Columns

Seda ’12: Are we humans, dancers or both?

By
Opinions Columnist
Friday, September 23, 2011

Every fall, students of all class years join in the fun during shopping period and attend the Activities Fair at the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center. It’s close to impossible not to be dazzled by the myriad of student organizations that, stretched out along the indoor track, seem to open up new possibilities for getting involved outside the classroom. That Thursday night, advertising and lobbying skills are on display, backed up by the latest technology — picture sleek Macbook Pros playing YouTube videos of dance and a cappella performances, live tutorials of dance moves, flamboyant costumes and outlandish props. You’re certainly tempted to try out new things because, if all these opportunities are just one Brown email address away, then why not write down your name on the listserv and give it a go?

You then make your way to one of the dance group tables and listen closely to the usual spiel: Auditions are fun — you should give it a shot. Bring your friends. Get pumped. But when you get to T.F. Green Auditorium, you find yourself filling out a double-sided form, answering questions about your previous dance experience and attaching a number to your shirt — just as if you were presenting yourself at the auditions for the New York City Ballet.

The fun part of this affair fades away when you see that you must compete against fellow students and try to outperform them. After the first hour or so, the first cut-off comes. Then after the three-hour-long try-out, you get to go home and rest. The next day at midnight, you make your way to Wayland Arch and wait excitedly as one member of the dance group posts the results on the bulletin board. Or you compulsively refresh your Brown Gmail page and pray you’re not the unlucky recipient of that consolatory post-midnight email acknowledging your participation and encouraging you to try out again next semester.

In an effort to be accommodating and welcoming to interested students of all levels, dance auditions are deliberately ambiguous. At the Activities Fair, it’s all about selling the product — that is, the possibility of a spot in the company — for the biggest turnout. Once you’re on the dance floor, though, the reality is different. There are 10 spots for almost 100 students and decisions must be made. And then you wonder: What are they really looking for?

It so happens that many dance groups at Brown present themselves as quasi-professional dance companies. They mimic the so-called “real” ones and some of their iconic trademarks, namely the tradition of hosting excessively long auditions as well as the use of official paraphernalia in the form of personalized dancewear. Yet unlike these professional companies, the majority of dance groups at Brown are run by students. And precisely because of this they should be more careful when they’re put to the task of evaluating the performances of their peers.

Though it is not always the case, campus dance groups should give seasoned dancers an arena for perfecting their technique and enhancing their practice. At the same time, they should act as a platform for newbies who wish to explore the means of expression that dance can offer them. They should not, however, advertise themselves as professional companies when in fact they are student-run groups.

What I’ve repeatedly seen in many dance auditions is that, unfortunately, you can never be sure if your skills, your potential or even your motivation were given due consideration. As a former member of a dance group myself, I sometimes question the arbitrary grounds on which some of these admissions and rejections are made. It’s hard to reconcile a want for new dancers and a need for experienced ones. But being imprecise about the process is equally dangerous, especially for those students who are genuinely interested in becoming part of the dance community here at Brown. It’s easy to reject someone who has the skills but lacks the persona if you’re never clear on which aspect bears more weight. For better or for worse, being open with these matters also gives you license to choose whomever you prefer — and justify it.

I do not mean to say that dance groups at Brown should abide by a strict template in their search for future members. On the contrary, I strongly believe that dance groups should strive to become more inclusive and extend an opportunity to those students who want to try something new once in college. What I’m inviting them to do is to reconsider their admission process and to spell out their criteria clearly, as motivation alone is rarely enough for a student to make it into a team. A competitive spirit is a powerful driving force, yet relaxing the sternness that is so particular — and oftentimes poisonous — to many professional dance companies would be a refreshing flight from the routine. It might be too much to ask at first, but after all, we all hope to dance in the long run.

Lucia Seda ’12 did not audition for any dance groups this fall. She can be reached at Lucia_Seda@brown.edu.

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