Travel through Dance

The American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA) Northeast Regional conference was held at Penn State this weekend, Friday through Monday. The four-day event invited students from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey to break from routine and luxuriate in the shared passion of dance. This year, Bucknell University was an anxious newcomer full of excited students and faculty ready and willing join the cause. The theme of the weekend for me was travel, movement within artistic expression.

Each morning, sleepy-eyed dancers piled onto the bus at 6:40am to make the 1.5 hour trek to the expansive Penn State campus. Our schedules were filled with a series of master classes and performances by fellow undergraduate students. First Experience with Travel: driving along Route 45 in the early morning and late evenings, blended images of Amish horse-drawn buggies and fields of grain moving past the windowpane. We cradled our coffee cups and granola bars as the other dancers slept, 40 extra minutes of sugar-plum dreams.

I traveled internally. Compositional Improvisation begin on the floor: eyes closed, lower back resting solidly on the slats of varnished wood. Move your body slowly. Become a traveler within your body. Explore as a tourist, investigating the knees and shoulders and triceps as new and foreign destinations. Tap into renewed physical awareness. Pam Vail, a modern dance professor from Franklin & Marshall, provided the Second Travel Experience: moving within body awareness. How often do we acknowledge our bodies, the vessel which selflessly holds our essential organs, bones and muscles? The most unique and intimate parts of ourselves are held suspended in a living, breathing organism moving through time and space. I thanked my body for its strength and support.

Travel Experience No. 3 was traditional movement as a dancer in space. The packed room channeled Martha Graham herself in deep-seated contractions and explosions across the floor. Head up. Arms out. Our bodies moved in leaps, turns and extensions working to awaken the skin on the soles of our feet and stretch elastic tendons. Dancers dancing long to travel in this way forever.

We travel by observation. As audience members, flocks of pastel skirts, bodies in stillness, and partnering synchronicity confused and excited us. I was transported to moments of love, pain, exhaustion and power. In this way, I moved with the dancers in physical envy, the Fourth Travel Experience. I was a lonely New Yorker, a cocky businessman, a young peasant girl. Art gives us the ability to travel effortlessly through time and place through other’s visions and ideas. Great dance embodies the most basic of human emotion without masks, frills or disguise. It is recognized by a universality of human connection. 

So travel, combined with PB&J sandwiches, handfuls of trail mix, and short naps during intermission summed up my ACDFA experience. I was part of a collective identity known as “dancer” and offered my own pointed feet and rotated hips to the organic community. And while my time as a college dancer is coming to an end, the love of dance and travel only grows.

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