Growing as a Dancer and Choreographer in a Liberal Arts Curriculum

By Hailey Arindaeng

It has been a few weeks since the performance of Evening of Dance, my eighth and final performance with Orchesis Modern Dance Company in Phi Beta Kappa Theatre. After a long journey of growth throughout my dance career at William & Mary, I wanted to take this time to reflect on how my dance experiences have come together and fit into a unique liberal arts education at the College.

I have been dancing for 18 years, but my sophomore year at William & Mary was the first time that I had ever choreographed. It has been such an exciting time developing and discovering my movement aesthetic and choreographic voice over the past three years. I have realized that many of the opportunities that have challenged me to step outside my comfort zone are the ones that have had the most impact on my growth as a choreographer and performer. For instance, I have had the opportunity to participate in several conferences that gather dancers from diverse universities, locations, and styles. These conferences include the American College Dance Association, International Association of Blacks in Dance, and the VCU Dance Symposium. Through these conferences, I had the opportunity to take classes with artists such as Cleo Parker Robinson and have conversations about creating work with peers across the country.  One of the most interesting experiences I have had at the College is studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa where I took classes with Jazz Art Dance Theatre.

How do all these experiences come together and fit into my story? Before coming to William & Mary, dance was a personal form of self-expression and an athletic challenge as I worked tirelessly to improve my technical abilities. Of course, those aspects still matter to me at the College, but dance has taken on a new role in my life. I have learned that modern dance can act as a platform for communicating some of the topics that can be the most difficult to express with words. This was a significant realization for me while studying abroad in Cape Town. The group of 20 of us students were learning about how dance is used in South African culture as a healing tool to express and deal with many of the social rifts that have emerged post-apartheid. This was the first time that I had ever travelled to another country. I was so inspired by how sharing in this common passion of dance helped us students from William & Mary connect on a deeper level with the people and students whom we met in Cape Town. Many of our backgrounds could not have been farther from different, but dance as a form of expression helped us find common ground for understanding and helped us create a comfortable environment to learn about one another.

This experience has helped me cherish the moments in which I have had the opportunity to use dance as a platform for communication in both my campus community and beyond. For instance, I was fortunate to dance with Professor Leah Glenn’s Company at the John F. Kennedy Center’s Millennium stage as well as William & Mary’s Medicine, Arts and Social Justice symposium, “1619-2019: From Jamestown to Flint.” In both venues, I performed with alumni and current students in pieces that bring light to topics such as cross-cultural relations and the grieving process. Forming relationships with faculty mentors and peer artists who value the use of dance to articulate topics that are dear to our community has been incredibly inspiring and humbling.

As president of Orchesis Modern Dance Company, I was reminded of how dance can be used to create social change and spark conversations during our last performance. After our show, I was delighted to hear and see so many students and families discussing the pieces presented. We had pieces that explored a wide variety of topics – from the evolution of bipedalism, holistic well-being, to the refugee experience. We are a company that celebrates the diversity of our members. We each study unique majors at the College, and we each come from a diverse dance background. Seeing the diversity of thought and experience reflected in our student-choreographed performance this weekend was quite an honor. Having choreographed the finale piece that features all 22 members of the Company, I will cherish this experience as one that allowed me to appreciate and celebrate the strengths and talents of each company member as artists, dancers, and members of our campus community.

Having studied dance for 18 years, it is exciting for me to reflect on how the continuous journey of learning and growing as an artist is never over. Who knew that in just four years out of those 18, my entire perspective of the power that dance can have in bringing together communities and discussing challenging topics could change? I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that W&M and the dance faculty have brought me during these past four years. I have seen dance in an entire new light, and I hope to continue choreographing and dancing during the next chapter of my life.