HMDC presents Dancing Through the Decades

Hanna Hornfeld and Yin Fei

Together, in the Thursday and Friday matinees, members of the Horace Mann Dance Company (HMDC) enthusiastically disco-danced their way into the new year. The student-choreographed dance concert “Dancing Through the Decades” teleported the audience back in time as they traveled throughout a century of dance without ever leaving the Cooper Dance Studio.

HMDC Co-presidents Mikayla Benson (11) and Yana Gitelman (11) were responsible for selecting a theme for the concert. They chose “Dancing Through the Decades” as this year’s theme because it allows for many different styles of dance, costumes, and music to be represented, Benson said.

Performers were eager to incorporate several genres into the performance because doing an entire show in a single style could become boring for both the dancers and audience members, Song said.

The theme is particularly meaningful because this year, 2020, marked the start of a new decade, allowing performers and audience members alike to reminisce about the past and see how “it’s not dated; it’s still exciting and fresh,” Benson said.

“It was really interesting to see the progression of dance styles according to different musical genres,” Hyunseo Yang (12) said. “From Louis Armstrong to SIA, and tap dancing to contemporary, I enjoyed seeing how they explored a diverse range of timelines.”

Rehearsals started before winter break but became more intense once school restarted in January, Lauren Song (10) said. For the past three weeks, dancers have been attending after school rehearsals two to three times a week until six o’clock.

One of the most special things about the concert is that aside from the faculty-made costumes, it was entirely student-led and choreographed, Song said. All students had the opportunity to choreograph a number if they wanted to. Some, like Benson, choreographed multiple, she said.

Having this theme helped guide some of the choreographers in choosing the specific music that they wanted from the various time periods, as well as cause them to really focus on doing research for historical accuracy, Alison Kolinski, faculty advisor of the HMDC, said.

“If there’s no theme, then the dances can come from anywhere, so having it go through the decades made the dancers think about, ‘oh what would be a good song from the 40s or the 20s’. It really gave it a lot of shape,” Kolinski said.

For Morgan Smith (10), on the other hand, the decade theme didn’t play as much of a major role in the two dances she choreographed. She knew the songs she wanted to do beforehand, and fitting them into the theme came after, she said.

“Each choreographer has a certain message they want to send to the audience and it changes depending on the song, depending on the choreography, depending on which period you have,” Benson said. “In the program, we actually have little snippets of ‘what is the objective?’”

In Gitelman’s case, choreographing pieces that she would be performing helped her develop a more personal connection with the movements within a song and dance. “You have an entirely different experience when you are actually choreographing,” she said. Following the tradition that each president is given a solo, Gitelman’s solo piece is to Dream a Little Dream, a song her mother used to sing for her. She hopes that the sense of nostalgia translated in her choreography, she said.

Auditions were held on October 28, but no cuts were made. Instead, the goal of the audition process was to understand what each student was like as a dancer. Benson and Gitelman taught the group two short dance combinations, Gitelman said.

Performers also had to fill out a Google form indicating their preferred styles of dance and the amount of pieces they would like to do. Gitelman and Benson combined their observations from the audition with the form responses in order to place each dancer in the numbers they would be best suited for, Gitelman said.

Most of the participants were very familiar with the art of dance, performance, and choreography that came with running such a spectacle. For example, Gitelman has been taking dance classes since she was three and has been choreographing ever since she self-choreographed a 30-second group dance at her old dance studio around the age of 11, she said.

For others, such as Eden Plepler (11), dancing was out of their comfort zone. Plepler adores singing and musical theater, but though she always wanted to, she never considered herself a dancer, she said. After learning that the showcase would include musical theater pieces, and some encouragement from her friends, Plepler decided to participate.

Now, Plepler is performing in five of the twelve dance sets. “I had to push myself a little bit more than people who have been dancing for a while,” she said. “I’ve just been trying to follow their lead, and it’s been a great experience.”

Kolinski is very proud of all the work she has watched the students do, she said. “I love to see their enthusiasm for the dance and for the program,” she said. “It’s a thrill for me to sort of sit back and watch them do their thing. It really is their baby.”

Benson, who believes that everybody can relate to dance, hopes the audience picked up on the conversation they are trying to have with them. “Dance is never stagnant. It is a physically and emotionally moving art. Because we are moving through time, it is almost as if the audience is dancing with us through the concert.”

Both Benson and Gitelman’s goal for the concert is to work as a cohesive team in order to leave an impact on those who watch them perform. “I hope the audience comes away with it with a strong sense that HM kids can really get together and rise together, because this has been entirely student made,” Gitelman said.

Riva Vig (10), who watched the Thursday performance, felt that dancers successfully brought a sense of community. At the very end, all of the dancers came onstage together for a finale, and the sense of unity among them was very clear, Vig said. “It was super upbeat, everyone was smiling, and you could tell they were a team,” she said.