QCC Dance Workshop
On Saturday, May 11, 2019, the dance majors at Queensborough Community College (QCC) held their Dance Workshop performance at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center. Dance Workshop is the spring dance concert for the QCC Dance Program. This performance culminated a process that began with auditions in November 2018 and continued with intensive rehearsals with guest artists in January 2019 and weekly rehearsals during the spring semester.
Guest artists, faculty, and students choreographed 11 new works. The dancers performed a wide range of dance forms from modern to West African to hybrids of various forms. The concert opened with a film to honor Muriel Manings who passed away in the fall of 2018. Manings was part of the New Dance Group, a modern dance collective inspired by the political movement spawned by workers' demonstrations in Manhattan in the 1930s (Rolnick 2012). She later was the QCC Dance Program coordinator from 1970-1990.
In the current political climate that at best erases people of color, the dancers displayed immense courage in sharing themselves and their stories with the audience. The faculty and guest artists' works explored the stress and rage those unempowered often feel living in racialized and sexist societies. It also showed the resilience of those living within these unjust systems. The dances created a space for the performers and the audience to experience and release emotions rarely vented in public domains. The students' choreographed works, all solos, echoed the themes presented in the ensemble works from the point of view of an individual.
Dance Workshop showed how dance continues to be political. The 11 works looked at the world and offered an opportunity to connect with others because of their differences rather than in spite of them. The concert continued the work that Muriel Manings began with the New Dance Group and continued during her time at QCC. Johanna Climenko, a former student of Manings, interviewed for the film stated if you want to change the world, dance is the vehicle to change the world. The QCC dance students are not only willing but able to dance those changes into the world.
Rolnick, Katie. “Dance History: New Dance Group”. Dance Teacher Magazine. 1 October 2012. Accessed 12 June 2019.
Photo credits: "Strapped" by Robert Battle. Photo by Leonardo Correa
An Interview with Xiang Rong
I interviewed Xiangrong Ren, a second year student in the dance program, on her experience with the Gibney Winter Intensive. Each year one QCC dance program student receives a full scholarship to attend the Gibney Winter Intensive and one dance student receives a full scholarship to attend the Summer Intensive. The Winter Intensive takes place over the first two weeks in January.
How did you get the Gibney Winter Intensive scholarship?
The Dance faculty chooses the scholarship student. I don't have a modern class this semester, so they felt it would be a good experience for me. Emily Berry, Dance Program Coordinator told me that I got the scholarship on my birthday.
Happy Belated Birthday! What did you do during the Winter Intensive?
The participants were required to take 30-35 classes in the two weeks, but you can pick own schedule. There were also several performances we saw during the intensive. I saw performances at New York Live Arts, Movement Research, the Joyce, and the Chocolate Factory. There were regular meetings to talk about how we felt after the performances and classes. Gibney also invited guest speakers like the Harkness Health Center for Injury Prevention to talk to us. And they had a photographer to take our headshots and movement shots; I got to choose a headshot and a movement shot for free.
I can't get past the 30-35 classes in 2 weeks!
I took 31 classes in two weeks. Last summer I took the Valerie Green summer intensive. It was totally different from Gibney's. The program with Valerie Green was only week and they set up the schedule for you which was the same every single day.
How many classes did you end up taking a day to have everything fit?
I took three classes a day, Monday through Saturday. I had to work on Sundays. The first week my body felt very sore, but after a few days I feel like I got used to it. One day I took four classes. It was not as hard as I thought because I was used to taking three classes. What was hard for me was scheduling. I live in Queens, so it was hard for me to get to a ten o'clock class because I have to leave home around 8 o'clock in the morning.
Whose classes did you get to take?
I used this as a chance for me to try something new, so I took different styles and from different teachers. I really liked the Simonson classes. Some classes were hard to follow because the students had previous experience with the teacher, so the class moved too fast. At QCC we learn a new phrase and work on it for a few weeks, but at the classes at Gibney I only had the one class. I could not pick up the phrases quickly, but I think that two weeks help me to get better at it.
I tried to take more technique class like Limón, ballet, and floor barre. They were really helpful because the instructors were clear and they focused on my alignment. I liked the contemporary and jazz classes because the teachers used terminology and movements I was familiar with from Emily's classes. I could apply what I learned at QCC this those classes.
I also learned that some dancers can be good performers but not really good at teaching. I took a class because I saw the dancer in performance, and I really liked how she moved, but taking her class is not what I expected. When I was learning the phrase, she just wasn't that clear.
