Alexandra MacPherson has her hands full as a double major in Dance and Physical Therapy, but she loves how the two programs complement one another. Alexandra talks about what sets Dance at Springfield College apart from other schools and how the experiences will impact her future.
The dance program here at Springfield College is unlike any other dance or performing arts major at another school. Most performing arts programs are focused solely on advancing technique with the goal of producing professionals in his/her chosen discipline.
As a dance major, I dance between 2-6 hours a day. There are so many chances to dance, whether it’s taking classes or performing. I take technique classes on most days as well as attend rehearsals for a variety of performing opportunities in the evenings and over the weekend. You can dance as little or as much as you want. I am actually double majoring with physical therapy, and even with my heavy workload, I manage to dance every day. Personally, I like being busy and dancing every day but I could also choose to do less and still learn a tremendous amount through the dance program. The program is super flexible. Whether you choose to dance 10 hours a week, or be crazy like me and do 20+ hours a week, you will gain so much knowledge about the world of dance.
Jacob’s Pillow & Ted Shawn
Have you ever heard of Ted Shawn? Jacob’s Pillow? I have always loved dance, but until recently my education on dance history was limited. Little did I know that Springfield College originated one of the most famous dance festivals in the country. Jacob’s Pillow was started by dancer and choreographer Ted Shawn. Thanks to Ted Shawn’s creativity and vision, students from Springfield College were instrumental in the creation of the first all-male American Modern Dance Company. Springfield College has a special partnership with Jacob’s Pillow that allows students access to the private archives of videos, interviews, and books about choreographers and their works. Jacob’s Pillow welcomes choreographers and dancers from around the world to workshop choreography and invites students from schools that partner with Jacob’s Pillow to observe and offer critique to their works in progress. The festival also offers amazing internships for students to learn about the archives of the Pillow and the business aspect of the dance world. These internships can be used toward academic credit for a dance major/minor. Springfield College has had a huge influence on the history of dance.
During the past two years, the dance department has brought in both national and international guest artists. My freshman year, Jason Aryeh came for a weekend to audition dancers for an African piece as well as offer master classes to the student body and community. Jason, originally from Ghana, taught us the dances, the cultural significance of the steps, and how they are communicated in different African tribes. Students learned about African culture and how dance was and is used as both a form of communication and a tool to bring communities together. I was one of the dancers in the African piece set, and in just one weekend I learned so much about a new dance vocabulary and culture completely different from my own.
This year, the dance department brought in Andrea Vasquez, a dance professor and choreographer originally from Mexico. She taught master classes in traditional Mexican dances; and, similar to the African dance class, we learned about both the movement and cultural importance of dance in various regions in Mexico. We learned that in many countries, Mexico included, people dancing on the streets and out in public is a social norm. In America, dancing on the street is more a form of entertainment rather than a social norm.
The piece Andrea choreographed for us, however, was not a traditional Mexican piece, but instead a contemporary piece about identity. In Andrea’s dance, she pushed us to explore our identities and the comparison between how we view ourselves versus how others perceive us. Through gestural, abstract, and concrete movements we created phrases that symbolized people in our lives, routines that we engage in, and hobbies that differentiate us from others. Although this experience was a little different from the African one last year, my knowledge about various cultures continues to grow. Learning from different teachers, especially those with varied cultural backgrounds, has been part of what makes this program so special. In addition to expanding our dance repertoire, we are learning about different cultures and the historical and cultural importance of dance in the world, both past and present.
Not only have I been able to expand my cultural awareness working with guest artists, but this fall the dance department brought in Liliana Candotti to audition dancers for a dance intensive that takes place in Florence, Italy. I am pleased to say that I am one of the dancers selected for the program and fortunate enough to have been awarded a scholarship to attend. This is a once in a lifetime experience! As a dancer, this is a great opportunity to improve technique, creatively express myself, and learn from teachers and fellow students from around the world. I am so excited to discover the cultural and technical differences this program will offer in the dance world as well as learn about the culture of Italy. In my opinion, the best education doesn’t just happen in the classroom, but also by engaging in cultures and experiences that differ from my own. The dance department has given me a chance to further my education not only in dance but in so many other areas of learning and growing.
Collaboration with Physical Therapy
Once a year the physical therapy and dance departments participate in a collaboration where students in both programs work together to enhance their educations. Each dancer is assigned a few physical therapy students who take a brief medical history and perform functional assessment tests on different parts of the body. Both the PT and dance students learn how certain areas of the body function, why injuries occur, how to prevent injury, and how to rehabilitate injuries or pain that the body has experienced. At the end of the session, the PT students give the dancers a list of exercises to strengthen or rehabilitate different body parts. The PT students address the habits the dancers’ bodies utilized and determine which ones to continue and which ones need to be adjusted or corrected. After a few weeks, we meet up again to note any progress or changes that have occurred. As a PT AND dance student, this experience is extremely informative and exciting for me. I have participated in this collaboration twice and each time I have learned more about the field of physical therapy, how my body functions, and how I can help keep my body safe from injury and pain.
Dance is a unique art form that allows one to express themselves and communicate a variety of emotions through movement.
Though only a sophomore, the dance program at Springfield College has already provided me many educational and cultural opportunities that I am able to apply across all aspects of my life. Thanks to Sarah Zehnder and the Dance Department at Springfield College, I am both a better dancer and a better person.