Liv Panozzo is a senior dance major from Zeeland, Michigan. She is an accomplished dancer and student and was happy to share what brought her to Hope College, why she stayed and some great advice for current students.
Why be a dance major? What brought you to decide on Hope and the department?
I actually thought that I would be an environmental science major when I came here, but they only have a minor. I was looking at another school at the time, and they didn’t have a dance program at all. That was going to be the school I was going to for sure, but when I visited they said they just had Shakespeare and theatre stuff — which really isn’t my thing. That was when I realized that I didn’t want to make dance a hobby, and that it was what I really wanted to do. That was why I chose to be a dance major. If I didn’t do that I would have felt like I was missing out on something. Also, I came here because I got scholarships from the dance and music departments and I thought that I would be really involved with both, but I’ve just stuck with dance as my main thing. I am from here, so I never thought I would go to Hope, but I ended up going because I have a younger sister [who] is very important to me, and she is the last one of us kids at home. It ended up being a really positive thing.
What is your favorite style of dance or part of the process? Dancing, choreographing?
I would love to dance professionally after I graduate. When I came here I was really into that contemporary, kind of lyrical modern thing that everyone was doing. But here, I was mentored by Crystal Frazier, who was a professor at the time, [and] her main style was kind of like house Hip-Hop. I participated in her Dance 44 piece my freshman year, which was actually her thesis for her master’s degree. Doing a lot of one-on-one work with her was strange, but there are some styles that make sense and feel good on your body and feel right. That was kind of my turning point, and I started kind of moving into more West African influenced styles. Crystal helped me understand the history of Hip Hop because coming here I didn’t have an in-depth understanding of where that style came from. Knowing the history of how specific movements have evolved is so powerful. I started with the contemporary versions of those things in the United States and then took it back. This past semester in my World Dance class we learned some West African movement, but really my experience has come from masterclasses that have been taught here and things like that.
How do you use creativity in your everyday life?
I am also a psychology major, so I think you have to be really creative to work with people. You have to be adaptable, too. I kind of have an engineering brain, so I like to seek out problems and fix them. Not in people but just in things. I spent this last summer learning about plumbing and electrical stuff, so whenever something in our house happens I like to create something that will help fix it. I feel like my creativity comes out in what I’m passionate about. I don’t know how to explain it more than it directs what I’m reading and the people who I talk to. I think that creatives can recognize creativity in other people, so I think my favorite part of the creative aspect of people is the collaboration that can come out of it. That just happens no matter who you are talking to. I feel like everyone is born creative, and Western society yanks that out of people. The way that school is set up now really takes away the creativity.
What is your favorite part of being a Hope student beyond dancing?
I wouldn’t say that Hope has been like the most comfortable place I’ve been. I don’t think there are many pockets of Hope that I feel like I fit into super well, but the Dance Department has definitely been a safe haven for me. The mentorship I have gained from the professors there and also from my peers — [these] people just come in ready to rock. It is so fun to be in the room with people who are willing to work as hard and [support each other]. My favorite experience at Hope has always been the really tight relationships in the Dance Department and how far your professors are willing to go for your personal success. My professors don’t let me slack off, and they are really hard on me. But that is for when I graduate — it’s so weird that it is so soon — that I’ll have a good head on my shoulders to do good work and know myself as an artist.
Have you been a part of any companies? How were those experiences?
H2 is a pre-professional training company. The positives of it is that it has given me a lot more performance opportunities which is huge. These last few have been filmed because of COVID and I miss performing live, [although] I’ve gained so much by being able to look back and critique my performance. H2 has such a tight knit community during our season and if I wasn’t in one of those companies, I would really only be performing in the spring with the faculty shows. It has been a really cool opportunity to be on stage — my favorite thing in the world — and also the young women who are a part of the group are all really important to me. There is something you can learn from every person there, and being in a company is really more of a learning experience than anything.
How has filming dances versus performing them live been with COVID?
[Filming] is definitely not for me. I don’t mean that in a bad way, or that it was a bad experience because it wasn’t, but I just know it’s not what I want to do. You know the feeling when you are backstage, and as you walk on stage you get really nervous, and then you get there you are in character and that’s it. You don’t get to be nervous anymore, you just have to go. I think I miss that, and I miss people [clapping] after a performance. It is so weird to get done after the eighth run through, and for someone to say “Cut! Thanks ladies.” and that’s it. I worked so hard for someone to just say “Cut”? So that’s weird. The energy you get from the audience is so important as a performer. You know when you have a bad audience you have a bad show. That’s just the truth. That’s what I love about performing live. I don’t dislike the camera, it’s just that all of the things I love about performing are not there.
Do you have any classes you wish you could take every semester?
Anything with Sharon Wong. That woman is honestly a goddess. The way she teaches is so in tune with each independent student’s body and needs. She is very intuitive when it comes to knowing how to give a correction, or how to encourage someone, or knowing when to humble someone. She is very direct, and I really appreciate her teaching style and how much she’s helped me grow. There’s not a person in the department that isn’t worth hanging out with or taking a class from. Sharon is for sure my favorite. And Jasmine Mejia is just so…chill. I’ve never had a dance teacher who is chill before. The way she [teaches] makes class a really safe place to try new things. Her willingness to help students experiment is really powerful as well.
What is your long term career plan? Do you have a dream job?
My dream job — this is really crazy I guess — but I would really like to have a dance company and kids arts program that kind of fund each other. Similar to how [Alvin] Ailey has the school and they have Ailey 2, and Ailey, and the ticket sales pay for the school. I would like to have a company where the ticket sales go to this arts building where there would be free masterclasses or donation only type things, so there is a space for people to come. I think that is the hardest thing for artists; you can’t just have a space to collaborate.
How about in the next few months? What is your post-graduation direction?
Right now I’m auditioning for anything I see that I feel like would be a good place for me to be in. There are a couple of projects I have become aware of, so I want to just [build] up my resume with really good experiences. I’ve done a little bit of volunteering at a juvenile detention facility, and they have a program called Lighthouse, which is an arts program for kids who are incarcerated. It is a really powerful and positive thing, so I might see if I can get into there with an internship or something like that. I think my next steps are starting here while COVID calms down and going somewhere once I figure out where to go.
What’s something you wish you knew as an underclassmen dancer?
I think to find your sense of humor in what you’re doing. Not the sense of humor where nothing matters — because it does — but sense of humor in finding the joy in what you’re doing. I know specifically dancers can be really hard on themselves since you are being corrected nonstop all day long. That can weigh on you if you take everything really seriously. Just recognizing how beautiful your flaws are is [my advice]. I think that the body and artistry acceptance comes through my sense of humor. If I didn’t have that by now I would have quit dance. It just would have been too hard because of my own insecurities. Recognizing that it is a process and finding a sense of humor in that process is something I wish I had known as a freshman when I was super hard on myself.