February might signify the dread of frigid temperatures and slushy walkways, but it also marks Rochester’s delightfully eclectic inspireDANCE Festival. The festival, launched in 2011 by then-senior Arielle Friedlander, for her Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year (KEY) project, brings the multifaceted Rochester dance community together. Friedlander’s intention for the festival was to foster an environment where Rochester’s many dancers can learn and grow from one another.

Missy Smith, director of the UR Program of Dance and Movement, describes when Friedlander first pitched the idea of a dance festival to her. “Previously, there had not been a lot of interaction between the dancers who were in all the student groups and the dancers who were actually taking dance classes,” Smith said. “I was thrilled about (Friedlander’s) ideas and certainly supported her in getting it off the ground for the first year.”

Smith also described how the festival has evolved over three years. “We’ve been getting grants to support larger, professional companies to come in and perform,” she said. “We have guest artists who teach workshops throughout the six days of the festival. We have also opened all of our courses to all of the classes during the festival for the community or for people who aren’t necessarily enrolled so that they can check it out and experience different forms of dance.”

This year, the festival took place from Feb. 13 to 18, during which it offered dance performances and master classes from high-caliber dance professionals.

Master classes offered by UR Program of Dance and Movement covered a wide variety of dance styles and cultural influences. The classes covered Bartenieff Fundamentals, Irish Step, Salsa, Bharatanatyam, Jamaican Dancehall and Contemporary, among other diverse offerings. The festival provided a chance for dance beginners and aficionados alike to immerse themselves in dance, a world of passion and intrigue.

This year, UR was especially proud to showcase Heidi Latsky Dance (HLD.) The group, a New York dance company, is known for its forward-thinking and technically awe-inspiring performances. HLD is led by critically acclaimed New York City dancer and choreographer Heidi Latsky, once a member of the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, known for ambitiously incorporating literature and music into the dance medium. HLD performed at Strong Auditorium on Feb. 14, presenting its thrilling performance “Two Works and An Interlude.” According to Smith, “the interlude was her students, along with two of her company members; one was deaf and one had cerebral palsy. Some of our students who are in it are also studying ASL (American Sign Language)… That was a really exciting part of it for me. We haven’t had a guest artist work with our students before.” Smith added, “It’s not like you’re watching disabled dancers. You’re just watching dancers with different bodies.”

As expected, the inspireDANCE festival offered an abundance of memorable performances. The festival began with a bang on Feb. 13 with the “UR Dances” Kick-Off Event. The event showcased numerous UR Student Dance Groups, from the Ballet Performance Group (BPG) to AXUM, a dance group that largely takes influence from Ethiopian dance culture. The range of performances was as diverse as one could conceive. Senior Mary Juergens, head of the Swing Dance Club, lead six of her members in a “Stew Dance”. Juergens also showcased the “Tranky-Doo” dance with junior Jamie Strampe. Strampe, also a member of Swing Dance Club, expressed her excitement about “getting to perform with so many other great dance groups, and being able to showcase Swing Dance Club members’ abilities to solo dance.”

Marissa Abbott, BPG president and member of the class of 2014, explains her group’s involvement with the Kick-Off Event. “BPG performed two pieces at the ‘U of R Dances’ Kick-Off Event: a larger group number choreographed by Courtney Astemborski and a solo choreographed by Stephanie Denzler,” Abbott said. “BPG aims to provide everyone with the opportunity to dance, and it was a rewarding opportunity to contribute to the festival and to showcase our student-choreographed pieces.”

Feb. 15 highlighted urban dance styles among other things. Events included the inspireJAM Hip-Hop Panel Discussion, in which New York City B-Girl Ana “Rockafella” Garcia delved into the balance between hip-hop dance as an art and as a commercial pursuit. Also worth noting was the “inspireJAM B-Boy/B-Girl Battle”, a fiery attraction where students were encouraged to compete or simply watch, hosted by DJ Sike and Judge Rockafella. Smith elaborates on this year’s inclusion of Ana “Rockafella” Garcia in the festival. “She was kind of a big deal,” Smith said. “She’s part of hip-hop history. She’s been around a bit and people know who she is… Each year we’ve stepped (the festival) up a bit.”

Smith continued by reflecting on inspireDANCE’s role in the community. “Dance is so much broader than what many people think,” she said. “Dance or not, you are inspired watching these people move. I am hoping to build a larger audience for dance, to have people try new things… so (they) think beyond ‘So You Think You Can Dance?’”

The inspireDANCE Festival offered something valuable for dance novices and fanatics alike. Abbott offers her interpretation on the importance of a festival such as inspireDANCE. “Dance can serve as a form of communication, awaken the senses, build community diversity, provide an outlet for emotional expression, and create positive energy within the body,” she said. “To me, the inspireDANCE festival exemplifies the diversity of dance and provides students with the opportunity to explore styles of dance outside of their comfort zones.” Sophomore Molly Finn, member of the UR Program of Dance and Movement, summed up the festival well: “We had a great turnout for all of the events and it was a great experience.” Whether students wanted to observe, learn or participate in dance, the festival allowed it. Here’s to next February!

Liu is a member of 

the class of 2016.

 

Howard is a member of 

the class of 2017.

 



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