A laboratory of movement
September 16, 2021
Editor’s Note: Ingrid Dehler-Seter and Emily Fought are Culver Academies' dance instructors and co-directors of Dancevision, the boarding school’s dance company. Dehler-Seter has a Master in Fine Arts in Dance from Sarah Lawrence College. Fought recently received her Master of Science in Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention from California University of Pennsylvania. Both received their bachelor’s degrees in dance and have studied extensively with other artists during their careers.
Dance is more than the correct placement of the toe on the knee in a position like passe or the angle of the leg in an arabesque. Dance is about experiencing the sensation of movement. The sensation of flight in a grand jete or the shift in weight during a backwards roll.
As educators, we focus on providing a space for students to explore both familiar and unfamiliar sensations of movement through various sequences. We ask students to use the studio as a laboratory. A space for personal investigation and growth. Dance doesn’t just teach you about how to use your muscles, but it gives you a new way to connect to your body, mind, and spirit. It offers movement as a language for communication.
We believe dance molds students into effective leaders, collaborators, and communicators. Through the development of kinesthetic awareness and technical know-how to be able to embody movement qualities, dancers learn to communicate ideas and express complex concepts through the body. As dancers, we are the vessels through which our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and visions are created and shared with the world.
We see dance at Culver as being divided into two different tracks. The first being an avenue for student-athletes and beginning dancers to learn more about working with the body, improve flexibility, alignment, and spatial awareness through academic classes such as Dance for Athletes, Dance Workshop, Body Studies, and the History & Practice of Yoga. The second being a path for students interested in elevating their dance studies by pursuing their passion for the artform during the academic day and beyond.
CMA student Folabomi Fayemi ’23 (Lagos, Nigeria) said of his current experience in Dance for Athletes:
“Though only having done Dance for Athletes for a little less than a month, it’s been so much fun. Some of the concepts that we’ve been taught in class like spatial awareness and how to get your body ready for moving through stretching have helped me with getting ready for my athletic part of the day and the importance of taking time for the little things.”
The goal for our student-athletes and beginners is for them to gain not only an appreciation for the physical, spatial, and rhythmic complexities of the artform, but a deeper understanding of what it means to prepare the body for movement. Taking care of the body is imbedded in Culver’s mission about nurturing the whole self, therefore, it is a central in the classroom.
Students interested in pursuing dance beyond the academic day are encouraged to enter Honor in Dance and audition for the after-school dance company, Dancevision. Dancevision meets five days a week throughout all three seasons. Students train primarily in ballet and contemporary dance technique, as well as ensemble and soloist work for student showcases and winter and spring performances. Dancevision is a company of dedicated, passionate, and talented dancers who are committed to investigating the body as a tool for artistic expression.
Dancevision member, Lucy Burk ’23 (Indianapolis) shared how the impact that dance has had on her experience at Culver:
“Dancevision has allowed me to further my technical training as well as push me to step out of my comfort zone and expand my creative practice. I have had so many amazing opportunities to grow because of Dancevision, such as participating in the North Carolina School of the Arts summer intensive and choreographing pieces for my peers.”
Students who choose Honor in Dance are required to take classes in composition, history, and production. These courses are designed to promote critical thinking and leadership as it relates to directing and making dance. As a dance program of two faculty members, we believe in creating an engaging, yet demanding dance curriculum that encourages students to find their artistic voice and develop their creative vision through both the production and performance process. As choreographers, we can attest to the fact that seeing your work performed on stage by an ensemble of committed and dedicated dancers is the most rewarding experience.
“Is dance a sport?” is the question that often comes up – especially from our students sharing their frustration with the lack of respect that dance receives as a physically rigorous activity. The fact is, dance is not a sport, it is an artform.
This doesn’t mean that it isn’t physically or intellectually demanding, but rather that its purpose is to express conceptual ideas through performative action. What makes dance meaningful is that it has a lasting impact not only on the spectators, but on the teachers, dancers, choreographers, and directors who pour their heart and soul into their craft.
That is why we are constantly trying to make our students and Dancevision members believe in themselves. We are always hearing from colleagues how impressed they are with our Dancevision students at the end of a performance. How they hold themselves, how they behave across campus, how in tune all the dancers are on stage. It’s teamwork through and through. It’s their belief in each other that makes them uphold these standards.
As for our students in our academic classes, a few coaches and counselors have told us how much joy dance has brought to their student-athletes. How much more flexible they are and how they are more in tune with their bodies.
This is why we believe dance is the epitome of the Culver mission statement. We strive to take care of and develop the whole individual: mind, spirit, and body. It’s as simple as that.
We strength-train our dancers after school to ensure that they are moving their bodies in different ways so as to (hopefully) decrease injuries. We allow our dancers both after school and in the academic day the opportunity to be creative and express themselves lending to their emotional well beings. As for the mind, dance is discipline. Dance is uniformity and honestly, it is as close to the Culver military system as we can get. CMA has the Corps of Cadets and that terminology carries over to dance. We have a corps of dancers and it is why our Dancevision company members look like a cohesive unit on stage.
With Dancevision, we teach ballet, contemporary, and some forms of jazz. We are constantly trying to learn different ways to do all of these types of movements. It’s so important that you are a constant learner in this realm of work because if you aren’t, if you don’t stick with the times, you become irrelevant. There must be continuous growth. You have to constantly be thinking about the next big thing and if you can’t teach it, if it is outside of your realm of possibility, you have to reach out to people who can.
That is why we have worked with professional instructors/dancers in hip hop, contemporary, jazz, and Vaganova, a style of ballet. One of those professionals was former Dancevision alumae and 1993 CGA grad Dana Crigler. Last February, we asked her and her colleagues to teach our academic and Dancevision classes via Zoom from Atlanta, where their company and studio is based. Dana’s success as a professional dancer after her time at Culver, and in Dancevision specifically, was incredibly inspiring to our dancers.