What about this experience was most transformative for you?
I met a professional dancer from Hong Kong during the winter intensive. She performs Chinese traditional dance. She helped me learn how to pick up movement while the teacher demonstrates.
I am not confident in class, dancing in front of people. I had no dance experience before QCC, so I often compare myself to others which is hard for me. Sometimes I really struggle a lot. But what I liked about Gibney was everyone was focused on themselves, so I did not feel like I was being judged. That environment was inspiring to me, and I could really see how much progress I made in a year. I remember taking a Gaga class. I felt relaxed and in my own zone. It was really fun, and I felt much more confident in myself to try new things.
What advice would you give someone who receives the opportunity to participate in the Gibney winter intensive?
There were so many choices, and you want to take all the classes, but know what you want to learn and what you need to learn.
Know your level. Sometimes we can go too high when you're not ready for it.
Be open. Try something new because it might not be what you expect to learn.
Photo credits: LaVue Photography/Gabriel J
On Sunday, December 9, the Queensborough Community College Dance Program presented its first Kwanzaa Celebration. Produced and directed by Adjunct Faculty Kevin McEwen, this program proposed to celebrate the QCC local and extended community through dance and music.
The concert consisted of seven dance works featuring performances by the QCC Dance Majors, Bautinga Arts, the Kofago Dance Ensemble, the Gloria Eve School of the Arts, and the Nu Gamma Psi Step Squad. The show began with a YouTube video, “The Story of Kwanzaa: From Civil Rights to Corporate America” by Now This World to give the audience some history and context around Kwanzaa. Developed by Maulana Karenga in the 1960s, Kwanzaa was an “opportunity to restore unity in black communities” disrupted by riots and tensions between the black communities and law enforcement (Butler). It is an African American and Pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community, and culture. Celebrated between Christmas and New Year’s, Kwanzaa takes its name from and refers to an African harvest celebration (McEwen). Each day of Kwanzaa represents a different principle: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. The two dance works in the first half of the show featured West African dance with live drumming as though to show Kwanzaa’s African roots through dance.
A medley of dances displaying the African diaspora was the theme of the second half of the show. From step to Afro-Caribbean to contemporary dance, the dances invited the audience to remember our history, to lean on our ancestors, and to celebrate the resilience and adaptability of a people who retained their identity in the face of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism. The second act closes with a finale choreographed by Mr. McEwen and featuring dancers from the QCC Dance Program, Kofago Dance Ensemble, and Bautinga Arts with live drumming. This finale titled Mandiani, which is an initiation celebration dance done by the Mandingo People of Senegal, West Africa (African Heritage Dancers and Drummers), ended the show on an energetic note and reinforced the idea Mr. McEwen stated at the beginning of the show: Kwanzaa is a celebration of the local and extended community.
In his closing speech, Mr. McEwen invited the audience to get out of their respective bubbles and engage with the community around them, especially in academia -the show took place on a college campus. Often the institution isolates itself from its immediate physical and geographical community and prioritizes the intellectual community. Mr. McEwen exemplified that interconnectedness he invited the audience to engage with; he shared that as a teacher, colleague, and student he had a direct connection to every group that performed that evening.
The Kwanzaa Celebration took the audience on a journey from global to local to personal and back out into the community in a multi-sensory experience that appealed to a broad audience. As an experience it lasted long after the dancers and drummers took their final bows. Many of my students in class the next day commented on how much they enjoyed the performance and how they look forward to next year’s production. My eight-year-old daughter sat riveted in her seat for the entire performance, whooping and cheering the dancers on, and immediately wanting to dance once the show ended. It is an auspicious beginning to a tradition that I hope will grow deep roots so that it lives beyond its creator.
Butler, Jennie. “The Story of Kwanzaa: From Civil Rights to Corporate America.” YouTube, 26 Dec. 2016.
McEwen, Kevin. “Kwanzaa Celebration.” Queensborough Community College Dance Program, Department of Health, Physical Education and Dance, 9 Dec. 2018.
Photo Credit: Mandiani - Choreography by Kevn McEwen
Dancer: Elizabeth Vielot (QCC Dance Major)
Photo Credit: Mandiani - Choreography by Kevin McEwen
Marvin Jeudy (in center), Kofago Dance Ensemble, Batingua Arts, QCC Dance Majors