Written By: Alex Bruell 8/7/15
In a large studio in Meany Hall overlooking Red Square, UW alumni run, step, and jump as they practice a high-energy and intricately choreographed dance. Out of breath, everyone takes a one-minute break. Then it’s back to work.
The AU Dance Collective, a small group made up of UW graduates, is practicing for its September debut performance, titled “Golden Skin.” The dancers’ performances are intense, but everyone’s having fun; members laugh and joke as they work on tightening up and perfecting their movements.
“It’s not supposed to be so serious,” said Megan Erickson, manager and co-director of the Collective. “We’re trying to create dance that appeals not just to an elite audience. It’s a contemporary, modern, hip-hop fusion, where we’re really trying to bring everyone’s voices in.”
The group only formed in January, but the Collective is already gaining a strong role in the Seattle community, which members say desperately needs voices and advocates for youth and minority groups. Through their shared collegiate experience, the members are hoping to both build a talented group of performers and provide more access to an art that is often unavailable to disadvantaged groups. For now, the main focus is on getting ready for their first full-length performance.
At practice, the choreography is detailed and sharp. But when something isn’t working, the members quickly innovate and adapt, changing movements and missteps as they happen. Part of what makes this flexibility possible is the shared ownership of the group’s responsibilities.
“Everyone’s involved both in the administrative side of it as well as dancing and choreographing,” Erickson said of the group’s performance. “It’s a combination of pieces by the artistic directors and choreography by the dancers.”
Outside of rehearsal, members hang out and relax, having family dinners and barbecues or going out for drinks. While some members are newer than others, the group has formed a close friendship.
“We’ve all been dancing together for a while,” said Becca Smith, a member of the group. “All of the dancers went to the UW Dance Program, and I’ve been dancing with them for the last four years.”
Lorraine Lau, one of the older members, joined the group recently. But, like many others, she danced with them prior to the group’s formation.
“There are people who graduated just a few days ago,” Lau said. “I left the dance program back in 2011. I’ve danced with them over the years, but never in a long-term way like this. It’s much more of a family than just a project.”
Creating an inclusive and diverse network for dancers is a crucial goal of the group, the members said. After leaving college, many face a harsh and lonely job market, and there are few resources or institutions to help guide them.
“Something I noticed about UW dance students is that not a lot of them stick around or continue to dance in the Seattle area,” Lau said. “There wasn’t a network from dancing in college to dancing in the city. So part of this group is addressing that feeling of isolation that a lot of us had coming out.”
People of color face their own uphill battle in the dance scene as well.
“There’s not a lot of people of color who are visibly making work,” Lau said. “It’s a pretty white city. The art scene is pretty white. There’s a pretty big feeling of alienation that comes from that.”
To combat this, the Dance Collective has youth workshops planned in August as part of its outreach program. By reaching out to young people, the group aims to help build the support network its members felt was missing.
“We’re specifically trying to represent people of color, people in the queer community, and women,” Erickson said. “I’m excited to work with the youth and get them excited about dance.”
At the end of the day, the most important thing to the members was the sense of family and sharing in the group.
“Our dancing is not just a personal practice,” Lau said. “It’s about communing with other people. It’s not just about making a really cool show and getting famous. I don’t think that’s anyone’s idea of what this is. We grew up with the privilege of going to this school to practice our skills, and we want to give that gift back to the community.”