The Bates Dance Festival begins each summer with the Young Dancers Workshop, a three week intensive for dancers aged fourteen through eighteen. The program is an “alternative educational experience designed to train dancers for long, injury-free and versatile careers in the changing world of dance.” This summer roughly seventy Young Dancers graced the beautiful Bates campus with their passion, commitment, and focus. The dancers live together in Rand Hall under the guidance of eight fantastic counselors, veterans of the Festival either working in the dance world or pursuing graduate degrees in dance. The Young Dancers take four classes a day (ballet and modern in the morning, two electives of choice in the afternoons). Evenings and weekends are filled with workshops in self-care, choreography, the college process, and rehearsals, as well as viewing professional performances in Bates’ own Schaeffer Theatre. In order to get an inside look at the Young Dancers Workshop I shadowed camper Jillian (Jill) Savoca for a day during her third week here. Jill is fourteen years old and hails from Ridgefield, CT. This was her second year at BDF. The following is a series of short conversations I had with Jill throughout the course of her day.
The Young Dancers have the option of attending a forty-five minute warm up class each morning, lead by counselors. I met Jill in between her warm up and ballet classes. “Warm up was really fun,” Jill told me while stretching on the studio floor. “I’ve been to every single one so far… we did actual jumping jacks and crunches and stuff like that, which I really like.” I asked Jill what she thinks of her ballet class. This summer she worked with Martha Tornay, but her first summer at the Festival Jill took Shonach Mirk-Robles’ more placement and anatomy-focused class. “Martha’s different from Shonach, but I started last year to understand what Shonach wants us to do with placement and everything. I feel it’s definitely making a difference.” Next I asked Jill what it was like coming back a second year.
BDF: Coming back last year, what were you most excited about? What changes have you noticed in your dancing since last summer?
JS: I came back this year because I made a lot of good friends, and my teachers at home said I improved so much when I came back. And I’ve been most excited about meeting new people and seeing the teachers again. I’m taking hip hop this year which I took last year, but I decided to take improvisation this year because I can’t do that at home. Last year I took Modern Repertory with Sean Dorsey. It was awesome, but this year I wanted to do something outside of my comfort zone.
After ballet I watched Jill fly across the floor and find a sense of groundedness and continuum in Tristan Koepke’s modern class. The next time we touched base was during lunch in Bates’ renowned Dining Commons, home to an incredible array of culinary choices.
BDF: Tell me about your morning!
JS: In ballet I really liked the waltz that we did across the floor, just because I like combinations like that and feeling the movement. And in modern I loved the improvisational warm up that we did this morning, it was so different from tendus which we usually do, and I got to really feel my body.
BDF: And how was lunch?
JS: The food here is amazing! There’s nothing like food from home, but you get amazing meals every single day here.
After lunch students can be seen lounging on the grassy fields outside, relaxing in the sun before starting afternoon classes. Just before 2:00pm Jill walked with friends over to Heidi Henderson’s improvisation class. Throughout the three weeks Heidi covered all different kinds of improv techniques both individual and collective, including contact improvisation skills and how to follow an improv score. Heidi worked to create a community of trust among the dancers, which allowed them to follow their instincts. While observing Jill in class I watched the dancers practice an activity where they stood shoulder to shoulder up in a row while individual dancers took turns diving into the others arms, learning how to be vulnerable and share weight.
For her last class of the day Jill headed to Shakia Johnson’s fourth period hip-hop class. Though energy can wane after a full day of dancing, Shakia knows how to pump everyone up. She teaches a full range of hip-hop styles including nineties, house, breaking, and popping and locking. Each class ends in a cipher, encouraging dancers to try out new moves and develop their own creative voice as the rest of the class cheers them on.
I touched base with Jill later that night for her hall meeting. Every evening the Young Dancers meet in their hall clusters at 9:00 pm to come together as a group and debrief their days. Their counselor asks them the “question of the day” and they each go around and answer. Jill’s counselor Mary Anne Bodnar asked the girls what their funniest memory so far was. They repeatedly erupted into laughter trying to get their stories out. After the meeting Jill showed me her room, and I sat with her and her roommate, Clare Moberg, to talk more in depth about their time at the Festival. Clare is 15 and comes from Athens, Ohio.
BDF: How do you think the social life at the Young Dancers Workshop impacts your experience?
JS: Hugely. And the dancing makes us closer, so the first day when we didn’t dance we were kind of skeptical, but then after we danced together we were ten times closer.
BDF: Have you been to other intensives or dance camps? How is Bates different?
JS: I haven’t been to any but this one, but I don’t think any of them are this supportive and collaborative, and everybody’s friends with each other. I feel like other ones are really competitive, so I feel like this is really unique.
CM: I feel like it’s really great because people make connections and it’s not just about dancing all day. It’s about why you’re dancing all day.
BDF: What’s your relationship with your counselors like?
JS: These counselors are so different. They dance with us! When I went to another camp I didn’t really know the counselors because I didn’t see them at any time throughout the day, but here I feel like they’re part of the community.
BDF: What’s the atmosphere in your classes like?
JS: It’s super positive always, we ask so many questions and the teachers are always there to help, it’s not stressful at all. It’s different from how I learn at home but they’re super good at adjusting.
Next I asked the dancers about seeing performances. Each week at Festival the dancers see a professional show. This summer they saw DanceNOW, a show presenting many of their faculty members, and Dorrance Dance, the New York based tap company that’s been making huge waves this year.
JS: I’m really glad that we get to do that, there’s one thing to be in the classroom and be dancing in performances, but it’s a whole other experience to watch real shows that’s just as important. As performers you never get to watch shows, and it’s great to see faculty in a whole new light. The Q&A session after was cool too, because you watch dance and sometimes don’t understand all of it and it leaves you with questions.
Jill is known at BDF for her jar of memories – when good things happen she writes them down on little pieces of papers and puts them into a glass jar to look through and share with her friends and family during the year. On her desk this summer stood the full jar from last year next to a new jar, rapidly filling up. I asked her if there were any memories that made her really want to come back. “When I got home I remember saying ‘I just want to go back!’” she told me. “I just remember having so much fun with everybody and improving so much.” Clare added, “The experience in general, it’s very comfortable, you feel very content – you love the feeling and you want to come back.”
Clare is planning on visiting Jill in Connecticut this winter – she’s never been to New York City, and they’re hoping to go together to see shows and take classes, tapping further into the dance network they’ve started to build here during their time at the Bates Dance Festival.
This post was written by Chava Lansky. Chava is the BDF Social Media Intern for the 2016 summer.