Choreographers and concussions in the City of Angels


By KaitlynThoen

Many college students spend their summers working, interning, traveling, vacationing and hanging out with friends and family. I on the other hand, spent my summer stargazing. As a recipient of the Dance and Theater Department’s Edward Villella Scholarship, I was able to attend an incredible five-day dance intensive in Los Angeles. I’d be working with Emmy-winning choreographers, many of whom have been featured on the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance, in order to shoot a video of our own. Mia Michaels, Travis Wall, Teddy Florence and Mandy Moore are just a few of the names I was looking forward to becoming personally acquainted with.

Only 20 minutes after arriving in Hollywood, I was already seeing stars. Not the famous celebrities I was expecting, though… the stars I was seeing were tiny pinpricks of white piercing through a sudden rush of darkness. I quickly went from gazing to dazing after being accidentally kicked in the head by another dancer, resulting in a concussion.

What hurt worse than my head was my pride. I was humiliated by the accident and was devastated to watch classes carry on without me as I pathetically sat with an icepack on my head and a medic frequently asking if I knew my own name. After years of hard work, months of preparation and half a day of traveling, I would be spending the week confined to a chair watching, instead of on the dance floor.

And so day after day I took a seat among the “dance moms” who gossiped away under their breaths about the other dancers, choreographers and even their own children. I watched as one 150 dancers struggled and competed for seven hours a day just to get noticed by the choreographers. I couldn’t help but wonder if I actually got the better end of the deal having only to sit and observe rather than play victim to the harsh criticism, or even worse, indifference, that saturates this industry. At my own studio, it was rare to have a class larger than fifteen students. I hardly ever had to fight for space or individual attention. I most certainly did not have to dance on the carpeted floor of a hotel ballroom. And my peers genuinely cared about me as a person. My hometown studio is the polar opposite of this intensive where the only reason I was recognized was because I received potential brain damage.

Still, that recognition came only in the form of feigned sympathy as I became known as “the-girl-who-got- kicked-in-the-head” rather than by my actual name. Furthermore I could sense a feeling of relief in the crowd. To everyone else, I was just one less competitor, one less body taking up precious space.

As disappointed as I was at first about not being able to dance, there was so much to learn from being an observer. I got to witness first-hand the various ways of teaching and learning choreography. I was able to see one hundred and fifty different interpretations of the same movements. I learned how many other factors go into creating the ideal dancer apart from the strict technique that oftentimes consumes us. These are all things that I had failed to notice in the 18 years I’ve spent as an active dancer and never would have learned had I not been forced to sit out. Not to mention, I still got to meet the geniuses behind top-notch choreography and watch it performed by stars-to-be.

Along with newfound inspiration for my own dance endeavors, this experience also brought a sense of pride and gratitude for our program at Union.

I found myself daydreaming about the new dance studio soon to open this spring. I realized how thankful I was to attend a school with a Board of Trustees willing to listen to my voice, my need for a new dance facility and donate the money to turn that fantasy into reality. And although the fantasy of this intensive turned out to be a little lack-luster, it made me realize how fortunate I was to have a dance professor who emailed me the second I arrived on campus dying to hear about my summer in Los Angeles.

We entered another school year and complained about getting homework on the first day of class (so much for syllabus week). Now, a few weeks later we wish we had huge class sizes where no one would notice if we slept through our 8 a.m.. By the end of the term we might be at the end of our rope as we write our sixth draft because our professor found yet another flaw. But we have to remember that we are actually fortunate to have all of this. Union is a place filled with people who will push you to reach for the stars and prevent you from falling flat on your face or getting kicked in the head.


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