Dance alumni help the show go on

To support students struggling with Covid restrictions, Professor of Dance Chris Johnson created a mentoring program using Zoom, connecting Beloit dance alumni with choreography students. The effort allowed students to share ideas and be coached by experienced dance professionals. Now everyone’s screaming “Encore!” 

Professor Chris Johnson essentially had to reorganize her entire department last fall to ensure students and faculty were safe, but then the director of Beloit’s dance program took things a step further.

Besides developing new methods and procedures to include social distancing in classes, she saw the perfect opportunity to tap into the expertise of the department’s alumni. Using the flexibility of Zoom’s platform, she launched a mentorship program between her choreography students and Beloit dance alumni.

Connecting students with alumni in their professional careers is one of the core tenets of Career Channels, which sets students’ sights on their post-Beloit trajectory throughout their four years. The dance mentorship project was one of 23 such initiatives pursued by more than 30 faculty members who received 2020 Mellon Foundation funding for Career Channels programming.

Fourteen dance alumni paired up with 12 students who were either enrolled in Johnson’s choreography class or were choreographing advanced work for this year’s December Screendance Festival. The goal was for students to interact with professionals and receive feedback on their choreography through a series of structured Zoom sessions.

Advanced students had the option of working with multiple mentors. Mya Hernandez’21, a dance and health and society major, had the chance to work with four.

Hernandez says she typically experiences “choreographer’s block,” but the mentorship program allowed her a new way to work through it. She surprised herself by creating, filming, and editing her own piece, which she had never done before.

Elena Cusack’18 joined the program because she hadn’t been able to dance much since the pandemic began, and she was excited at the idea of reconnecting with Beloit dance. She enjoyed the process and says that seeing her mentee’s work come to life was extremely rewarding.

Since she graduated from Beloit, Cusack has been involved in dance-film projects, including choreographing an animated film through the National Film and Television School and co-creating a work with a visual artist.

Johnson says that all her students expect to maintain the connections they made with their mentors. Among the enthusiastic feedback from both groups is a consensus: The program should continue into the future.

Alessia Palanti’07, a choreographer, performer, writer, and teacher who served as a mentor, says she loved hearing about young choreographers’ ideas and creative processes, especially as they are just beginning to explore who they are as artists.

“Thank you for doing this,” she wrote in an email to Professor Johnson. “It’s such a thoughtful, student-centered programmatic choice, especially during these tough, isolating times.”

By: Alana Schacher'22
February 25, 2021

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