Dance Alabama! engages Tuscaloosa community

‘Dance Alabama!’ gives students creative, volunteer outlet

Desi Gillespie, Staff Reporter

Dance is an artistic expression with the body. It can be free or precisely choreographed, emotive or controlled. But for one organization, it is even more than that. Dance is what makes a group of performers into a family, one that serves its community with its gifts.

Dance Alabama! is a student-led organization dedicated to giving members performance and outreach opportunities through dance. Made up mostly of dance majors, students audition for fall and spring semester shows, which are entirely choreographed by their peers.

“The faculty decides which dance pieces are good enough to get in the show, but besides that, students have free reign,” said Emily Scott, a senior, majoring in dance. “Getting involved in [DA] is an interesting way to learn about yourself, how to choreograph, but it’s also a great way to learn from your peers and to work in different ways with different people.”

The dance numbers vary in style, as opposed to the more concert-dance-oriented Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre, giving students a greater breadth of experience. With this freedom, students may choreograph a fusion of styles into their numbers.

“Sometimes you get in a rehearsal space, you choreograph a piece and the faculty don’t choose it for the show,” Scott said. “But you can learn from that by watching your peers and the faculty. … The only way I’ve learned to choreograph effectively is by trying and failing, going back and evaluating, then trying again.”

Scott has a family history with DA. Her brother, a former UA dance major, came through the program before she came to college, leading to her audition as well.

“It was so cool to go from being in freshman classes, only meeting freshmen, to dancing on stage with seniors,” Scott said. “It gives you an opportunity to learn from people who are older than you and wiser than you.”

The experience of DA shows has remained valuable to Scott as she has become the upperclassman mentor to her peers through the program.

“It’s a really powerful thing to connect with audience members and with the people you’re on stage with in a performance,” Scott said. “There’s something special about being involved in a process without a faculty member watching over you. … There’s a very encouraging atmosphere in the student-led rehearsals. To be able to get on stage and share our work with an audience is so special.”

For Nicole DiGiovanni, a senior dance major, joining DA was about furthering her experiences in ways that are unique to a college campus.

“I transferred here after being involved in a training program in New York City, which was not through a school,” DiGiovanni said. “I was really excited to be back in an artistic community where I felt like I was a part of something. I wanted to be involved with everything to do with dance, and I was looking for every opportunity I could get to work with other dancers and perform.”

But DA is not simply built around performances. The group organizes an outreach tour to rural elementary schools across the state, performing student-choreographed works for schools that lack fine arts programs. DiGiovanni soon became involved in this outreach along with the other areas of the organization.

“Being a part of [the outreach tour] has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done as a dancer,” DiGiovanni said. “A lot of these kids at these schools have never seen live dance before. For them to see people doing these spectacular things is so incredible to them, and it reminds me of why I dance. On tour, I had a kid say, ‘Now that I’ve seen you dance, I want to be a dancer,’ and those kinds of things keep me going.”

As DiGiovanni has moved toward the end of college and the beginning of her career, the service opportunities provided by DA have stayed with her. For her, the organization has become a formative group and a family she has grown with.

“This audition season has been so difficult, constant rejection, and sometimes I ask myself why I’m even doing this,” DiGiovanni said. “But the tour is a reminder to me that we’re inspiring the next generation of kids. It’s so special that ‘Dance Alabama!’ has had the power to bring art to these schools.”

Both seniors have grown to be mentors to younger students in the organization that helped form them as dancers.

“Both Emily and Nicole are exceptional in that during their tenure at UA,” said Lawrence Jackson, assistant professor of dance. “In addition to being amazingly gifted and talented dancers, they have each discovered their individual choreographic voices. Their choreography is innovative, exhibits an enormous amount of risk-taking and compositional maturity. They are the quintessential exemplars of choreographic artists.”

DiGiovanni recently accepted an offer to be a ballet trainee at BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio. Scott is continuing to audition for ballet and contemporary dance companies. But the seniors have one last DA show before they leave for the professional world.

“This is the best ‘Dance Alabama!’ I’ve seen in my time here,” DiGiovanni said. “I think there’s so much creativity in the diversity of styles in this show. There’s some live music, some speaking, there’s so much collaboration. It’s going to be a really special show.”

The “Dance Alabama!” spring show, with 7:30 p.m. performances in Morgan Auditorium, continues through Mar. 30. For tickets, visit