Dance in Motion
by Claire McNamara '09
My roommate beamed at the prospect of going to our first college dance auditions together. I frowned and wished I’d never told her I’d danced in high school.
I wasn’t going to be a dancer in college. Years of being too tall, too redheaded, not quite skinny enough, and unable to keep my body perfectly set as prescribed had made dancing a chore. I had purposefully left my leotards and tights at home. But I wanted to be friends with the person I’d be living with my first year in college, so I borrowed a pair of her jazz pants and went with her to auditions.
I should have known dance at Scripps would be different. After that audition, I cancelled my early dance retirement.
Through its small size and liberal arts college setting, the Scripps dance department offers students a unique opportunity to explore different intellectual and stylistic elements of dance. After that first audition, I was offered several spots in student-choreographed pieces and began to take dance classes. In the studio, I escaped the rigid confines of my ballet school and found a space not built on strict adherence to one style or way of seeing dance. I began to feel more comfortable doing improvisational movement in bare feet than I ever did at the barre in ballet slippers.
Along with the dance department’s focus on contemporary technique, classes include ballet, jazz, West African dance, and a variety of theory courses. They are designed to allow acceptance of dancers of every level of experience and body type and so strengthen the confidence, technique, and creativity of its students. Each dancer’s individuality is allowed to come through—an idea that would have horrified my old ballet teacher.
Ferrin Ruiz ’08 had a similar experience at Scripps. “I came in as such a ‘bunhead,’ totally closed to the idea of other types of dance, especially modern and improvisation. Now, four years later, I just closed the Scripps ‘In the Works’ show, doing improv!” she said. “I was so thankful to all the teachers who pushed me to expand my dancing, while staying true to my ballet.”
Through their constant encouragement and constructive criticism, Professors Ronnie Brosterman, Gail Abrams, and part-time faculty Suchi Branfman, Phylise Smith, and Joel Smith cultivate the best each dancer has to offer and introduce new ways of approaching and presenting dance.
“The dance department at Scripps encourages students to think of the process of physical discovery as part of their intellectual journey,” Brosterman says. “How they engage in the studio is a microcosm of how they will interact with the world. Each student is her own dancer and is asked to bring her whole self to her actions and her art.”
Each dancer I talked to mentioned a connection or gift they received from each of their instructors: from the supportive, patient mentor in Abrams, to the structure and creativity taught by Brosterman in choreography class, to the modern and contemporary dance introduced by Joel Smith, to the nurturing of a student’s unique style and voice by Branfman.
Instructors, lighting designers, and production staff work personally with each student when she wants to develop ideas for performance and make her vision happen. Guest choreographers offer students a way to discover new styles, as well as opportunities to work with professionals during school or after graduation.
Recent alumnae of the Scripps dance program have kept dance in their lives either through careers as professional instructors and performers or in other outlets. From architects conceptualizing movement into structure to massage therapists, psychologists, and doctors to event planners, choreographers for film, and costume designers, Scripps dancers incorporate their liberal arts education and creativity into their careers.
Marissa Labog ’99, a dual dance and English major, dances in commercial, company, and community-based projects in Los Angeles. She incorporates her love of literature into her work, and recently performed in an eveninglength work by Los Angeles choreographer Rosanna Gamson based on the lives and work of the Bronte sisters. Labog has danced with several Los Angeles dance companies, including Regina Klenjoski Dance Theatre, Collage Dance Theatre, Rosanna Gamson Worldwide, and Company of Strangers. On television, she has appeared on The Drew Carey Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, That’s So Raven, The Source Sound Lab and commercials for Nike, iPod, Hyundai, Virgin Mobile, and AOL. Film work includes I Know What Boys Like, Bratz, The Movie, A Time for Dancing, and Bring It On: All or Nothing. She is also founder and director of the performance group “One Step Ahead,” which uses hip hop as a means to provide a positive creative environment for inner-city youth.
Erin Owen, who graduated in ’99 with a dual major in dance and biology, is now a company member of Doug Varone and Dancers, a major award-winning modern dance company in New York City. She has also worked with Varone at the Metropolitan Opera, as well as in a photo shoot for W Magazine. Erin has free-lanced with Daniel Charon, Ivy Baldwin, Faye Driscoll, Melissa Briggs, Netta Yerushalmy, Karinne Keithley, Geraldine Cardiel, Bill T. Jones in the Fall for Dance festival, and David Neumann in his creature movement for the film I Am Legend. Besides performing, Erin teaches pilates and Gyrotonic® in New York.
Nkechi Njaka ’05, a neuroscience major and dance minor, completed a choreography residency at Dance Base in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2007, that included a project in which she combined neuroanatomy and modern contemporary dance. She often looks back on the support she found at Scripps, noting, “The more involved I became, the more nurtured I felt; the more help I received, the better my art was.”
Caroline Johnson ’04 chose her dance major during the first few weeks of Abrams’ modern class and is currently working with Choreo Collective in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where she helps create six or seven shows throughout the year. She plans to start graduate work at Pratt Institute in March 2009 towards certification as a dance/movement therapist.
A dual French and dance major, Eliza Pfister ’05 used her study-abroad time in Paris to work on her senior thesis,in which she investigated and danced the life of Marie Antoinette. She is currently exploring different master’s programs to incorporate massage and creativity into a career, a choice that began with Abrams’ Laban movement analysis classes, in which she was able to explore mixed media, such as movement and painting. She also performs with Los Angeles choreographer Arianne MacBean, whom she met when MacBean was a guest artist at Scripps.
A double psychology and dance major, Andrea Cordova- Caddes ’03 completed certification programs in Laban movement analysis and pilates after Scripps. She is a somatic movement therapist at Fitness Source in Upland, choreographs for Citrus Dance Company, and teaches dance at Citrus College and pilates at Scripps for faculty and staff.
In my own two-and-a-half years at Scripps, I’ve found a wonderful group of varied, creative, crazy, and close friends, a strength and voice within myself I never knew I possessed, and countless moments onstage, sharing the magic of dance with my community.
At the end of each semester, I can stand as I am, tall, with my red hair shining in the light, sometimes center stage, sometimes in the back corner supporting those in front of me, and move with all the freedom, hope, and confidence Scripps has given me.
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