Shall We Dance?

Although the Nutcracker costumes and sets have been carefully packed away for the year, dance at Phillips Academy continues to flourish in the winter. In the girls locker room, dancers frantically stick bobby pins into their lopsided buns, grab their pointe shoes and sprint upstairs to the ballet studio after classes. In Steinbach Lobby, boys casually wait for their afternoon dance class. For members of Andover Dance Group, the Mark Morris (a professional dance group) residency is in full swing, and rehearsals for the show have already begun. Blue Strut and SLAM performed in Saturday’s admissions event. Tomorrow, even non-dancers will be able to show off their moves at a different sort of dance venue: Blue & Silver. This impressive array of dance styles is not as reflective of the community’s talents as it should be. Dance has been ingrained in every world culture for thousands of years and, Andover, the school with “youth from every quarter,” needs to cover more ground than ballet, modern and a few student-run groups. The school should do more than display diverse talents at admissions events; Andover should actively nurture passionate students and enable them to share their abilities. This is where the World Dance program comes into play. As the program’s student coordinator, Stephanie Xu ’09 is responsible for seeking out talented dancers whose preferred dance styles are not usually taught or practiced at PA. Xu is constantly on the lookout for dancers who can share something unique with their peers at the weekly World Dance workshops. “I can’t really tell you the year [that World Dance] started,” said Judith Wombwell, Instructor of Theatre and Dance. “Comfort Halsey ’97 was a student here. She loved dance and wanted to bring in different types of teachers. So in 2004 she applied for an Abbot Grant for African dance, and people loved it. That was really the beginning of the program. The purpose was to be able to offer a broader range of dance styles.” These World Dance classes are now open to everyone in the Andover community and take place on Thursdays from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the dance studio in Borden Gym. Instructor in Theatre and Dance, Erin Strong, said, “In the past, we’ve done salsa, hip-hop, ballroom dance, Irish step dancing, classical Indian dance, flamenco; it’s varied. Sometimes students teach the class, and sometimes there are guest teachers, but it’s always coordinated by students—usually a member of the Dance Committee. This year, we put together a schedule in collaboration with the dance faculty.” Xu seems the perfect choice for student coordinator, because, when she is not recruiting World Dance teachers, she is often on the dance floor herself. She said that she is heavily involved in hip-hop and step dancing. Overall, Xu recognizes the presence and need for diversity in dance. “Each style of dance comes with its own attitude. Compare just ballet and hip-hop: one is structured and graceful and the other is hard and has no rules.” She continued, “World Dance represents students’ interest in sharing their own talents and cultures, and learning about those of others.” With this in mind, Xu explained this year’s diverse schedule: “Last week, Supriya Jain ’12 taught a Bollywood Indian dance. [Yesterday] Joel Gonzalez ’09 taught Salsa. Throughout this term, we will most likely also have classes on traditional Chinese dance, hip-hop and flamenco, among others.” “I’ve done [Bollywood-style dance] a lot more at Andover, normally for Indo-Pak,” related Kiran Gill ’11, who taught last week’s workshop with Jain. “Outside of school, I do a different form of Indian dance, bhangra. Bhangra is a really energetic folk-dance originating from Punjab, a state in North India, and it is considerably older than Bollywood. For bhangra, I’ve been on a junior team for the last two-and a half years called Boston Di Jawani—Youth of Boston—that is part of the organization ‘Boston Bhangra.’” “The first time I went to world dance was last year when Shefali Lohia ’10, Ramya Prathuri ’10 and Gauri Thaker ’10 taught a Bollywood Dance [workshop],” Gill wrote in an email. “I went just for fun. This year, Stephanie Xu contacted Supriya and me right after Grasshopper ’08 and asked if we would be interested in teaching a class.” Unfortunately, their workshop wasn’t exactly well-attended, to say the least. Gill wrote, “The notice for World Dance was put out a little late, so only three people came—two girls and one guy. So Supriya and I changed our original plan a little; I taught the guy bhangra and she taught the two girls parts of the dance from Aaja Nachle, which we performed at Grasshopper Night. At the end, we closed with …a fusion-dance of pretty much everything, a little hip-hop, bollywood and bhangra.” Jenny Zhou ’11 will be teaching a Chinese dance class later this term. “Steph emailed me because she knew I did Chinese dance; she was in my dance troop before I came to PA, and we did a dance in the Asian Arts Festival last year.” Zhou has been dancing since she was three years old and still rehearses with the Angel Dance troop in Waltham at least twice a week. “I guess I always really liked Chinese dance. It is something that incorporates something I really like, dance, with part of my culture. It lets me keep in touch with my roots,” she said. When asked what distinguishes Chinese dance, Zhou responded, “Well it definitely has ballet technique as a foundation, but it’s different from every other type of dance. There’s classical, folk and traditional, but within each there are even more styles.” Xu reflected on student participation in the World Dance program: “The fact that students are curious and involved in this kind of exchange is incredible because it makes our environment here at school such an open and interesting place. The different dance styles come from [separate] cultures and have [distinct] backgrounds, and I think this is the kind of awareness that Andover students need to be exposed to.”