It’s rare to find one’s passion at a young age and to stick with it, but for Katie Tracy (’22), that was just the case. “When I was two, I would stand at the door of my sister’s dance classes and do their warmups with them so then my mom was like ‘Oh she’d be cute in a tutu’ so then I got put in a dance class and I just kept going.” Tracy, a dance major with a double minor in business and classics, is a member of this year’s H2 Dance Company. She explains her decision to audition:“I went to H2’s show last year and I loved it, and I was super excited about it. There were a lot of juniors in the company that I wanted to get to know and it would just be super fun and a really good experience, especially to learn a bunch of choreography.” One semester later, Tracy is enjoying the experience of being a part of the H2 Dance Company. She and thirteen other Hope college students have just recently finished two full weekends of performances (Oct. 25-27 and Nov. 1-2) for their annual H2 Dance Co. season. This year’s theme was jazz, and many of the pieces performed paid homage to the electric history of this particular style of dance. At first glance, many in the audience would assume this showcase to be a regular academic experience for students interested in studying dance. However, there is much more to this show than that; it is a pre-professional company that gives determined students an intense, taxing look into what it means to have serious dance career.
“By pre-professional, we mean mostly professional,” says Tori Homann (’20). Homann is a senior, and has just completed her second season with H2. “Obviously we’re not paid to be a part of H2, it’s so we get to see what a real rehearsal looks like, what a real tech week looks like. It’s really for the students who are looking to perform professionally after graduation. So they can understand what the world looks like.” Most everything about H2 is engineered to be as similar to the real deal as it can be, starting with auditions. “You come in—arrive early—and give yourself time to warm up,” Homann describes. “Everyone has numbers on their leotards, and the choreographers take you through several sections. There’s usually an improv session, tap section, hip hop session, and a modern or contemporary part of the audition.” Junior Celine Carrol (’21) explains that the choreographers are testing to see if dancers can adapt to multiple styles, pick up choreography, and to see if the dance fits the dancer’s personal style and body. She says: “They’re looking for a dancer who is serious, who in the long run has the mindset of wanting to be a professional dancer after college.”
Auditions are only a taste of what is in store for the 14 dancers who are chosen for the company. They are held towards the end of the spring semester, and typically rehearsals don’t start until the week before school starts again in the fall. This year was a little different. Guest choreographer, Hanna Brictson, began teaching her piece, Quiet the Echoes, in April soon after the company was announced. Other than this exception, the dancers begin their season with a week of rehearsals before the start of school. Termed “intensive week,” rehearsals can sometimes last from from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. In this week, the dancers learn the bulk of their performance content, which will be perfected over the two-and-a-half months of school before opening night.
On average, the H2 Dance Co. will spend three hours a night practicing. Then comes tech week, where the dancers will spend around 4-5 hours a night perfecting nitpicky details and working with the lighting. “Monday through Thursday we do a full run of the show every night. An hour and a half show, 5 out of 7 pieces, it’s a lot. Then we would go back and we would listen to the director’s corrections and listen to the choreographer’s feedback if they were there that day and then we’d do it all again the next day. And then we had shows that weekend,” Tracy says of tech week. Only after two weekends of shows in the Knickerbocker, what is termed the “home season,” can the dancers take a breath. “Our director always says that H2 basically owns us, and it sounds threatening, but it’s true,” Carroll laughs. “But we all ultimately want to perform and love it, so it’s something that we’re willing to put ourselves through.”
However, this is not the end of the road for H2 dancers. “Matt—he’s so funny—he calls us the ‘SEAL team of the dance department,” Homann explains. “So if anyone calls or is looking for arts involvement, usually H2 is the group that jumps right on that, and is always ready to go when something arises.” The schedule fluctuates after the home season; sometimes H2 is invited to perform at other events and dance festivals. There are usually many more opportunities to travel and perform elsewhere second semester, and this summer the company will travel to Mexico, where they will train and perform with a local dance company. Here, Carroll talks of an extremely unique aspect of H2: “When we go to Mexico this summer, Hope actually pays for airfare and hotel, like a company would do. It’s an experience I would never actually have unless I’d be able to get into another company.” Amongst the large time commitments, the management of stressful classes and practice and the exhausting physical effort of the dancers on a daily basis, there are various perks and advantages to being a part of H2. And when the year is done, they have a very good idea whether they still want to pursue a career in professional dancing or not. “It’s pretty telling,” Carroll says, “you can self-evaluate and see if you’d be able to handle it in the future.”
