Perhaps you have caught a glimpse of students practicing pliés and break-dancing in front of the mirror in the gym, or wondered whom you saw running between classes in leotards. The Eastern University Dance department, consisting of 40 dance majors and minors, works around the clock to prepare for its winter and spring shows, as well as other fine arts events. I was able to catch up with four seniors over lunch: dance majors Kendra Underhill, Emily Almeter, and Abbie Worley and dance minor Kara Thompson.
“I get energy from dance classes more than any other academic classes,” Almeter tells me between bites of a rice and lettuce salad, her choice of a healthy meal to replenish after a strenuous dance class. It is necessary to draw energy from somewhere when many dance majors have busy schedules like Underhill: 18 credits and auditing two dance classes to keep her technique up, as well as dance rehearsals in the evenings for the Winter Dance Concert in December.
Underhill, Worley and Almeter are in overdrive this semester, preparing for their senior shows on February 6-7. “Each of us has a piece,” says Worley, explaining the dance major version of a senior thesis. Each senior must choreograph and participate in an extended piece for the senior concert. Worley says, “Mine is about beauty and brokenness and about sharing your story and…about how God makes it beautiful and there is purpose in all of it.” Almeter is choreographing a sci-fi-like narrative, in which a group of people is lost in space; the piece is meant to portray “the feeling of being lost, and [how] the experience is enhanced by the people around you.” In her piece, Underhill is examining the “pressure that society puts on girls and women to look a certain way.” The women laugh and tell me that Thompson, though not choreographing a senior piece because she is a minor, is kept busy participating in all three of these senior pieces.
Besides working on their senior pieces, the dance students are auditioning choreographed pieces for the Winter Dance Concert (December 5-7). At the beginning of the semester, student choreographers chose dancers to be in their pieces, and have been working with their dancers to create a one-minute clip of their piece to show professors. The professors will watch the short version of the student pieces, and then will ask questions about clothes, music and technique.
“Usually people don’t choreograph together, but we are doing that a lot this year,” Underhill says. Underhill and Worley are preparing a group piece and a jazz piece, and Underhill and Thompson are working on a country-themed piece together. Besides the student pieces, there are two other pieces already lined up for the winter show. Guest choreographer Kim O’Connor-Sparks will be visiting campus on Sundays to teach a tap piece, “Singin’ in the Rain,” the title song from the beloved musical, which will be performed in December. Also in the winter show will be a piece choreographed by Eastern dance professor Stephen Welsh and performed by his Dance Repertoire students.
The dance students are also involved in many campus clubs and activities, such as Eastern Dance Ministry (EDM). Underhill, Worley and Almeter co-lead EDM, which consists of seven members. EDM has already ministered in chapel in September and at Eastern’s Conquer the Night, and plans to minister two more times this semester in chapel.
Rachael Lyons, a junior dance major, is a member of Redefined, Eastern’s hip-hop dance group that performs during half-time at the men’s basketball games. Redefined recently held auditions and now has 13 members. “I think it is [definitely] a change,” Lyons said of the new team. “We are getting a lot of new people. Redefined will look different in the coming year, but I think it will be a good change.”
Lyons is also looking forward to the American Collegiate Dance Festival Association (ACDFD) conference in March, which Eastern attends yearly: “We go and attend workshops and learn from professors…from dance departments at other schools. It really exposes us to other styles that Eastern doesn’t offer or can’t offer.”
The Eastern Dance Department may be busy, but the close-knit community they have formed makes it worthwhile. Underhill says, “We always have this saying in the dance department: you have to honk for each other,” which is a reference to the way that geese all move as one unit via honking, the point person paying attention to the needs of those at the sides, and vice versa. Underhill continues, “We have to really encourage each other.” “And find something to work for,” Almeter adds.