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Ballet Class

"On their Toes"

By Robin Pfeifer | The Spectator Spotlight
Issue: 09/30/02


Many young children dream of growing up to become a dancer. A few follow through with that dream, and even come to college to study it.

Two such UW-Eau Claire students are seniors Kate Brown and Aly Hudock. Both are dance minors and are working on their senior capstone project together.

This is the first semester that dance is a minor in the theatre department. It previously belonged in kinesiology. Many associated with dance feel that the switch has made a positive change.

Toni Poll-Sorensen, professor of music and theatre arts, teaches all the courses in the dance minor. The minor switched from the kinesiology department to theatre because dance fits into the genre of music and theatre performance studies, she said.

A dancer since the age of 4, Brown, a sociology major, has her own definition of dance.

" ... It's more artistic, like painting, rather than playing volleyball," she said.

Brown came to Eau Claire hoping to get involved with the physical aspect of school, she said. There are differences between the university dance classes and those she took at home.

There is a writing component. Brown views videos and live performances. She reads textbooks on dance. Also, classes are more comprehensive. There is a theoretical component of dance, it's not just movement based, she said.

"Dance means more to me now, even though more outside work means limited time in the studio," she said.

Hudock, a biology major with an emphasis in pre-physical therapy, also shares Brown's appreciation of dance. She has been dancing since the age of 3.

"My mom put me in dance classes because I was dancing around the house all the time," she said.

Hudock is the president of the university's dance company, a 42-member, peer-run organization. A mass audition is held every fall and university students audition with their own choreography, she said.

The company's focus is on concert performance, not to be confused with the university's dance team. One concert is staged every year in the spring, Poll-Sorensen said.

Poll-Sorensen has a passion for the art. She began teaching dance at the age of 15 at the YMCA to earn money to pay for her own dance lessons, she said.

"Dancing just made a lot of really good sense," Poll-Sorensen said.

Her college career began as a math major, mainly to please her father.

"At the time, dance was considered evil, she said. The mindset was that nice girls didn't dance for a living."

Times have changed and dance classes appeal to many people. Many university students are taking dance for the first time. Dance classes are offered to all students, even ones with no experience, Poll-Sorensen said.

"It is the cheapest dance training you will ever get," Poll-Sorensen said. "You get three classes a week for 15 weeks at the cost of one credit. Compare that to local studios!"

One benefit of dance for theatre majors is it teaches actors how to move. "You can be well studied in acting techniques, but not be connected to your body," Poll-Sorensen said.

"This leads to an expression-lacking performance. You must dance the character in order to make it interesting, she said."

Even though Brown and Hudock are not involved with theatre, they said they will use their dance minors to advance their professional careers.

Brown said a benefit of having dance as her minor is focusing on it as an area of study, not just pure enjoyment. The intention is to become more body focused and well rounded, she said.

"We study how dance fits into the large scheme of things," Brown said. "Also, how it pertains to all aspects of life, not just to class."

After graduation, Brown plans on attending graduate school for dance education. One aspiration is to combine her sociology major and dance minor to teach dance at various levels, she said.

As for Hudock, she plans on going to graduate school for physical therapy. Her dance minor has helped her gain a sense of body awareness. "Dance is essentially a structured way of moving, creatively," she said.

In the meantime, both girls must finish the capstone project, which they said involves staging a dance concert from scratch.

They must use a piece of their own choreography from all four genres, Hudock said. Also, they supply their own dancers, lighting designers and publicity.

Brown added that they reserved the theatre a year in advance and must make their own costumes.

They are using pieces both girls choreographed a couple of years ago and combined all dance classes taken previously to create a new work, Hudock said.

Brown added that they included more modern dance than anything else.

"Modern dance is contemporary but not like hip-hop on MTV. It started as a rebellion against ballet. Modern has no guidelines, but some technical development.

"Dance is a blank pallet and I do what I want with it," Brown said. "I design the costumes, music and lighting. That piece that was in my head is now on stage."

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Dance students

"The Book of Ruth"

By Hristina Ninova | Go Magazine Online

Students turn a short-term project into a lifelong ambition.

"The Book of Ruth" was a Faculty/Student Collaborative Research project conceived by dance professor Toni Poll-Sorensen and choreographed and performed by members of the Concert Dance Company. The group uses the interpretation of this novel to educate about domestic violence.

Ruth is an awkward girl of measured intellect who lives in a run-down farmhouse in Illinois. Everyone she knows defines her as a hopeless idiot. They call her stupid, baby, honey, daughter, wife, and freak. Never just "Ruth." Her father abandons her, she’s in the shadow of her prodigy sister, and her mother alternates between ignoring her and hurting her.

