HMDC designs a dynamic Choreographers’ Concert

Julia Bouchut and Rain Li

Jazz, hip-hop, and contemporary were just some of the various dance styles featured in the Horace Mann Dance Company’s (HMDC) Choreographers’ Concert recorded last Thursday and Friday — after six weeks of hard work. 

The show was recorded in Gross Theater with multiple cameras, providing many angles, dance and theater teacher Angela Patmon said. Since it was performed on-stage, rather than in the dance studio, the performance felt different from past years, co-president of HMDC Morgan Smith (12) said. “It feels so much more authentic like a real performance when you’re on this big stage.”

The HMDC consists of 15 to 20 members, all varied in skill level, Ella Franco (12), who has been a part of HMDC for all four years of high school, said. “There are so many different ranges of skills, and I think that’s what made us really diverse.”

The concert was performed as if it was for a live audience, Franco said. Lighting and staging decisions were finalized after getting into costumes, she said. 

Aanya Gupta (9) was inspired to participate in the concert after learning about it through her Dance PE class, and she thought it would be a fun experience. 

Niki Pande (9), who signed up for HMDC at the Club’s Fair, decided to participate after receiving an email about the concert, she said. Pande was nervous to perform in front of a large audience, but HMDC consists of a large group of dancers, which gave her more confidence, she said. 

Dance teacher Patrick O’Neill as well as Patmon were responsible for coordinating the show and choreographing their own dances, Franco said. The teachers scheduled dancers for their piece, worked with students during practices, organized lighting, and oversaw the setup of the stage, she said.

For the show, students were given the opportunity to choreograph as well as dance, Gupta said. After filling out forms, students were either assigned solo performances or were placed into groups of between three and nine dancers based on their preferred dancing styles and availability. 

O’Neill and Patmon both said they felt that scheduling rehearsals was one of the most difficult parts of their work. Having to sort through the students’ applications to figure out when students could meet while having them engage in styles they enjoyed was difficult, O’Neill said. 

In November, after schedules were finalized, students began practicing dances and choreographing, Gupta said. Rehearsals took place during the school day, where they mostly focused on learning new parts of dances and perfecting moves, she said. 

During rehearsals, the first few minutes were often used to unwind and catch up, which helped build a sense of community, Pande said. Then, students reviewed the previous rehearsal and made sure everything was in good shape. For the last 30 minutes of rehearsal, Pande taught parts of the choreography she had prepared for the day. “I would sing a line or two, and then show them the moves that go along with the lines,” she said. 

Pande, the only freshman who choreographed a dance, choreographed a three minute dance to the song “Woman” by Doja Cat for herself and three other dancers, Gupta, Aashna Hari (9), and Bethany Jarrett (10). While Pande first thought choreographing would be simple, in reality, it took longer than expected, she said. “There’s a difference between thinking of a dance move in your head versus actually being able to do it,” she said. Coming up with different dances for members while considering their skillset also presented an added difficulty, she said. 

Franco also agreed that choreographing was much more than just coming up with a few dance moves. “You have to learn how to be creative and different with movement and think of how to move in a specific part of the song,” she said. “To make things flow and match different dynamics is really challenging.” 

The rising number of COVID cases also posed a challenge to the dancers and choreographers, Pande said. There were times when dancers were online and Pande had to record videos demonstrating the moves. Even though she trusted that the dancers were practicing, Pande worried that something would not go well since she could not correct their mistakes, she said. However, during the last week of rehearsal, Pande was able to smooth everything over, she said. 

Smith thought it was difficult for those who were out sick to catch up on the new choreography, Smith said. 

The new Omicron variant also forced HMDC to make a last minute shift to a virtual show and cancel their annual dance trip to Dorr, Patmon said. 

“I just wish that we were able to have people in the audience to watch, but I think we came to a good compromise with the recording and theater,” Smith said. 

In the days leading up to the concert, the dancers and choreographers worked to get the specific details right, including hand movements, leg movements, facial expressions, and positioning, Gupta said. 

The week before the performance was a really fun experience, Smith said. “Everyone was tired and staying late, but we got super close to the cast,” she said. “Everyone really pulled through and was present.” 

Despite the challenges faced with some of the dancers being out, Pande was proud that everyone in her group did their best, she said. “People really pushed themselves a lot during the concert, and were able to learn the limits of what they can do.”

The HMDC performance was a fun and creative experience that brought together people who shared a common passion for dance, Franco said. “I had a lot of fun with dance at HM, we are definitely a close community of people.”