Dancing Around the World
In the light of morning, the jellybean row houses marched cheerily up the hills in bold colors. As a friendly cabbie told me, when St. John’s was a poor fishing village, the townspeople didn’t have a lot of money, but they did have boats, so people applied the leftover paint from their boats to their houses. A certain sort of utilitarianism behind a lively reality. The people in St. John’s matched the bright houses. They were cheering and kind, always ready to strike up a conversation.
I was on the island with a Beloit contingent for the World Dance Alliance Global Summit. As participants, we were invited to a welcome reception, complete with traditional Newfoundland step dancing and music. There was excitement at having so many dance professionals gathered together in one place, and I felt welcome and warmed to Newfoundland right away.
The World Dance Alliance puts together regional festivals with WDA Americas and WDA Asia-Pacific, and every three years the organization hosts a global summit to bring far-flung dancers together for an all-too-brief week. The festival offers incredible networking opportunities and a fertile stage for collaboration. The choreography lab portion puts dancers together and gives them a week to choreograph, rehearse, and perform.
The opening ceremony featured Eastern Owl, a First Nations Women’s Drum Group based in St. John’s. They began by acknowledging how the land Memorial University had been built on was stolen from First Nation people, and ended the ceremony by inviting us to join them in a friendship circle dance. It’s not something you get to do every day, and for me, getting up and moving together is a great way to start to feel comfortable with a group of strangers.
Three dance pieces affiliated with Beloit College were accepted and performed at the conference, speaking to the strength of an incredible department. Although she could not attend the conference, Professor of Dance Chris Johnson presented Social Construction, a quartet performed by Clare Harper’17, Zoe Koenig’18, Gabrielle Garcia’19, and Charlotte Vail’18. Associate Professor of Dance Gina T’ai made the trek with us to present Faux Fur, performed by Sarah Miller’15, Zoe Koenig’18, Gabrielle Garcia’19, and Charlotte Vail’18. The third piece from Beloit, I Wish I Were a Sheep, was choreographed by recent graduates Skylar Miller’17 and Santiago Quintana’15, and performed by Skylar and myself.
Over the course of the week, I went to paper presentations, concerts, and classes with dancers from all over the world. I took a class from a South Korean teacher who almost sprained my shoulder showing me how tai chi was used to spar, and I listened to a presentation on the spectacle that is the Ballet Folklorico of Mexico City.
In the evenings, we walked a block from our jellybean house to the historic Longshoremen’s Protective Union Hall, where performers showcased everything from contemporary solo work to aerial dance to traditional Egyptian cane dance.
For festivals like these, many college professors showcase their work with professional dancers, but Beloit has made a practice of featuring student dancers. As T’ai puts it: “We believe our students are good enough.” Again and again, the dance department has proven her right. Pieces choreographed by Beloit faculty and students—and performed by student and alumni dancers—are consistently chosen for gala performances at the American College Dance Association Northwest Central Conference, and alumni have had pieces accepted into such prestigious festivals as Performática in Mexico.
For a student dancer, the opportunity to perform on these festival stages is unparalleled. It helps us connect with companies professionally, inspires creativity, and allows us to explore the wide range of styles dance has to offer. But it can be an overwhelming time. As you meet dancers and learn about their own winding career paths, you start to realize there is no one foolproof way to become a professional dancer.
Conferences like the WDA Global Summit are more than anything the product and presentation of hard work from dancers and organizers, seeking space, funding, and time. They are an introduction to the many ways we work to create space for ourselves as independent artists within the ever-morphing dance community, and they ultimately emphasize where dance can take you—as it has already taken me—to a bustling city in the Netherlands, the freezing shores of Lake Superior, or a kindly seaside town on a wild island.
Emmy Newman’17 majored in creative writing and literary studies and performed in at least one dance show every semester she attended Beloit. She lives in Seattle, Wash., where she is working three jobs while applying to MFA programs in creative writing. She plans to keep dancing the rest of her life, whether that means going to modern classes at a local studio or taking up competitive tango.