Dickinson College Homepage Dickinson Magazine This issue of the Dickinson Magazine was mailed on Monday, January 3, 2005
From This Issue
Volume 82 • Number 3
Winter 2005

Gotta Dance
Keeping the beat long after the campus curtain falls
By Sherri Kimmel
It started with a “Happening,” back in the hippy-dippy days of the late 1960s. As Jim Lartin-Drake ’70 tells it, dance at Dickinson began when an avant-garde music professor, Malcolm Goldstein, spent a couple of years on campus with his wife, a dancer named Carol Marcy.

Lartin-Drake, who has been a theatre-department staple at Dickinson for most of the last 39 years, talks lovingly of the Happening days, when music, movement, visual arts and sound effects swirled together to make performance art.

“Malcolm was into alternative pieces, conceived outside the normal range,” says Lartin-Drake as he builds a set for the fall musical. “He did a piece that was steel gym lockers being banged together. Carol had the first dance and movement concerts, which were the beginning of SpringFest. They had a motorcycle dance—a phalanx of motorcycles with Botticelli-like students perched on the handlebars—and a butterfly dance. It was a yeasty ferment of creativity and drama.”

In the early 1970s dance became dormant again. And then a pair of Christines, first Amoroso and then Vilardo, came to campus to kick up that yeasty ferment again. While Amoroso initiated “the beginning of a formal dance program,” Lartin-Drake says that Vilardo “curricularized” dance on campus and made it an official part of the theatre program. Vilardo also began arranging classes for students with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and started the Dance Theatre Group (DTG), offering two dance concerts a year. But Amy Ginsburg, who joined the faculty in 1991, has made dance a thriving discipline at Dickinson, says Lartin-Drake, technical director for the Mermaid Players.

As opposed to a highly competitive conservatory, Dickinson’s liberal-arts environment provides “a low-pressure setting,” according to Ginsburg, associate professor of dance. “We have people with interest and commitment at various levels.”

Dance is not a major unto its own but can be studied as an emphasis in the theatre-arts major or as a dance and music integrated major.

“What’s special is that any student has access to try out for DTG every semester,” says Ginsburg. “You don’t need to be a major. There are 15 to 20 students at a time who think of dance as a co-major or minor. Between 70 and 90 take a class or dance with DTG in the course of a year.”

One of the dance program’s highlights is the Fall Pause Dance Intensive—four days of study with professionals like, this year, Laura Bennett of American Dance Legacy Institute, based at Brown University. The experience “expands [students’] reach as dancers,” Ginsburg notes.

“It was Amy who institutionalized the fall concert with professors and guest choreographers [creating dances],” Lartin-Drake says. “The students benefit tremendously from the annual exposure to contemporary artists in the field. Dickinson has established a nice relationship with some of the up-and-coming contemporary dance companies. And Amy takes her students to the American College Dance Festival [for four days of master classes and performances]. They’re engaging the world through dance.”

Talk to any number of alumni who have come through the dance program, either taking dance history, technique, choreography and other classes, or as DTG performers who majored in other disciplines, and you’ll discover Lartin-Drake’s statement is indisputably true.

Natalie Marrone ’94 asserts that study “beyond the liberal-arts setting” contributed to her dance experience. “We would go to the American College Dance Festival and get exposure to an international dance festival at a very young age. This gave me good pointers, ideas about movement techniques, for when I decided to come to New York after graduation.”

Marrone, who studied with Vilardo and Ginsburg, now is assistant professor of dance at Ohio Wesleyan University. She teaches modern, jazz and ballet technique, composition and group choreography, directs a student dance company, advises the student dance organization and founded, in 1998, a nonprofit female dance company. The Dance Cure, a fusion of contemporary and folk dances, is named for the pre-Prozac medieval days when women engaged in four days of ecstatic dance to lift themselves from depression.

An English and theatre arts double major, Marrone had been a largely unschooled hip-hop dancer when she arrived at Dickinson. She combined her two majors and support from a Weiss Prize in the Creative Arts to create a performance piece highlighting Romantic poetry and dance.

“That experience gave me a portfolio that then had graduate schools competing for me,” Marrone says. “I ended up in the number-one dance program in the country, Ohio State, and they paid me to go.”

Another graduate who, like Marrone, won the Weiss Prize, earned an M.F.A. in choreography and teaches dance full time, is George Staib ’89. A lecturer for the Emory University program that has 25 dance majors and 30 dance minors, he also directs the student dance company and dances with two Atlanta companies.

Before arriving at Emory in 2000, Staib was a free-lance choreographer in Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. He was a political-science major and had not danced before coming to Dickinson. An Armenian born in Iran, Staib says his affinity for dance “completely surprised me.”

Like Staib, Latin major Lee Shapley ’96 had not danced before coming to Dickinson. “I started at 19, which is pretty common, [especially for male dancers]. Modern dance has such a broad scope that you don’t necessarily have to have your legs turned out perfectly [as one would for ballet].”

