Feb. 24, 2023
The 13 Dancevision members returned to Culver Academies feeling exhilarated and exhausted, but also with renewed confidence and a stronger team bond after going through intense training in ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance at the Namari Dance Center in Atlanta during the long weekend leave in February.
“By going somewhere else we were able to learn from new teachers and also their students and we were able to see new forms of dance that we aren't exposed to here,” said Lucy Burk ’23. “It also helped us to broaden our dance vocabulary.”
The Dancevision members left on Friday, Feb. 10, and spent three days training at Namari, which was co-founded in 2018 by Dana Crigler ’93. Many of the dancers had worked previously with Crigler, Antwan Sessions, Namari’s owner and artistic director, and Shervoski Moreland, Namari’s associate artistic director, when they held a workshop at Culver last February. Crigler also held a Zoom workshop with Dancevision the previous year.
Destiny Ndubuisi-Obi ’24 believes she’s improved each year working with Namari.
“I've been able to be more receptive and more open-minded to other people's teaching styles,” she said.
Emily Fought, who started as a fellow at Culver Academies in 2014, said it’s been her goal since becoming a full-time dance instructor at Culver in 2016 to get the dance company to an off-campus workshop to get dancers outside their comfort zones.
“That’s the most important part. Getting them to feel that little bit of uncomfortability, that little bit of fear, so they can come back and have a new sense of their space, of their teachers that they experience every day,” Fought said. “And maybe having an ‘Aha!’ moment with the instructors at the workshop and think: ‘I want to explore that dance style beyond Culver.’ ”
Fought and Ingrid Ciaccia, also a dance instructor at Culver, reached out to Crigler in 2020 because they wanted to highlight Black artists and dancers in Dancevision’s guest artist program.
Fought and Ciaccia grew up studying western concert dance styles, both learning the George Balanchine method of ballet, which focuses more on athleticism. Fought also trained in contemporary modern dance, specifically Cunningham technique, and some jazz dance such as Fosse. Ciaccia also trained in modern and contemporary training styles influenced by Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Trisha Brown, and contemporary styles influenced by artist and choreographer John Jaspers.
“This was a chance to broaden their horizons, their perspectives and hopefully encourage that one kid who maybe really wants to dance but doesn't see anybody who looks like them in the group to know at some point, ‘I'm going to have some kind of instruction from somebody who looks like me.’ That's been huge for us,” Fought said.
Fought said she didn’t have the opportunity to work with teachers of color until she went to college.
“It's one of those things where you don't realize what you're missing until you get it,” she said.
She trained under Jason Piper, who danced the principal role in the all-male version of “Swan Lake” for two seasons in London.
“His ballet combinations were to hip hop and Linkin Park. I was like, ‘I’ve never experienced this. Where has it been all my life?’ ” she said.
The Dancevision members usually train from 4:15 p.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week. At Namari, they trained from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for three days, or basically a week’s worth of training each day.
At the end of each day, they had blisters, their muscles ached, and they were tired. They also were switching from ballet, to jazz, to choreography, to contemporary dance, which is not only a switch physically, but mentally as well. Dancers have to adjust their movement quality, rhythm, and approach to learning.
“It was high-level and intense,” Fought said. “It would be like a three-sport athlete doing all three sports back-to-back in a day with only a short break. That’s a lot.”
The students said they were feeling a little down when they got to the Namari Dance Center on the second day. Burk said she called home to her mother because she was struggling.
“I was having a hard time trying to pick up on their style,” Burk said.
Ndubuisi-Obi was feeling uncertainty as well.
“You can have a lot of self-doubt when you see people next to you being able to do a movement and you’re standing there trying to figure everything out,” Ndubuisi-Obi said.
Fought and Ciaccia told the dancers that instead of questioning their ability, they should realize they are standing next to other strong dancers who were experiencing the same self-doubt.
“We told them, ‘Look at it as we are all going through the same thing. We are really sharing blood, sweat, and tears together to make this happen,’ ” Fought said. “Instead of seeing it as a negative, see it as something you can talk about to this person 20 years from now. Look at it as an experience you’ll never have again.”
The girls got going again and felt the camaraderie building as the weekend wore on. The instructors and dancers said the biggest improvement made during the trip was stronger team bonds.
“We all grew as a team,” Burk said. “We're all better dancers now because we went through this experience together.”
Fought said she’s also seen an improvement in the girls dancing.
“I would say the ones who struggled with turns, it's finally clicking for them. The ones who really didn't think that they could do some things on pointe, now realize they can do those things. They just have to have the confidence and use their technique to accomplish those things.”
Ciaccia also was impressed.
“I’ve seen the company grow in terms of their technical ability and desire to move as a group,” Ciaccia said.
With Crigler, they worked on the Vaganova ballet method developed in Russia that gradually introduces students to dance techniques that will later be used in performances.
“It's very slow. It's very meticulous. It's very detail oriented. And that's very Dana,” Fought said. “She told them that in order to do the things that you have the most fun with, which is contemporary and jazz, you have to be able to get to a point where this style of ballet doesn't seem quite so hard.”
Burk, who plans to study dance in college, said she was happy to meet some of the Namari students who also plan to pursue a career in dance.
“It was nice to be able to relate to other dancers,” she said.
The workshop in Atlanta was the first big trip for Dancevision. Fought said the previous big trip was a one-day workshop to the Visceral Dance Center in Chicago. But she said there were never enough funds for such a trip.
That changed this year because of the generosity of R. Casey Olson ’71, who is retired as a corporate executive vice president of Occidental Petroleum Corp. and president of OXY Oil and Gas—International. Olson said his support of Dancevision stems from a friendship he developed with Cathy (Mitzell) Duke ’70, who founded Dancevision in 1977.
Fought said she is grateful to both Olson and Duke, who was her mentor when she started at Culver.
“It was such a huge thing for the girls to see that somebody was investing in them,” she said. “It was a huge confidence boost for them. Somebody's finally taken notice of the hard work they’re putting in. Casey gave us a steppingstone. Now we just have to keep climbing.”
The hope is to get off campus every two years. Fought said she hopes to eventually take the troupe to New York City, and a long-term goal is a trip to Europe.
Ndubuisi-Obi said she’s confident the program will continue to grow.
“I see Dancevision having a bright future and it's thanks to alumni like Ms. Crigler and to our teachers right now because they're the visionaries,” she said. “They're putting the vision into Dancevision and making it into something it wouldn’t have been without them."