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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Off-stage dance breaks classic lines

This year, Dance Troupe is shaking things up. Instead of the usual performances in Bucksbaum, the faculty-directed dance company will be taking its choreography out into the public atmosphere to currently unknown sites around campus, off campus and even downtown Grinnell.
Founded in the 1980s, Dance Troupe was initially housed in the Physical Education department, only to be rescued by the Theatre department when it was transformed into its own disciplinary department in the humanities division.
Shawn Womack, Theatre, director of Dance Troupe, has led troupe for a number of years and has watched the group’s evolution. “This year, instead of performing on stage, we’re going to do site-specific dances around campus and off campus and into the town,” Womack said. “There are a number of reasons for that. One: I think site-specific dance opportunities give the dancers in Dance Troupe some opportunities to choreograph that aren’t so big as perhaps as creating a piece at the end of the semester. It allows students to have choreographic opportunities as well as train with other dancers.”
Womack also explained that not all the students involved in Dance Troupe are standard dancers. “Typically, the students who dance in Dance Troupe are not dance or Theatre majors. They come from all divisions of the college. Some science majors, some social sciences, some Religious Studies,” Womack said. “They usually come to Dance Troupe with a lot of experience from high school, but some members of Dance Troupe have come into the company with no training at all.”
With a diverse background of dancers in the troupe, Womack hopes that the site-specific choreographies and the teamwork involved will produce a versatile and unexpected set of dances. “I think a lot of students come from their high school experience, knowing dance in a very particular way, mostly from commercial dance training … But it’s very narrow in a way,” Womack said. “I think the study of dance in a liberal arts college has to not just reproduce what is already in one’s dance experience but look at other possibilities as well.”
Getting into Dance Troupe is a surprisingly simple task. The audition is divided into a class and an improvisation. Womack and her dance associate, Katherine Hurley, like to see what students can do. “The first part of the dance audition is a modern dance technique class. We mostly want to see where people are at, what they physically know in their bodies, how capable or facile they are with technique. The second part of the audition is dance improvisation. How inventive they are with movement,” Womack said. “The skill sets are a propensity for movement, a passion for movement and some skill.”
Though students will soon be discovering whether they were accepted into troupe, the locations of their performances have yet to be finalized. Womack did slyly mention the first series of performances will take place at the beginning of December in Bucksbaum, in recognition of Buckbaum’s tenth anniversary. This is to be the year’s experiment.
“[Sight specific work] really shakes up our notions as to where dance is seen and how it is seen,” Womack said. “So, if we bring it into the public sphere in a number of ways, I think it points to larger ways of how dance can operate than just stage performances.”

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