Dance Pro, at 71, shows no signs of slowing down

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Students perform a contemporary-modern piece choreographed by Michelle Levitt (senior) to “Wiseman” by Frank Ocean at the Dance Production Spring 2019 at Occidental College. Thursday, March 21, 2019. Ava Ciosek/The Occidental

Occidental’s Dance Production (Dance Pro) is a student-led club that choreographs, plans and performs an annual dance show, which took place March 22–23. This year’s 71st production featured 16 different student-choreographed dances with themes ranging from ’80s Jazzercise to the movie “Shrek” and dance styles including Broadway, tap, contemporary, Bollywood and hip-hop. According to co-presidents Maya Crawford (senior) and Anna Holm (senior), Dance Pro is special because it cultivates an inclusive performance environment.

“I did ballet for a long time and the atmosphere was so competitive, but it’s not like that here,” Holm said. “Everyone is so supportive of one another.”

Crawford and Holm said that Dance Pro accepts students from all skill levels, whether they are just beginning or have danced for many years. They explained that the club’s intent is for participants to have fun, not to be competitive.

Students perform a hip-hop piece for the Dance Production Spring 2019 show at Occidental College. Thursday, March 21, 2019. Ava Ciosek/The Occidental

Both Crawford and Holm said they wanted to participate in Dance Pro before coming to Occidental. They both grew up in dance communities and knew they wanted to be part of Dance Pro’s atmosphere and contribute to its impact on campus.

“My favorite part of the shows is talking to audience members after the show when they tell us, ‘Great job!’ and talk about wanting to join next year,” Crawford said.

This year, Dance Pro was preceded by Arts Week, a week-long celebration honoring student artists and their work at Occidental. Members of Dance Pro’s executive board organize events throughout the week to provide students with a space to showcase their particular talents. In addition to featuring student performers and artists, Arts Week also aimed to energize the Occidental community for Dance Pro at the end of the week, according to an email from Dance Pro Community Engagement Coordinators, Molly Ellrodt (sophomore) and Natalia Guerra (junior).

“Initially, Arts Week was intended to be a celebration of all forms of art, both visual and performance,” Ellrodt said. “We wanted to make sure Dance Pro was sort of bringing together all of the art forms and art clubs on campus.”

As part of Arts Week, several students and groups performed on the quad, including Daviona Moore (sophomore), Dance Team, Pulse After Dark and Fantastiprov.

Dance Pro is also driven by its new members and choreographers. Allison Wilson (first year) and Kai Morfin (first year) were picked as choreographers through a series of auditions.

“Everyone in Dance Pro is so accepting and it’s a really great community for dance, and it’s very different than what I have done in the past,” Wilson said. “As a first year, I get really self-conscious about it sometimes, but I know everyone’s really nice. During our showings, everyone always cheers each other on, so it’s making me feel more comfortable.”

Morfin echoed Wilson’s sentiments.

“It is rewarding to be a first-year choreographer,” Morfin said via email. “The e-board and other choreographers are all very encouraging of us and they do everything in their power to ensure our success. It feels very supportive to come into a new environment like this and still retain the feeling of a personal relationship with those who maintain and direct such a large club.”

Morfin said what makes Dance Pro so special is not only the cast and crew’s overwhelming support but the people he met during the process. He said audience members may not appreciate or realize the work that goes into making a three-minute performance for a show. In reality, the dancers dedicated an entire year to practicing their choreography.

“I have met people this year that I get together with nearly every day and dance with just for fun,” Morfin said via email. “Bonding over this show we were simultaneously working towards allowed us to diverge on our own and experiment with our own dance projects and concepts.”

Every year, each dance is different, and new styles are constantly brought in — a feature of Dance Pro that Wilson especially appreciated. She explained that some of this year’s routines featured 50 dancers while others featured a mere six. These routines spanned a diverse range of styles from traditional Chinese fan dancing, choreographed by Leeza Lu (sophomore), to modern African, choreographed by Waruguru Waithira (senior), to modern and traditional styles of Indian dance, choreographed by Ahladini Veerina (junior), Harjas Dhillon (sophomore) and Jagmit Dhami (junior). New ideas and dance styles surface every year, according to Wilson and others; Dance Pro continuously strives to recognize all dance styles.

Waruguru Waithira (senior) performs her choreographed piece for the Dance Production Spring 2019 show at Occidental College. Thursday, March 21, 2019. Ava Ciosek/The Occidental

One of the most invigorating parts of Dance Pro is seeing audience reactions and hearing their cheers, according to Holm and Crawford. The audience included students, college employees and parents such as Evelynn Byrne and Martin Taggart. Their daughter, Madison Taggart (sophomore), performed in Lu’s traditional Chinese fan dance, titled “A Fantasy.”

“It’s awesome — we love it, it’s just so fun,” Byrne and Taggart said. “The incredible work all the dancers and choreographers put in is just so much fun to watch.”

Rachel Sidebottom (junior), another audience member, said she appreciated not only the performance but its ability to bring Occidental together.

“It’s exhilarating,” Sidebottom said. “It’s truly a great way for the whole Oxy community and the overarching community to come together for one great love.”