Student Dance Showcase Provides Space for Diversity

It’s hard to believe that Oberlin’s Student Dance Showcase first appeared only six years ago, given the campus staple it has since become. Now one of the most well-attended student dance performances each semester, the showcase — which will present its spring 2018 iteration this weekend — is a space for student dance groups of any and every type to spotlight their hard work, talent, and enthusiastic energy for friends, family, and other students and faculty.

Previous to the 2012 creation of Student Dance Showcase, student dancers and choreographers were limited to auditioning for Dance department-sponsored performances Spring Back and Fall Forward, which required dance faculty approval, or participation in the precursors to Student Dance Showcase: Sprung and Fell. Sprung and Fell — according to Hayley Larson, OC ’14, — “had the reputation of being the ‘reject shows,’ since many of the pieces that auditioned for the faculty shows and didn’t make the cut would end up presented there.” Larson, who auditioned for Spring Back her first year but was not selected, intended to perform in Sprung — until she realized that she was the only performer in the lineup.

“I became sad and a bit frustrated that no good option was being presented to students where they could just show new ideas and works without the stamp of approval of a faculty member,” Larson wrote in an email to the Review. “I knew a lot of dancers (not just majors or minors), myself included, who had pieces that didn’t make it into the official shows, or didn’t the fit mold of ‘Oberlin modern dance.’”

The following year, Larson became a co-chair of Dance Umbrella, an organization that funds opportunities for student dance outside of the Dance department. She jumped at the chance to create a budget for a re-branding and overhaul of the non-departmental dance showcases, and Student Dance Showcase was born. Acting as stage manager, director, and general organizer, Larson — assisted by Warner Technical Coordinator and Lecturer Daniel James, as well as some light advice from dance faculty — built a performance space in spring 2012 that would, over the course of the next six years, become one of the most stylistically diverse on campus.

“Oberlin provides a variety of performance and learning opportunities for styles like modern and contemporary dance, but not so much for styles like hip-hop, Latin dance, etc.,” said Conservatory senior Alan Wang, who has danced in the showcase with hip-hop and urban dance groups Koreo and Kinetique in recent semesters. “Student Dance Showcase gives us an opportunity to showcase these styles that for many of us are crucial to our backgrounds. It also gives the student body an opportunity to see these styles that they may be less familiar with, and can also serve as a great educational experience.”

From fall 2015 to fall 2017, Student Dance Showcase was directed by College seniors Lola Gatti and Isabel Levey-Swain. Both first became involved through other Dance department opportunities but enthusiastically accepted management of the showcase a semester prior to the graduation of former director Alana Reibstein, OC ’16.

“We love it so much, we’re backstage and upstairs and just talking the whole time going like, ‘I love it, I love it, this is so amazing, we’re so happy,’ just because [of] the energy when you’re in that room and everyone’s performing, and that’s the joy,” Gatti said. “Everyone has so much fun during it, and that’s really obvious, and that’s what makes a successful show — not that all the pieces are at some caliber or that it’s good or bad or whatever — it’s very apparent to the audience that it’s a high-energy show, and whoever’s performing is just having so much fun, you can tell. And we’re just doing the logistical part.”

Levey-Swain agreed wholeheartedly, adding, “I work on the top with the sound, so I can watch from above all the people who absolutely love it, and that’s the best thing ever.”

Having passed on the directorial roles to College sophomore Kierra Nguyen and first-year Micaela Pirzio-Biroli, Levey-Swain choreographed a piece for her senior Dance capstone that Gatti will take part in performing at this weekend’s Student Dance Showcase. The two have also assisted with any questions Nguyen and Pirzio-Biroli have had, although Gatti said she felt confident that the rising directors were organized and responsible enough to handle the showcase well in the future.

Given the opportunity to watch a portion of the tech rehearsals this weekend, it seems Gatti’s confidence is not misplaced.

Nguyen and Pirzio-Biroli said they were thrilled by the opportunity to direct Student Dance Showcase this year; Pirzio-Biroli first saw the performance on her first visit to Oberlin as a prospective student.

“It was nice to just see the vibrancy of the Oberlin community channeled through this production,” Pirzio-Biroli said.

The diversity and vibrancy of performers will continue with this semester’s performers, which include Koreo, And What!?, and ViBE Dance Company, among others.

Nguyen said the Student Dance Showcase matters to her because she sees the joy it brings both to her and the community.

“Anyone can come and see it, so it’s good for the performers, good for the audience, it’s good for the rapport of the community, and the social scene, and just having dance be important in that,” Nguyen said.

College senior Frances Purcell, who has performed with Beginning Tap ExCo and ViBE Tap Company in previous showcases and will feature with ViBE Tap and the Oberlin Samba School in the showcase this weekend, expressed a similar enthusiasm. “I think it’s a really important space for dance on campus because it really demonstrates the sense of community and really fosters the dance community at Oberlin,” Purcell said. “… There’s been so much support from the crowd — the crowd gets crazy — and from our fellow dancers. It’s truly one of the most supportive and inclusive dance shows we have on this campus because it’s open to everybody.”

Larson, who continues to use her performance skills as a professional aerialist at Aloft Circus Arts in Chicago, is delighted by the support and community that the Student Dance Showcase continues to engender in performers and audience members alike.

“I am thrilled that the showcase is still happening and such a huge part of the student dance community at Oberlin,” Larson wrote in an email to the Review. “If I could have hoped for anything as a graduating senior, it would have been for the continuation of that show and the hopes and goals myself and all the following directors poured into it. Oberlin has so many beautiful performers and I am glad they have a venue to share that with their peers, whatever form it takes.”

The Student Dance Showcase will go up today and tomorrow at 8 p.m. in Warner Main Space. Tickets are free.