For over two decades, the tradition of the dance concert has represented a spirit of entrepreneurial creativity at Simon’s Rock. Past concerts have run the gamut of style and aesthetic, featuring modern dance, ballet, hip hop, flamenco, belly dancing, folk dancing and swing, in addition to traditional Native American, Korean and Burmese dances. Not to mention several surprise appearances by what is entirely unclassifiable: Clown interludes, moving poetry, sandwich making, and dances focusing on topics as diverse as higher math and cleaning.
The dance concerts’ quirky beauty and present popularity is attributed to the fact that anyone on campus can perform in it. A source of pride for dance faculty member Wendy Shifrin are past year’s concerts that have had a smattering of faculty, resident directors, and even Physical Plant staff perform.
For Shifrin, performing in the dance concert is a vital part of any student’s education, not just those engaged in the arts. “Students have the full experience of what it is like to be backstage, what it is like to be a part of something and have a stake in it, an ownership in that. They also experience what it is like to get ready and be called, to listen, to support their friends and most importantly, a deeper understanding of what the theater is”
When Wendy first came to Simon’s Rock in 1984 and established the concerts, there were only a half dozen performers who were interested. However, the tradition quickly grew to epic proportions. The show attracted students enrolled in dance classes as well as students who had a dance curiosity and wanted to be part of the event. This years’ concert, which takes place at 7:30 on December 5 and 6, is the largest one in the concert’s 24 year history. It features a whopping 27 original dances.
Many of the dances are intergenerational collaborations that involve freshman, sophomores, seniors and juniors. Each year, Wendy also works with a smaller group of students across experience levels on an original piece involving live music and a more challenging technical and aesthetic vocabulary.
Part community gathering, part experience performance and part indiscernible spectacle, the dance concert involves nearly a quarter of the campus as performers, musicians, choreographers and technicians. For students of dance who have spent their time at Simon’s Rock exploring a choreographic vocabulary and honing their voice, the concert is an opportunity to bring their skills into the limelight. For others, it is a format to try out an idea or dip a toe into the spotlight for the first time.
Despite a few protests to divide the dance concert into two sections: One for ‘serious dance students’ and the other for the more renegade and experimental performers, the concert has consciously remained intact. “Part of who we are as an institution is to embrace the students who walk up to me and say, ‘Hey, I have an idea. Can I be in the dance concert?’” Wendy says. “In that respect it has an ad hoc student quality but would we want to change that? No way!”