreographed dance with students offering their opinions about choreographic structure and performance quality of the work. How exciting it was to hear kids talk critically about what they were seeing on stage! And how fantastic it was to see such diverse dances performed by students from all over Vermont. The Dance Factory ladies and I had a very spirited conversation about the work during dinner.
Lauren F. and Eliza were already planning what the Dance Factory would bring to next year's festival on the car ride home. Thank you Rebecca for providing this opportunities for dance students and their teachers in Vermont. A powerful example of a rural dance revolution.