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Jackie Ryan / Her Campus

How I Found Myself Through Dance

Ever since I was young, all I wanted to do was dance. I didn’t know it back then, but dance had changed my life in a very positive way. I started dancing at a studio when I was three years old. I started off with ballet and tap then moved on to lyrical, hip-hop, jazz and pointe.  Dance consisted of weekly practices for the purpose of skill development and movement perfection for a year end dance recital performance. Dance has taught me organization, teamwork and focus.  

By the time I started high school I decided to try out for the competitive dance team where we competed in pom and hip hop. All the way up until my senior year I always learned a dance from instruction and performed it. I never thought about choreographing until my coach asked me and three other seniors to choreograph a dance to perform at football and basketball games. The four of us hung out after school and together made a hip-hop dance for the entire school to see.  We designed all the formations and taught the rest of our team the dance we created. My passion for dance just took a new meaning. High school dance has taught me thought process, collaboration, determination and flexibility for change.

When I started college my love for dance only grew more. Since it was important to keep dance a part of my life, I chose a college that offered a major that interested me and offered a dance minor. In addition, the school also hosted a student led dance club called Dance Company. Joining Dance Co gave me the opportunity to expand my dance experience even more. I started off by joining other dances and getting to know everyone in the club. By the end of my first semester I knew I wanted to try and choreograph by myself. I started by listening to a wide variety of music to see which one spoke to me the most. I wanted to do a contemporary piece and I wanted to start off by choreographing a solo for myself to get myself started. Finally, after listening to random songs I found the perfect one, “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver. I typically dance to songs where I can pour all my emotions out and really connect to the music. Whenever I’m upset or down, I can always bring my mood up by dancing, whether it’s in dance rehearsals with others or in the studio by myself improvising. When I perform, I put my all into the moves, so the audience will be able to understand the storyline of the dance by the emotions that I portray in my facials and movement.  

Fall semester 2018, I decided to reach outside of my comfort zone and co-choreograph a jazz piece with nine participants. The song we chose for the jazz piece was “Ain’t Your Mama” by Jennifer Lopez. This was a challenge for me because I had to find time with my co-choreographer on when to come up with new choreography, what we were going to wear, how formations were going to look, and more. We ended up bringing in one of our friends to be in charge of music, she helped us so we could stop the music or restart the music so we wouldn’t have to run across the studio. We could focus on teaching the other dancers as well as dance with the others so they can mirror us and learn with us being next to them. Choreographing and teaching others are extremely different from just choreographing a solo. We were tasked with teaching dancers who have either never danced before or dancers who never done the style of jazz before. However, we were able to get everyone on the same page whether the dancer needed extra one on one help or it was just continually going over and over steps and trying to figure out different ways to make it easier for everyone to learn. College dance has taught me passion, expression, comradeship, leadership and patience.

For Spring semester of 2019, I auditioned a contemporary group piece that I choreographed on my own to “Lovely” by Billie Eilish and Khaild, I also choreographed a contemporary solo to “Bruises” by Lewis Capaldi. Both songs are very emotional and personal at the same time. The process was to come up with ideas to understand all the lyrics and to understand what the artist was feeling while they wrote the song and how I can find corresponding moves to speak for the words through dance. Dance has always been a place where I can express my emotions. Since I have the chance to choreograph by myself, it gives me the freedom to create my own story and I have the opportunity to teach others. Although not everyone will understand the story that I am telling, they will understand the emotion that comes with it will be able to connect their own feelings and interpretation. That is how I feel whenever I watch other dances. 

Ever since I first started choreographing, I can’t stop—it has become my new hobby whether it is for teaching others, my own enjoyment or for my job as a dance teacher. Dance has helped me to find myself and let me express the emotions I can’t say aloud.  I want to be able to share this experience with others and encourage others to choreograph and tell their stories just how I was encouraged by fellow dancers in Dance Company. Dance has always been my passion and I want others to share the same passion as I do because dance isn’t just something I do for fun, dance is a lifestyle that I cherish as a gift. I would love to teach others who don’t know how to dance, or for those who do, how to find their passion or their own expression through dance so they can experience the same as I have. Dance is different for everyone, some express anger, sorrow, joy, love, pain, but it also brings us all together as a family; learning and exploring new ideas, styles, genres, stories, in a way dance brings everyone closer together and helps you to find who you really are.

Bethany is a senior at MCLA studying Arts Management, Dance and Theater. She choreographs for the schools' dance company and for In Motion Dance Academy in North Adams, MA. She also is the Vice President of MCLA's Cheer team. She also has an ESA cat named Lily!
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