Shapley, a high-school wrestler, began his pursuit of the arts by taking classes with Ward Davenny, associate professor of art. Dance, Shapley says, is “the perfect combination of two worlds that are seen as polar opposites. It’s everything you find in a sculpture class, combined with athleticism. It’s the joy to move that you get from doing sports.”

Since graduation, Shapley has danced with DeFacto Dance, a company of four dancers that he founded in 2002. He also became certified to teach the Alexander Technique, “something a lot of actors, dancer and performers use to learn how to move efficiently and with less stress. I teach it in combination with dance.”

In the spring Shapley will work with Dickinson’s dancers, using the technique. This month he is moving from New York City to Philadelphia where he will have his own studio and continue his work with DeFacto.

Unlike Shapley, Hilary White ’02 was classically trained and grew up doing ballet, jazz and tap. Dickinson’s program in modern dance was one of the reasons she chose the college. “For the size of the school, it’s a really good program. I was a political-science major, but I probably took more dance classes than anything else.”

Now auditioning for companies around Washington, D.C., and working in the marketing department of the Washington Performing Arts Society, White received an M.A. in dance from American University in May. She plans to be a teacher and performer, a career inspired by Ginsburg.

“I consider Amy very much as my mentor,” says White. “She’s so passionate about dance and education. One of the reasons I fell in love with modern dance, and the reason I carried on, was her guidance and support.”

One of the most successful performers among recent graduates, Bliss Kohlmyer Dowman ’97, also proclaims Ginsburg “an amazing mentor. I didn’t feel I was being pushed to be anything in particular. But if you wanted to pursue dance, she was there for you.”

Lack of pressure was particularly important to Dowman, who transferred to Dickinson after spending two years in the dance conservatory at The Julliard School. She had skipped her senior year of high school to go there.

After being turned off by the competitive nature of Julliard, Dowman found her way back to dance. “I was doing it for fun. I wanted to get back to why I did it to begin with. In eighth grade I knew what I wanted to do. Now I can’t imagine life without this. And it helps to be getting paid now.”

Today, the former theatre-arts major dances and tours with Robert Moses’ Kin for about nine months each year, supplementing her income by teaching at the Oberlin Dance Collective in San Francisco, where she lives. Dowman plans to enter graduate school for dance. “I told Amy, ‘I want to do what you do’—get a master’s and teach in a college or university.”

Performing and teaching are not the outcomes of all who study dance or perform at Dickinson. But dance often serves as a career—or just a life—enhancement.

Lisa Hsu Treat ’00, a former French and physics double major, is one who falls into the latter category. Now pursuing a Ph.D. through a medical-engineering/medical-physics program offered by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she joined DTG as a freshman “because I saw advertisements that said no experience was necessary. This was my opportunity to try dance out, and I performed every semester on campus. It was a chance to get away from all the other academics; it was a stress reliever.”

With her completed Ph.D. still three years off, Treat says, “I don’t have time for dance groups now, but I haven’t ruled myself out as a performer. I hope to return once the coursework has died down.” Still, she makes time to watch dance performances around Boston. Last year her graduate-school dean awarded Treat $5,000 to organize a performing-arts program, offering reduced-price tickets to graduate students.

Two other Ph.D. candidates are combining their interest in dance and movement with psychology. Emily Hall Ray ’96 is studying counseling psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, after receiving an M.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles, in dance therapy.

Leyla Mahbod Kenny ’97, a Washington, D.C., psychotherapist, is working toward a Ph.D. in social work at the Clinical Social Work Institute. “My dissertation is focusing on the neurobiological pathway of emotions in the body,” says Kenny. “This stems from my passion for the mind/body connection, which was fostered in DTG with Amy Ginsburg’s inspiration.”

Ray’s career goal, she says, “is to integrate more traditional counseling and psychotherapy with my dance-therapy training. Dance therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote health and well-being.”

When Ray arrived at Dickinson her dance experience was limited. “I took one of the introductory dance classes, got to know Amy and felt an affinity with what I was learning. I joined DTG and took technique classes.” DTG, says the former psychology and dramatic arts double major, “gave me a support system. It was a great social network for me. I learned a lot of important things about myself and how to take risks, to try new things—such as creating a piece of choreography or a performance—and to be part of a team.”

Though seeing about 20 clients a week in her private practice, Kenny keeps up her interest in movement as co-owner of a yoga studio. She teaches five classes a week, one of which is at the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is one of her yoga students.

Kenny, a political-science major who has danced since she was 5, found her way quickly to DTG once on campus. “It became like a family unit within the school. No matter what major, where you come from, whether you were in a sorority or not [you felt accepted]. It also was a great form of stress reduction.” Attending dance festivals with DTG also introduced her to yoga. “That pushed me to spend a year living at a yoga center to become certified to teach.”

Looking back, Kenny views her dancing days as “a very healthy outlet for a college student. With Amy Ginsburg as the adult supervising it all, it was a healthy, productive environment.”

 


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