Happy New Year to all, and welcome to a new edition of Dance News that brings you dance happenings from this past fall and early winter. Please join us as we look at student writings that take us behind the scenes of the dance stage with a reflection about the technical aspects of lighting a dance performance, an insider’s look at one piece of the diverse dance curriculum taught in our classrooms, and two student updates on middle school dance. Enjoy . . . and if you’d like to read more, you can find past installments of Dance News here and here! Also, head over to Oakwood School Dance on Vimeo for footage from recent shows and over 15 years of archival dance show footage.
A Techie’s View of Dance
I’ve done a decent amount of lighting for theater shows, but when you’re lighting a dance show, it’s tremendously different. The way the dancers move around the stage, and in the case of trimester 1’s dance show, having a live chorus to the side of the stage makes for a much more difficult job for the light designer and light board operator. When I was initially plotting the light setup with my teacher Sarah, we listened to the music to see how the mood changed across each performance. Once we had a sense of the mood and were able to create a sort of “template” for the lightning, it was time to put some actual humans in our light. I worked with the light board operator for the show to create different light changes on major beat drops and tone changes throughout each dance. Once we had finagled the lights for the dancers, Sarah and I did some adjusting to make sure each light was in the perfect spot and also created a special lighting plot for the chorus that would be performing on the side platform. Like I said before, lighting a dance show is incredibly difficult and making sure each light change is perfectly on beat is nearly impossible, but with the right amount of rehearsal and the right team (which we had), it comes together in a beautifully artistic way. I obviously loved the dancing of the dance show, but nothing compared to the beautiful light that helped convey tone, attitude, and a story with the dancers.
What It Means to Be a Contemporary Dancer
By students from the Contemporary Dance Forms class: Eliza, Rebecca, Emma, Alyse, Shelby, Maddie, Lauren, and Josephine
Contemporary Dance Forms is a brand new class at Oakwood, which has a focus in ballet, modern, and contemporary dance, as well as engaging in an exploration of unique improvised movement. The class was divided into 3 to 4 classes per week. Each day of our class was dedicated to exploring a different style of dance technique and history.
On Tuesdays, we focused on modern dance, specifically Martha Graham Technique. We warmed up with Graham’s signature six-step floor-work series that engages all parts of the body, with a focus on contraction and release. Additionally, we studied Graham’s unique choreographic style, which involves a lot of odd body shapes that are meant to evoke specific emotion in the observer. Graham was very passionate about the idea of using dance as an outlet for social/political commentary and emotion. As a class, we came to the conclusion that Graham’s style is something that is either loved or hated, however, the technique that she pioneered is a necessary building block for dancers that wish to be well-rounded.
On Wednesdays, we focused on traditional ballet technique with barre work, across the floor, and center work. We were also lucky to have a live accompanist during our Wednesday classes, so we also learned about tempo and pacing in our warm ups and combinations. This element helped us with our student leadership project in which each student taught an exercise to the class.
We began every Friday with a group improvisation, followed by different exercises that taught us the main elements of contemporary dance. A few of these elements are sequential motion, movement based on natural human activity, and augmented rest, where we had time to reflect on our experiences. On this day we also tried to reflect on our mutual lives and experiences in order to find inspiration for the dance that we choreographed as a collective. Contemporary dance is dance that springs from and reflects contemporary issues—so the things that are important to us now are perfect material for choreography.
The culmination of this class was a performance that featured a dance choreographed by our teacher, Arianne, inspired by Graham technique, a duet choreographed by Maddie and Emma that incorporated elements of ballet, and a contemporary dance that we all choreographed together—inspired by our personal concerns. In addition, we collaborated with hip-hop class on a piece called Glory, which was sung live by the high school vocal ensemble. That number in particular (a hopeful protest piece about diversity and equality) resonated with the social/political issues of our current times.
A contemporary dancer must know the history of dance in order to be “in the moment of now.”
We learned about the building blocks that have brought us to understand what it means to be a contemporary dancer. We are super proud of all the work we did in this class!
Middle School Dance Updates
By Sophia (7th grade)
Middle School Dance Company had a guest artist last trimester. Her name was Jordan Wentz, and she taught our 8-person class a short hip hop dance routine to a very upbeat song. I especially enjoyed the class because it was my first time doing hip hop. I had done competitive all star cheer outside of school, so I found the fast-paced hip hop dancing very similar. It was very speedy choreography, but I found it manageable. Overall, the class was super fun, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in taking dance at Oakwood.
By Annika (8th grade)
Throughout my time in the Middle School Dance Company class with Arianne, I learned how you can show your mood or opinion through movement. During class, we created two dances—one choreographed by Arianne and one by us, the students. Both dances took a lot of hard work, but the finished product was worth it.
Although we were creating dances and learning how to dance, we were also finding new ways to express ourselves. On one occasion we had a hip hop teacher come in to show us a new type of dance, something we weren’t used to. It was complicated and extremely fast for a group of girls who are used to lyrical, ballet, and contemporary dance. The unique experience helped us come up with new movement for our final performance.
Click through the gallery below to see additional fall / early winter dance shots!