Behind the scenes of Dancer's Symposium

If you?ve been to Dancers? Symposium (DS) in your time at Carnegie Mellon, you know to come to the show early. Often the line of students, faculty, and community members creeps back toward S? Se?or or winds around the eating areas of the UC toward Schatz half an hour before the show.

Every semester, DS brings a combination of dances to the Rangos stage, with styles as varied as hip-hop and Irish hardshoe, both of which will be in next week?s spring performance of DS. Prospective dancers gather at the start of each semester to audition; choreographers show 35 counts of their work in progress and the dancers choose numbers for which they?d like to audition. The directors of DS, who are usually seasoned members of the organization, help keep track of choreographers? and dancers? progress on the dances; they also help manage practice spaces and work with lighting.

So why do so many people flock to see DS each semester? According to Tria Chang, who has been both a dancer and a co-choreographer in DS, it is due in part to the size of the organization. ?A lot of people in the audience are going to support their friends,? Chang said; because DS is a large organization, the dancers? friend base is a sort-of built-in audience. Chang, who is a sophomore in humanities and arts, also said, ?I think a lot of people in the audience end up being in the auditions.... I always encourage people who go [as audience members] to also audition.?

Perhaps another reason for the monumental size of the audience is the variety of the dances. Kelly McLaughlin, a senior in social and decision sciences, is a DS director as well as a co-choreographer on a piece this semester with Melissa Blohm, a junior in business administration.

McLaughlin, who has worn the hats of choreographer, dancer, and director during her years in DS, weighed in on how this year?s DS was shaping up: ?Actually [in] this DS it seems we have a ton of variety in our show. In terms of quality I think the quality of the dances is quite high.... There?s really something that everyone could enjoy seeing. The production quality of our show has really gone up in this show particularly.? McLaughlin gave some examples of this semester?s variety of dances, which include hip-hop, Indian, modern, and jazz styles, among others. According to McLaughlin, the quality of production in DS has mainly gone up due to budget increases.

Fighting the crowd can be worth it; this year?s semester of DS has a lot to offer. The piece that McLaughlin and Blohm are choreographing is one that McLaughlin believes is ?unique to DS.? Of the style, McLaughlin said, ?We have a very difficult piece. We aren?t using counts because of how music works.... Because it?s a drum piece, we can?t use counts. It?s been a really hard learning process.? However, the piece will stand out not only because of its all-drum instrumental, but also because of its subject matter. ?We call it ?animalistic sex,??? added McLaughlin, who noted that the piece was both raw and fun to perform. Cheryl Gering, a junior psychology major, who is a dancer in the piece, added that it begins with a recording of the dancers breathing. The recording was done by CMU?s own WRCT and will play before the drum piece.

In addition to the racy drum piece are many other dances which, as the choreographers suggested, run almost the entire the range of possible styles. Gering is in the most number of dances allowed to any choreographer: A total of four. She explained that dancers who have not choreographed are allowed to participate in a maximum of three dances. Gering is co-choreographing a modern ballet piece set to Frou Frou?s ?Let Go,? from the Garden State soundtrack. Her co-choreographer is Kristan Hoffman, a sophomore in SHS. Gering is participating in as wide a range of dances as possible; she is also in a combination Irish hardshoe and tap piece, which, she said, creates a sort of ?battle of all the rhythms going back and forth.? Her final performance will be in a more traditional jazz-style piece co-choreographed by Nikki Bush, a senior biology major, and Nuelsi Pales, a masters in public policy and management. This last piece is set to the Van Halen version of ?You Really Got Me Now.?

Chang gravitates more toward hip-hop dances, which Gering mentioned were some of the most popular dances during auditions. Chang is also helping a friend, Ellein Cheng, a senior math major, to teach a dance that Cheng brought back from Hong Kong. ?It?s like jazz funk style, very fast and very difficult,? said Chang.

This semester, the directors are trying to prevent the disconnect between dancers that can result from having so many different dances and practices in so many different areas of the University, said Chang, Gering, and McLaughlin. Gering explained that because practices are held at different times and in different locations, members of DS often do not know one another. All three members agree that directors have been coordinating more social events and an atmosphere that encourages more people to get to know one another.

With a new push toward a tighter friendship among members, this spring?s Dancers? Symposium can hope to attract even more people to the organization. ?The more integrated people feel,? said Gering, ?the more they will want to come back.? For those who simply watch DS each semester, the variety of styles might draw them in, or just knowing what the program was like in previous years. ?If you?re coming because you know someone ... hopefully if they stopped being in it you?d come back,? said Gering.