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Courtesy of Brianna Venus

Each week, over 1,200 students move through the four studios of the Barnard College Department of Dance, participating in at least one of the more than 50 courses offered this semester. Experience isn’t required for the introductory levels, and students can enjoy live musical accompaniment. From flamenco to pointe to African, there’s a class for every student to lace up their shoes and dance.

Most of these dancers were able to perform for visitors at Family Weekend last Friday in the informal showcase titled “Performing Tradition & Innovation”. Described in the program as “a tasting menu of the dance department’s many studio offerings,” the performance gave the audience a peek into what happens in the studios each day.

From the grounded and staccato flamenco footwork to the sustained movement in excerpts from three classical ballets, the performance showcased works from a myriad of styles, geographical origins, and eras. Live musicians provided the dance score for many of the pieces. “The variety is amazing,” said Colleen Thomas-Young, Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Dance and the curator of the performance. “There’s a lot to be represented here. ... We’re not just highlighting the modern classes or the ballet classes. You get to see everything.”

Not only the diversity of the program, but also the adaptability of the performers, was noteworthy. Particularly striking was Sophia Salingaros, CC ’19, who danced an elegant and delicate variation from the ballet “Swan Lake” and returned to the stage minutes later performing the vivacious, theatrical, and grounded movement of Bharatanatyam, a style of traditional Indian dance. A professor of Indian dance, Uttara Asha Coorlawala, told the audience, “People used to say East is East and West is West. Sophia can do both.” Salingaros went from delicately grazing the floor in pointe shoes to slapping it with her bare feet, her Ghungroos, or bell-covered anklets, tinkling.

Another excerpt was from “Fantasie”, a piece by German dance icon Sasha Waltz. Waltz is one of four guest artists the dance department hires each semester to choreograph or set existing pieces for “Barnard/Columbia Dances at New York Live Arts”, this Dec. 1 to 3.

“Fantasie” featured intricate partnering, in which the limpness of some dancers was contrasted with the strength of those supporting them. The performers acted like magnets relative to one another, sometimes seemingly inseparable, other times forcefully repelled from one another. This marked the first time “Fantasie” has been performed at an American college, and the excerpt will be refined and expanded upon for the full-length exhibition in December.

The electricity in the room soon burst into flame, as dozens of dancers in Maguette Camara’s African dance class stomped and swung to the beat of the live musicians’ drums. These and many other dancers in the show had just begun studying the styles they performed, yet moved boldly and fearlessly. They exuded confidence even advanced dancers aspire to display. Performers on the sidelines and even audience members joined in by hollering or clapping along. After the drums hit their final beat, applause erupted, and the performers and their families left with hearts beating and ears ringing.


lexa.armstrong@columbiaspectator.com | @lexa_armstrong

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