By Kayla Boyd, Dara McBride, Michaela Quigley, Shradha Rao
Three dance groups share what it’s like to be part of SU’s dance culture.
Dance is an ephemeral expression, not only for the audience but also the performer.
Following years of dancing after school and on weekends, young dancers often face the reality of their dance life coming to a close. For those who don’t plan to teach or go professional, joining a dance group in college can be the final act.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to do it in college,” Jessica Banks, a sports management junior at Syracuse University, said of dance. “I’d hoped, but the fact that I came here and found a company that I loved and enjoyed and had an interest in was a bonus for me.”
Banks is now co-coordinator of Creations Dance Company, which is among the 10 student dance organizations SU’s Office of Student Activities currently recognizes. One of the longer standing dance groups on the campus, Creations has 19 members this academic year. At least four days a week, the group meets for three-hour practices in Flanagan and Archbold Gymnasium or the Women’s Building on campus, where most campus dance organizations practice in mirror-lined exercise rooms.
Although she looked at other campus groups, Banks auditioned for Creations because it offered a “close-knit environment” and “family vibes.” She ended up finding her current roommate through the group, as did several other dancers.
Creations has a history of being an inclusive group. It was founded more than 40 years ago by 10 women of color when African-American students were not given the opportunity to showcase their talents in other groups.
Today, the group differentiates itself from other campus dance groups by having a small company that performs everything from jazz to hip-hop, but continues to honor its past by performing an African-gospel dance in its annual show at the end of the fall semester.
Banks, who started dancing at 2 years old, said she favors jazz and contemporary styles. She choreographs for Creations, both on her own and with other students.
Even though it may mean hours in the studio on top of homework and classes, college-aged dancers look for a campus dance group so they can keep up with a lifestyle they love, Banks explained.
“They’re used to having a certain lifestyle and schedule, and this helps fit in and adjust well to college, because you’re used to having to balance your work with dance and school work,” Banks said.
A friend from her childhood dance studio coerced inclusive elementary and special education senior Kaitlyn Ertl into auditioning for DanceWorks, among the largest student dance group on SU’s campus. Ertl said she felt like DanceWorks was the next step in her dance career, because dance was still taken seriously, but the group would be less intense than her competitive childhood dance studio.
“There are auditions, so there are some kind of standards being met. It wasn’t like anyone could join. There was a standard of technique that I liked,” Ertl said.
In her early days with the group, Ertl saw the bond that the DanceWorks executive board shared. “I remember saying, ‘That’s going to be me.’ I was so envious of how close they were,” she recalled.
Now Ertl is the director of DanceWorks and said it has become her life.
This year, there are 99 members of DanceWorks, and 15 different dances dancers can be a part of. For 30 years, DanceWorks has been performing different styles of dance — typically jazz, tap, hip-hop, musical theater and contemporary. The group has also done belly dancing, African, swing and ballet pieces, and performs multiple times a year.
To join DanceWorks, students must audition for the dances they are interested in learning. First-year members can join three dances and returning members can be in four dances. Each dance rehearses for an hour each week.
Choreographers, who must have a year experience in DanceWorks, can audition any style of dance and song they think will pique dancers’ interest. They don’t discriminate against any styles of dance, making DanceWorks an eclectic group.
This year, Ertl is choreographing a musical theater dance to Thoroughly Modern Millie from the award-winning flapper musical for DanceWorks’ Spring Showcase. Straying from her usual style of tap dance, Ertl held a musical theater workshop at the end of last year to test the reaction to the piece before committing to it. After positive responses from dancers at the workshop, Ertl decided to pursue the dance and make it her showpiece for this year.
Since October, the dancers have been preparing for the Spring Showcase, which will be held the first week of March. Students come to class each week to learn more of their piece. Choreographers then spend time cleaning the dance to improve technique and ensure everyone is on the same count.
Unlike other campus dance groups, DanceWorks doesn’t end after college. Because of the strong alumni base, there are multiple DanceWorks at schools across the country. Class of 2008 alumna Lisa Mara created DanceWorks NYC and DanceWorks Boston. “A lot of people, especially from Syracuse, go to cities like Boston or New York, so it’s cool because it gives them a place to dance after college,” Ertl said.
Beyond the performance-based student groups, the SU Ballroom Dance Organization offers dance-loving students a chance to socialize or compete with dance.
Founded in the 1990s, SU Ballroom is the only social dancing organization on campus. Students practice a wide range of dance styles, from waltz to West Coast swing. Anyone who wants to dance socially at weddings or a party can come to the class on Thursdays for general dance lessons. On Tuesdays, about 30 students meet to practice swing in the cycling room in Archbold Gymnasium.
Holly Stone, a ballet and a ballroom dancer, has been dancing with SU Ballroom for six years and teaching the last three. She is the coach for the performance team, which competes and dances at various events on and off campus. Each semester, Stone holds auditions and selects dancers for this team. Currently, there are ten members on the team who meet on Sundays to rehearse and polish their steps. The SU performers and members of the community will put on a ballroom dance showcase on April 23 in Goldstein Auditorium.
Stone said she takes pride in the organization’s diversity: the club is an equal mix of men and women, as well as domestic and international students. It’s the type of club a student might join if they are looking for something fun to do and also trying to make connections, Stone said.
“There’s a lot of history behind it, there’s a lot of different cultures that have contributed to what is now modern ballroom dance, and it’s very social. You make a lot of friends and you get some dance skills,” Stone said.
And she would know. While rotating through dance partners in the ballroom organization, Stone met her husband, who is currently finishing his PhD in physics at Syracuse.
Coming from Brazil, Raiana de Carvalho wasn’t sure if she would be able to continue dancing samba and salsa when she first landed in America. A member of the SU community, de Carvalho came to campus with her husband, who is pursuing his PhD in philosophy at Syracuse. She hopes to work on her master’s in communications at SU next year.
Randomly searching the internet and hoping to establish connections before becoming a student herself, de Carvalho found SU Ballroom, and has been dancing with them since last year.
“It’s really my preferred hobby,” said de Carvalho. “And it’s important for you to have something that isn’t like a job, where you are really enjoying yourself.”