And then there’s Ruby, Ruth’s husband, whom she had the misfortune of marrying. Ruby is the ultimate lazy, perverted, unemployed, chain smoking, alcoholic imbecile, who, sad to say, adores Ruth…

… The UW-Eau Claire student performers come to a standstill. The audience bursts into applause. Seniors Heidi Storlie, Katie Berglund, Marty Anderson, Kristin Gorczynski, Jenny Wagner, Jenny Klobassa, and sophomore Alex Kuiber take in the loud flattery of clapping palms. It’s a deserved reward for the university students who’ve devoted a year-and-a-half to creating a dance interpretation of "The Book of Ruth," Jane Hamilton’s novel on domestic violence.

The "Book of Ruth" project was conceived by Toni Poll-Sorensen, kinesiology professor. She introduced Berglund and Storlie to the idea of creating a dance piece to raise awareness of domestic violence issues.

There weren’t two better people to speak with. Both students are members of UW-Eau Claire’s Concert Dance Company. They’ve known each other and danced together for three years.

Berglund, who stars as Ruth, is a kinesiology major with an emphasis on movement science. But in the long run, she wishes to pursue a dance career, and therefore has taken up a dance minor. The minor at UW-Eau Claire includes modern, tap, jazz and ballet dance, in addition to biomechanics and kinesiology courses.

Berglund’s mother put her in dance classes when she was just four years old.

"She thought I exhibited an inclination for it," she said.

Starting with ballet and jazz, Berglund later moved on to tap and improvisational dance. She continued lessons through high school, and is now the president of the CDC.

Storlie, who plays Ruth’s mother, also started dancing when she was about 4, though she’s never had any formal training.

"I can remember myself dancing since … forever," she said.

Storlie actually graduated in December, but continues to take courses in writing and photography.

With a degree in creative writing, Storlie devotes a lot of her time writing poetry, which is her main passion. In the future, she said she envisions more than just verse.

"I would like to combine writing, dance, and photography," she said.

"The Book of Ruth" has enabled both women with the skills needed to fulfill their goals, and then some. Not only did they experience the dance side of the project, but the managerial, public relations, and problem-solving sides.

The dance piece is only loosely based on Hamilton’s book. A number of changes had to be made.

"In the dance piece we wanted to show the cycle of abuse," Berglund said. That’s why Ruth’s father appears through the whole performance, exerting continual abuse on Ruth and her mother. In the novel, he abandons the family early on.

In addition to mapping out the main points of the piece, Berglund choreographed the dance – which is fitting, she also hopes to become a professional choreographer. She said it was quite a task, especially because she wanted to do it well.

Berglund spent hours practicing in the McPhee dance studio. She videotaped herself, attended performances of professional dance groups, and combined her own ideas with those of the dancers she watched. The two dominant styles of dance in the piece became modern ballet and jazz.

"Learning how to express certain emotions with your body was a challenge," she said.

"We also had a hard time overcoming the overwhelmingly depressing character of the dance," Storlie said.

Dancers had to become comfortable with each other and learn to trust each other. The group trained together for at least three hours a week, and bruises did come with it.

The group performed "The Book of Ruth" at the College Dance Festival in Detroit, Mich., last year. There, it presented the original version of the work – a twelve-minute performance that took one year to create.

It was UW-Eau Claire’s second year of participation in the annual festival, which made it a great honor and opportunity for the group. The committee judging performances is comprised of professionals who fly in from metropolitan cities, such as New York.

"(The judges) really appreciated the message we were trying to send out," Berglund said.

They also gave suggestions to the group, one of which recommended an extra introduction of the characters. The dancers worked for about six months on an addition to the piece; it’s now forty-five minutes long.

Already in the past year, the group has performed at a number of schools as part of the UW-Eau Claire Women’s Festival, at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in Missoula, Mont., and at the Bolton Refuge House – a shelter for abused women and children in Eau Claire.

It’s fitting that the group performed there – "The Book of Ruth" has become a fundraising event for domestic violence shelters, and is functioning as educational programming and community outreach activities.

The project is funded by the university through a Faculty/Student Collaborative Research Grant and through the Menomonie Community Health Foundation.

So through the Concert Dance Company, Berglund, Storlie, and Klobassa have been able to do something they enjoy while learning skills that will help them in their future endeavors. The three plan to open a center for healing arts, which will include dance, choreography, ceramics, photography, and poetry – and in the end, focused on inner-city children from low-income families.

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