H2 distinguishes itself from many other similar groups on campus. Where Student Dance Showcases and performances such as the upcoming Dance 46 hosts as many as 60 dancers, H2 stays within the limited range of 14-16 students. This, of course, results in a staggering amount of work and pressure put on each student involved. Some students are in as many as five dances, being on stage for about an hour of the hour-and-a-half show. “I don’t know if you can tell, from watching, but we’re pretty beat after the show, and really all you want to do is eat a huge hamburger afterwards,” Homann explains with a smile. “You’re so hungry and really tired. It pushes you to your limits physically.” However, it will be difficult to find a dancer who will complain about this fact. “I want to dance professionally, I love performing,” Carroll states. “I could be in a dance studio all day, it’s just how I’m wired.”
“We are a very close group of people,” Tracy says of the company. “That’s something I’m so grateful to the dance department for. It’s like no other major in terms of family. All the girls are just so wonderful and we’re all in it together, truly.” She admits that prior to joining dance at Hope, she had worked with dancers who “didn’t have the same absolute passion for it,” which was something she struggled with as someone who is so passionate about dance. Her time with H2 has been a welcome change: “You’re here in H2 and you’re dedicating so much time to this thing, I feel like you wouldn’t be doing that if you didn’t love it and you weren’t passionate about it. And to be surrounded by people who are passionate about and love that same thing that you do is indescribable.”
As one may expect, there is so much more to being part of a company such as H2 than just rigorous physical exertion. It also forces the heart and mind over similar obstacles. Homann speaks to this aspect. “Because you are literally putting your body on the stage for people to watch, judge, look at, and analyze, it’s really hard to stay objective—in art in general, but I think particularly in dance. I’ve learned a lot about vulnerability.” She goes on to say how dance forces performers to ask questions about themselves that they might not wonder in any other circumstances. Dancers have a responsibility to their choreographers to carry out their master vision, but they also have a responsibility to themselves to figure out how their own unique voice fits in the H2 choir. Questions such as ‘What do I have to say that’s important? What do I bring to the table? How do I embody experiences and interpret them into movement?’ are in constant flux in and out of Homann’s mind. This is another subtle benefit to a pre-professional company such as H2. “Hope creates dancers who can talk about dance really well,” Homann says. “Hope creates dancers who can really discuss art.”
H2 and the Hope Dance Department offers students the opportunity to master aspects of dance that go beyond just physical. Tracy says “I was told ‘you always think you’re never too young to have artistry and to have style’ and I was always like ‘no, I have artistry, I have style, I’m not too young.’” But she admits there is some truth in that statement, “When I choreographed for student showcase I kind of molded it into what I think other people would like… sometimes I’d do something and I’d think ‘oh that’s too weird I’ll scrap it, I’ll just make it the more typical piece’ so I want to break out of that to actually explore what it would mean to have a style, like what my version of artistry is.” When asked if she preferred dancing or choreographing more, Tracy replies “I haven’t choreographed enough to know that yet but when I watch my piece and when I’m excited about a piece I feel equally if not more satisfied afterwards than if I was performing.” In the future, Tracy says “I see myself auditioning for companies, I don’t know where, just trying to get into a good fit for me and performing for them. I do want to keep choreographing and teaching.”
There may be some misconceptions about dance that flitter throughout campus every now and then, some truths that simply aren’t mentioned often enough and some hard work that simply isn’t congratulated enough. Whether or not one is of the opinion that dance isn’t necessary to life, or that it shouldn’t be considered a sport, one cannot argue the fact that a perfectly Herculean effort goes into groups such as the H2 Dance Co. by choreographers and students alike. It’s groups like this one that testify to the innate human dependance on artistic creation, and applaud students like Tracy, Carroll and Homann who are willing to create masterpieces not just with their bodies but with their minds and hearts as well. If you are feeling inspired, the Anchor encourages you to attend the Student Dance Showcase at the Dow on Nov. 22 or at the Knickerbocker on Nov. 23. And of course look out for more shows by the H2 Dance Co. in the future. Despite being pre-profesional, they carry with them a power well beyond what one would expect of students. Whatever they do next, they will be sure to deliver a performance as heart-stopping as it is moving.
Written by Zachary Dankert and Emma DesLauriers-Knop
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