“Don’t be afraid.” That’s the advice from Beth Salemi Szpak to non-dancers. It’s advice she took herself.
Szpak started her dance career as a Case Western Reserve University freshman in 1996 with one fall semester modern dance class under her belt. Her very first dance performance was that spring’s Mather Dance Collective (MaDaCol) show. 17 years later she’s returning to CWRU to reprise “A Pilgrim’s Book,” a dance she first premiered in 2000 on the MaDaCol stage.
Szpak majored in Communication Sciences in 1995. Her aunt, a CWRU MFA Dance alumna, urged her to at least take one dance class. She did. Szpak then went on to add a minor in dance, and eventually earn her MFA in Dance. MaDaCol was one of the highlights of her college experience, and she’s excited to be back to kick off the first part of the 30 year anniversary, which starts Nov. 21, 2013.
MaDaCol is an undergraduate student group that is closely aligned with CWRU’s Mather Dance Center. It isn’t comprised of just dance majors, however. Members are also dance minors, people who danced in their high school musicals and those who have only ever danced in their room when no one was watching. One wonders what they could possibly have in common. The answer is they’re fearless and they want to have fun.
That’s what makes their performances so great.
“When you’re four years old, you’ll do anything,” says Szpak. “But as we get older, we worry what other people will think, how we look. We get so nervous about embarrassing ourselves.”
It’s a reasonable worry, when you’re a non-dancer standing next to those who live and breathe the art. Add to that once a week rehearsals, and a major showcase performance—it’s a wonder anyone shows up to the auditions. Show up they do, however; sometimes in droves.
One of the graduate student choreographers, Hannah Barna, is glad inexperienced dancers get involved.
“A lot of what they bring to the stage is their emotions, their stories.” says Barna. “They have all this energy. They want to have a fun experience, which is great. I think that [having fun] is something the experienced dancers sometimes forget.”
Barna will be presenting “Constellations,” the only new piece featured in the 30th anniversary kick off. For her, the experience of working with MaDaCol has made her a better dancer and choreographer.
For Arrielle Dolezal and Abbey Hafer, co-Presidents of MaDaCol, one of the great takeaways is the sense of community. The idea that people from all walks of life and all different experiences come together to have fun, exercise or just share in each others’ company is one of the things that has drawn them in and kept them involved, in spite of a heavy load of academics. Obviously, the chance to perform as part of an ever-growing group factors in as well.
“When I was a freshman, we had maybe 20 or 30 people show up to auditions.” said Dolezal. “Now there are like 60. I love seeing it growing.”
Auditions for MaDaCol run a bit differently. The members who show up are shown some moves, which they practice and perform. But, instead of members vying for spots, the choreographers seek to impress the dancers with their ideas and vision. Dolezal and Hafer then ask dancers to rank their top three choices. The list is compiled, and they work with the choreographers to split up the group. It’s a balancing act between getting people into their first choice, and ensuring that every choreographer has the performers they need.
It isn’t just the auditions that are different than the norm. This year, as part of the anniversary, everything is a little different.
“We’re having a reception, and a question and answer session with Beth [Szpak].” said Hafer. “Next semester we’re bringing in one of the founding members.”
While this upcoming November performance is the first part of MaDaCol’s 30 year anniversary celebration, next semester will feature CWRU alumna Janet Meskin. In March of 1984, Meskin started the dance club “Scandals… and Other Diversions.” Over the years Scandals developed and transformed into what is now MaDaCol.
“It’s always been very successful, obviously. [MaDaCol’s] been around for 30 years. For a student group to be around for 30 years is amazing,” said Hafer. “It’s really special to be a part of it. We’ve been looking back through programs, and looking at the people who’ve been affected by this through time. It’s fun to be a part of it now, and to be a part of this celebration, but to also be a leader in this group; it’s great.”
Legacy seems to be a powerful theme for this anniversary. While the performances and format for the November kickoff are now set, the real celebration in the spring is still in development. And how will MaDaCol change over the next 30 years?
“The only thing I can really ask of it,” says Dolezal, “is that it continues to be something that anyone can be involved in—but expanded, larger, so that even more people can become involved with it.”
For Szpak, the legacy of MaDaCol has been an unexpected life of dance.
“This is about the journey. It’s about getting there. At the end of the day, it’s about developing a love of dance and confidence in moving. It’s wonderful, just to be able to be comfortable in your own body.”
That’s the legacy of 30 years of MaDaCol dance. It seems worth celebrating.