Members of the Latin dance club practice tango Wednesday in Zoellner Arts Center. The club is preparing for performances in SPEC-SPEC, International Bazaar and DanceFest 8. (Konka Shi/ B&W Staff)

Dancers of all skill levels prepare for DanceFest 8

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Dance groups around campus are preparing for their biggest performance of the year: DanceFest 8. Old and new groups alike will be taking the Zoellner Arts Center stage April 14.

For some students, this will be the first time they perform a dance routine at a large-scale event.

“I’m pretty nervous,” said Minni Kim, ’16, a member of his dance group, African Renaissance. “I don’t have much performing experience in front of such a large crowd.”

Kim had some hip-hop dance experience in high school but has no background in African dance. He hadn’t really danced at all until joining African Renaissance at the beginning of the fall semester.

Like Kim, many students involved in dance groups on campus have no previous experience in the styles of dance their groups perform.

Nayantara Chaisson, ’19, is a member of four dance groups on campus —  African Renaissance, Leela Indian Fusion, Bhangra and Overdoze. She said although she had experience in some dance styles, others, like Indian and African dances, were completely new to her.

The process of learning new choreography, practicing unfamiliar dance moves and getting ready to perform a routine onstage is different for everyone. For Ava Scally, ’20, a new member of the swing dance club, the whole process was intense.

“It was a lot of learning really fast,” Scally said. “They tell you to practice your footwork when you’re walking to class. Sometimes I’d just be standing at the bus stop practicing the Suzy Q.”

Leela Indian Fusion and African Renaissance member Kelsie Strobel, ’18, found one of the most difficult parts was overcoming her shyness to be involved in the performance community. Throughout her three years of being in various dance groups, Strobel said she has learned not to be so concerned about the outcome of her performances but to let dancing be more about having fun.

For most groups, members spend two to four hours each week in practice to produce a routine that lasts only a few minutes.

“As an audience member, you get to see the final performance, which is a polished, well-practiced routine where everyone is in sync,” Kim said.

As part of a senior research project, Kim filmed the practices of different dance groups to bring behind-the-scenes components of creating and performing these routines to light.

“I think we sell dancers and the dance community short by not showcasing the actual blood, sweat and tears that goes into the buildup of the performance,” Kim said.

Though there is a lot of work that goes into being performance-ready, members of these groups find gratification in being part of the dance community on campus.

“The reason I stayed in so many dance groups is because the community is so close-knit,” Chaisson said. “You walk into practice and you’re saying hi to almost everybody there and you know everyone’s name.”

Strobel said she has seen the dance community on campus grow over the past three years. She said it has turned into a fun social group outside of Greek life where everyone can mingle with members of other dance groups and have fun dancing.

Many members of these groups will graduate this spring, so there has been an effort to make sure the transition into next year is as seamless as possible. Scally, like other dancers, plans to continue with swing dance all four years, and with so many new groups like Overdoze and Bhangra forming on campus every year, the dance community will only continue to grow.

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