When the Students Run the Show

You already know that deciding where to go to college is a big deal. And finding a school that fits both your academic and your dance needs can be especially hard. But while pursuing a dance major is one option, it’s not the only one! Many colleges are also home to a bunch of impressive student-run dance companies. Why would you want to be part of a group run by your peers? The opportunities just might surprise you.

Branch Out

College is all about trying new things, and student-run dance groups make it easy to do just that. Want to explore a niche dance style, like bhangra or belly dancing? There might be a student group devoted to it. Want to experience a whole range of styles? There are companies that do it all, too. Don’t see the kind of organization you’d want to join? At most schools, you can get funding to found it yourself.

Sarabande, a student-run company at Tufts University, performing Say My Name, choreographed by Ani Loshkajian (photo by Andrew R. Schneer)

Even if you’ve only ever considered yourself a die-hard ballroom dancer, a student-run group like Arizona State University’s Free The Dance can give you the chance to set aside your heels and slip on some funky sneakers. The group, created and run by recent ASU graduate J. Bouey, holds free weekly dance classes for all ASU students. “Our most popular classes are contemporary, jazz and hip hop,” says Bouey, “but we’ll also have partnering, ballroom, tango, Latin, swing, African and belly dancing throughout the semester.”

When Ani Loshkajian, president of Tufts’ student-run dance company Sarabande, first joined the troupe as a freshman, she was a total bunhead who had a hard time letting loose and giving in to movement. Fast-forward four years: “I feel like I’m an entirely different dancer,” she says. Because Sarabande allows its members to explore a variety of styles, “my dancing has become much more personal and expressive of who I am.”

Keep the Passion Alive

If you don’t want to major in dance, student groups offer an alternative way to make it an important part of your life on campus. “I didn’t choose one passion over the other,” says Loshkajian, an international relations and French major. “Sarabande made it possible for me to continue my passion for dance, without sacrificing the other visions I had for my future. In fact, being a part of the company has served as an incredible creative outlet that’s contributed to my academics.”

And if you are a dance major, participating in a student-run group can be the release you need to make sure you don’t burn out. “It can be hard to maintain a real joy for dance when you’re studying it in an academic setting,” says Bouey, a dance major. “Free The Dance has been my escape. I can show up and just move, without worrying about homework. It’s helped me to hold on to that innocent love for dance.”

Go Beyond the Stage

Choosing to take on a leadership role in a student-run group can help you learn to shine offstage as well as on. Sarabande, for example, holds elections each semester to determine who will be a part of an executive board made up of a president, vice president, treasurer, social chair, producer, public relations manager and webmaster. For Loshkajian, serving as the  company’s president has taught her many of the skills she’ll need to thrive after graduation. “I’ve learned how to work closely with a team, and how important personal relationships are to leveraging results,” she says. “Most important, I’ve learned that no matter what, the show must go on!”

Make Moves

For those interested in making dances, a student-run group can provide opportunities to try out choreography. It’s pretty much the only time in your life that you’ll have access to great dancers, rehearsal spaces and performance venues at no charge.

Sarabande's Heather Ngai and Matt Evers in Evers' Next Chapter (photo by Kyra Sturgill)

Think choreography isn’t your thing? A student-run company could be just the environment you need to get going. “There’s a freedom that comes from being in a company with your peers that can unlock a flow of creativity,” says Nikolas Kaim, artistic director of Ithaca College’s Rock Hard Dance Company. “You don’t always find that in a professional company or at a studio.”

Student groups may offer teaching opportunities, too. While Free The Dance doesn’t currently put on formal concerts, students can audition to become instructors for the group at the beginning of each semester. “It’s a really great chance to improve your teaching skills,” Bouey says. “At the end of each class, we have a discussion where we give feedback to the teacher. It’s a good time to learn the small things, like needing to speak louder or teach more slowly.”

Ultimately, there’s a wide range when it comes to what your experience in a student-run group might look like, because everything is up to you and your peers. And as you all create things together, you’ll probably become great friends, too. “This is one of the only environments where you’re surrounded by people who love dance and are choosing to spend their limited free time doing it,” Kaim says. “No one’s making money, no one’s parents are forcing them to participate—everyone’s just there because they want to dance.”

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