Watching the performance of George Mason's first summer dance intensive I was struck by how vital this program is for teenaged dancers. They not only gain access to the aesthetics and approaches of a college dance program, but also -- and what really blew me away Sunday -- discover in two weeks what will be expected of them as students as well as performers. Talking to the summer intensive's co-director Karen Reedy revealed some of the priorities - and unexpected outcomes - of this new initiative.
Kate: Why did you decide to create the summer intensive?
Karen Reedy: The George Mason University School of Dance had been considering beginning a summer program for a while. Heritage Professor Christopher d'Amboise developed the initial vision for this program. He wanted to expose students to the techniques and approaches taught in the School of Dance, while placing emphasis on the development of each student's artistry and individuality. Mason SummerDance students trained daily in ballet and modern technique classes, taught by members of the School of Dance faculty. During the afternoons and evenings, students rehearsed with choreographers for solo work and group dances.In rehearsal, the dancers utilized the techniques practiced earlier in the day, and were also challenged to stretch beyond the steps in order to find the meaning and intention in the movement.
Kate: What was the biggest surprise?
Karen: Being that this was our first intensive, there were a lot of unknowns. While the program looked good on paper, we needed to set it in motion! The biggest surprise for me had to do with the students' openness and fearlessness. Out of the forty plus students, there was not one who didn't embrace the two week experience with open arms. It can be scary to be asked to try new ways of moving and thinking about dance. Our students jumped right in and supported each other every step of the way. This created an environment ripe for tremendous individual growth and FUN!
Kate: Do you see differences in terms of training between the classes at competition dance studios and what students encounter in a program like GMU's School of Dance?
Karen: Yes, I believe so. The competition dance community is one that I don't know very much about, however interactions with SummerDance students led me to believe that our focus at the intensive differed from such studio training. Specifically, Mason SummerDance focused on developing the dancer's overall technique and artistry, as opposed to training for a desired product or skill in performance. While I can't speak for competition training, I can say that at Mason we strive to develop versatile dance artists through rigorous technical training. This training happens separate from rehearsals for performance. For some students that were new to our approach, the emphasis on technique and "the movement between the steps" was an adjustment.
Kate: How did you create a performance in such a short amount of time that was so polished, creative, and a joy to watch? I was especially impressed by how you pulled together such a range of choreographers. There was a great spectrum of dance on view...
Karen: Thank you for such a high compliment! I too was greatly impressed by what the dancers and choreographers accomplished in just two short weeks. The dancers worked hard and put in long hours, but I have to say that the performance quality was the result of the high commitment of faculty, students, and choreographers to our program. The passion for dancing (and learning) was palpable throughout the intensive. As for the variety of choreographic styles, we very much wanted to expose the students to a wide range of movement and choreographic approaches. The mix then led to variety for the audience as well!
|Susan Shields teaching SummerDance students at GMU|