Dance Open Aims to Celebrate Student Experience, Diversity, and Culture

Red fluorescent lights illuminated the dark stage, spotlighting six Fusion members standing in formation with their head bowed. The music accented the dancers’ quick, sharp movements as they began their routine, which incorporated elements of Afro-Caribbean and Latin dance. Fusion, along with many other groups and solo dancers, will be performing in this term’s Dance Open, which will take place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Dance Open strives to showcase a variety of dance styles, including Afro-Caribbean, tap, hip-hop, and K-pop. According to Keely Aouga ’19, one of the CoHeads of Fusion, Dance Open is an opportunity to bring a part of their culture to campus through dance.

“Fusion is like my family and to be able to bring a part of my culture to a predominantly white campus is really important to me. Especially because this month is Black History month and… we tend to talk about American Black people, this [dance] includes a different part of the Black diaspora. It’s important to show there’s more than one narrative and we do it through dance,” said Aouga.

Students were also able to explore new types of dance and challenge themselves to choreograph pieces to novel styles. According to Michelle Zhao ’19, who choreographed a dance to K-pop group BTS’ “House of Cards,” the experience allowed her to venture into new territory, both as a choreographer and dancer.

“I wanted to try experimenting with [K-pop] and see what I could come up with. When I choreograph something, I pay a lot of attention to the accents in the music and the rhythm of the lyrics. A lot of my choreo has a lot of detail and small movements that don’t fit with the beat of the music but they fit with the beat of the singers singing or the tempo of lyrics,” said Zhao.

For a few students, this year’s Dance Open is their last chance to share their passion for and growth in dance at Andover. For her fourth and final Dance Open, Emily Jackson ’19 is a performer in Footnotes’ tap-dance routine, as well as in a duet with Michelle Jeon ’19, performances that she hopes will commemorate her four-year tenure in the dance department at Andover.

“For four years I’ve been participating in Dance Open with Footnotes and I’ve been choreographing as well. A lot of it is actually a lot of nostalgia, because I keep thinking about when I was a [Junior] choreographing my first piece and the excitement that was in it, but also the stress. So I’ve been just really trying to enjoy the process because it’s my last,” said Jackson.

Although this is only her second Dance Open, Uanne Chang ’20 has taken on the role of director of Dance Open, organizing rehearsals and performance order and overseeing the entire production. As a dancer herself, Chang also gave specific critiques to dancers to improve their routines.

“The most challenging part for me was having to give all the feedback, because by nature I’m not super critical, and sometimes I find it difficult to give feedback to styles of dance that I’m not familiar with like hip-hop, tap, or cultural dances, but there are certain things that as a dancer I can still see, like formations or levels of energy, so in that regard I was able to help the groups,” Chang added.

According to Judith Wombell, Instructor of Theatre and Dance, Dance Open allows students to balance dance with the other rigors of Andover life. Wombwell believes these student-run productions also encourage growth and passion within dancers by showing entirely student-choreographed and organized dance performances.

“When kids come here and have a passion for dance but are caught up with other things like a sport, events like Dance Open are a wonderful opportunity for dancers to showcase what they love while not having to make a huge term or year long commitment,” said Wombwell.