Elizabeth Watkins ‘20 and the Studio Dance Theatre

I first met Elizabeth in our shared Global Journeys class in the fall our first year at Agnes Scott, and right away her love of dance was obvious. Years of friendship later, I’ve had the chance to witness this love first-hand. So why not share that love with everyone else in an interview?

(photos via The Pigford Family)

Her Campus: So how did your original interest in dance start?

Elizabeth Watkins: I don’t know the answer to that considering I started when I was five, that was a decision my mom made for me. My favorite picture of me as a child is me when I was three years old and I still lived in Maryland, and I’m in a little gold tutu standing in passé with arms above my head. I wasn’t taking dance lessons or anything. I didn’t start taking dance lessons until we moved to Florida when I was five. But my mom has this picture of me where I’m doing this ballerina pose that I just saw somewhere, and that’s when she decided to put me in dance lessons. I just kept doing them all the way through high school, and now I’m still doing it in college.  

HC: I know you’re majoring in both Dance and Business Management, what made you decide to double major? Do you have a preference for one over the other?

EW: I made the decision to double major because they both lend to the field I believe I want to work in. One day I hope to work in Arts Administration, which is the Business Management of the art world. Both kinda meld together, and usually for an Arts Administration master's degree, you need the prerequisite of having a full undergrad degree in some sort of Arts field. You can’t manage those people if you don’t understand what they’re doing, or what they’re trying to sell or market.

It’s funny because I didn’t think I was going to be a Dance major coming into college. I was maybe going to take one technique course, just to keep up the skill, but that’s all. I wasn’t even entirely sure I was going to follow Arts Administration. But then I got here, and I loved the Dance program so much. I looked at all the classes, from Labanotation to Choreography, and said “I want to take that class, and I want to take that class. So if I’m going to take all these classes, I might as well major in it.” Business Management snuck up on me when I took a Macroeconomics class my first semester at Agnes, and then I started to look into the program and seeing what it would take to complete it. In a way, I kinda stumbled into my two majors. As for my favorite, don’t tell my Business advisor, but Dance will always be my heart, my passion, what brings me joy.

(photos via The Pigford Family)

HC: Along with being in the Dance program, you’re also a part of Studio Dance Theatre on campus. How is this company different, or similar, to other dance companies you’ve been a part of?

EW: In high school I was in a performance company at my studio and that meant we did a couple of community performances, but we most worked up to a recital and then competing. I, personally wasn’t a big fan of competing. It wasn’t really my style and mostly brought me anxiety, and it was always very stressful. Luckily, I came from a studio that competed, but our main goal wasn’t winning, it was to become better dancers and even better people. And so coming here to Agnes, I enjoy the fact there’s not a competition. We all feel like one, like a community. Even when we go to ACDA [American College Dance Association] which is a big conference and you perform in front of all these other college students and judges, it’s not a competition, it’s to get genuine feedback.

It’s also different when I’m performing. In high school,  it’s all the fun pop music or the sad lyrical music, and all the movement is based off of that. Here at Agnes, we’re going so far beyond that. We’re performing historical works that were created over ninety years ago. And being at a small college I have the position to be in these pieces, versus if I went to a big university, I would have been cut at the beginning for some other, better dancer. Here, I’ve developed a new relationship to dance, a better relationship. The movement I make and the movement I do goes beyond what a pop song is saying. It has depth and it has meaning. I get to say “I am an artist, and I’m saying something that’s important and needs to be seen.”

HC: What has been your most memorable experience being a part of Studio Dance Theatre at Agnes Scott?

EW: I was blessed by the opportunity to present my first ever choreographic piece for adjudication last March at our ACDA conference. And that was actually the first time a student work from Agnes Scott was ever presented at adjudication. I was extremely nervous and genuinely didn’t know what it was going to be like. But now I look back and see what that experience has taught me about dance. It was every eye opening to hear the feedback from the judges. That dance was so personal to me that I couldn’t think of it possibly meaning something different to someone else, and it was just such an amazing opportunity that furthered my love of dance. It’s crazy, now I’m presenting that same piece here at Agnes later in the semester! It began as a piece of choreography that I threw out there hoping to get an A on the assignment, but it’s grown to mean so much to me.

HC: What advice would you give to someone interested in joining Studio Dance Theatre?

EW: Join Studio Dance Theatre! I want people to know that it’s not something you have to train all your life to be in. There are some people in the company who didn’t start dancing until they got to Agnes. We value everyone, and there’s no technical hierarchy. I believe us to be a very open and loving community, and with our diversity in backgrounds and identities allows us to add something special to every piece we’re in. If you want to move and you want to dance, come join us!

(photos via The Pigford Family)

HC: What would be your dream song to dance to?

EW: This is a difficult question for me to answer because my relationship to music has changed. Now with movement that I make and dances that I dance to, the thing I love about it is the movement itself, what the movement is saying and not what the words of the song are saying. I’ll be developing a piece and then I’ll just kinda stick a track on at the end that fits the vibe. For a song though, I really like anything by Max Richter. He’s got really deep music that I enjoy. Lots of instrumentals. Lots of violins.

HC: To expand upon that, what would that dance look like if you had control over all the other creative elements involved in designing the performance?

EW: Anything I do would definitely be a little moody, so maybe some spotlights in there. Some fade-in-fade-outs? I don’t know, that’s all do coming up with a production randomly. I’d have to know exactly what story I was telling to give it the accurate setting and feel it would need.

HC: How do you think being a dancer has changed you as a person?

EW: That’s an interesting question because I’ve been a dancer basically all my life. I’ve definitely been shaped by the instructors I’ve had by the way that they’ve taught me. Even coming to college and dancing at Agnes, I’ve reevaluated and reimagined my relationship to dance, and I have adapted. I’ve changed, and I think I’ve matured in a lot of ways. I see the world in a bigger scope now, so much farther than I did before. Dance is amazing in the way that it teaches you a lot of discipline and endurance. I’ve had times where dance has given me thinner skin, and I’ve had times where it’s given me a thicker skin. But once you get the technique down and find that window to express yourself, you find a home with it. I also think dance has shaped me as an artistic person. I don’t know if I’d be as creative of a person, or have my love of theater and musicals, if I hadn’t had dance. I always say that being a dancer made me a better actor, and being an actor made me a better dancer. They all fell together and made me a more open and loving person than I would have been before.

HC: If you could tell the rest of the Agnes Scott community one thing about Studio Dance Theatre, or the Dance program more generally, what would it be?

EW: Come to our dance show November 9th and 10th! It’s at 8 pm and it’s free for the Agnes Scott community. I had to put that plug in. Anyway, I would say, come take a dance class. You know? We have amazing professors, and our intro levels really are for beginners. You do not have to be afraid, I can promise you. I just love dance so much, and it’s been such an important part of my relationship to Agnes, that I want other people to see the amazing value that our program has and all the things we do with such a low budget. I want everyone to know how much effort we all put into it, and how much blood, sweat, and tears go into the performances. That’s the end goal.