Rhythm and music stole the show at Pfleeger Concert Hall on Saturday night. Six dance schools— locally owned by Rowan alumni— and a special performing group took the stage for its second annual Rowan Dance Festival, leaving the crowd wanting more.
Melanie Stewart, associate dean of the College of Performing Arts, was in charge of putting together this event.
“Last year we were honored by having a new dance facility built for our program and it seemed timely to bring our alumni back to celebrate the new space and the potential of dance in the future at Rowan and beyond,” Stewart said. “So, I thought about ‘who would I like to bring in the room?’ Well, everybody! So I designed a three-day festival.”
The festival consists of day one being strictly for high school dance students. About 60 students partook in a master class led by Paul Turner. Day two is the full dance festival day and the last day is the alumni-only master class also taught by Paul Turner, followed by a brunch.
Today’s Dance Center, Donna’s Dance Works, The Dance Class, Dance by Deborah Denote, and Fit to Dance were five out of the six dance schools that performed Saturday night during the festival, with a special guest group called News from the Soul: a live music and percussive dance company. They do everything from managing, performing, marketing, and even booking their own gigs!
“We are at most eight dancers and sometimes a band of five musicians, typically piano, guitar, bass, and then some instruments switching between bass and cello,” Leonardo Laval, a member of the group said. “We focus heavily on tap, but all dancers are trained in a lot of different styles like ballet, jazz, ballroom dance… Everyone is just super versatile.”
After the performance, students were all smiles, as their parents and supporters praised them with flowers, love, and support.
“We’ve actually done this choreography before,” JJ Jennings, a performer, said. “We did it in last year’s showcase as well, so everybody this year coming into it had about two weeks to learn. It was about four hours in the studio of just blood, sweat, and tears. Some struggles were with the props. The brooms were the hardest because we had to practice a lot and the timing of everything because it was a cappella.”
Stewart was extremely happy with the outcome of the event that she built from the ground up.
“Oh, my goodness. I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. I really do believe that our alumni speak for us in the community and they’re the reason that dance is thriving in the South Jersey area. We have one school in Pennsylvania but it’s regional right now, and hopefully, we’ll expand it in the future. It’s our second year so we’re excited for year three and so on… We’re gonna grow as capacity allows… We’re gonna try to invite more high schools and studios but we’re also going to be going out to communities. Our facility is going to go out into communities where our alumni are teaching and so we’ll bring them here or go out and get them,” Stewart said.
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