My name is Sarah Bjornland and I am a senior graduating in May with a BS in optics and a minor in dance. I am involved in a variety of different activities on campus: I’m the president of UR SEGway (Survivor Empowerment Group), the co-president of Radiance Dance Theatre, a peer advisor, and the production assistant for the Program of Dance and Movement. Dance has been one of my greatest passions for about as long as I can remember. The inspireDANCE Festival is one of my favorite events on campus and this year was no exception.
The inspireDANCE Festival is an annual event hosted by the University of Rochester Program of Dance and Movement that aims to blend campus and community members with an appreciation for dance. The festival began in 2010 as a Kauffman Entrepreneaurial Year (KEY) Program project. The KEY Program allows students to stay at Rochester for an extra year to work on internships, business plan developments, or other special projects. Student Arielle Friendlander and Program of Dance and Movement director Missy Pfohl Smith created the inspireDANCE Festival to bring together the disconnected dance environments on campus and in the community.
This year, the Festival ran January 25–30. The five-day festival is packed with incredible opportunities and there truly is something for everyone. It featured a performance by Dance Heginbotham, a kickoff concert, a swing dance stomp, an inspireJAM, and over thirty master classes and workshops.
As both a student and student employee in the Program of Dance and Movement, I was able to experience most of the Festival.
The first night of the festival featured the kickoff concert. The free performance is a celebration of the diverse student dance groups on Rochester’s campus. With nearly ten different dance groups on campus, the kickoff concert is an amazing place to watch a mini concert of each one. Old favorites like Rochester Raas and UR Stylez performed, and I was able to see two newer groups for the first time: UR Hellenic Dancers and Rochester Royals. The entertaining night set the stage wonderfully for the rest of the festival to follow.
The next day, the classes taught in the Program of Dance and Movement were open to festival participants, in addition to the master classes being taught by the Dance Heginbotham Artistic Director, John Heginbotham. The Program of Dance and Movement offers a wide variety of classes including yoga, Tai Chi, Middle Eastern dance, tap dance, and my personal favorite, dance improvisation. I have been taking courses through the Program of Dance and Movement since my freshman year, but with so many classes being offered, it’s impossible to take all of them in four years. However, the inspireDANCE Festival gave me an opportunity to try out a few new classes. In past years, this definitely influenced my decision on what courses to take in the upcoming semesters!
The following day was, in my opinion, one of the most exciting parts of the festival as it was the day of Dance Heginbotham’s performance. Dance Heginbotham is a New York City-based contemporary dance company whose mission is to move people through dance. The company was founded in 2011 and quickly established itself as one of the most adventurous new companies on the contemporary dance scene. The New York Times said, “…the company looked—and sounded—entirely deserving of the hype.”
While at Rochester, the company celebrated its fifth birthday. What made the performance extremely special was that the company collaborated with musicians from the Eastman School of Music to showcase a world premiere, in addition to two other pieces of repertoire. As a production assistant for the Program, I assisted with preparing the stage for the show. Being able to work closely with professionals during the “behind the scenes” set-up and then to view the end product was a great experience! I agree with the New York Times that the company was completely deserving of all of the excitement. The dancers showcased athleticism and artistry simultaneously and it was impossible to look away.
The highlight of the next day of the festival was the first ever Swing Dance Stomp. Guests from two wonderful assets in the Rochester community, Groove Juice Swing and ROC City Jitterbugs, attended. Groove Juice Swing taught us the basic Lindy Hop moves that we needed to dance the rest of the night away. Once open dancing started, we were accompanied by live music from the ROC City Jitterbugs. The Stomp was the perfect opportunity to socialize with friends through dance.
The following day was high energy with inspireJAM. The inspireJAM began in 2013 as an idea developed by student Smon Cheewapansri. The inspireJAM attracts artists, including dancers, judges, DJs, and MCs, from all over New York State as dancers battle it out to win the cash prize and title of Best Crew. The two versus two battles featured a variety of styles including break dancing, house, and hip-hop.
On the final day of the festival, more program and master classes were being offered. Students from a local high school, School of the Arts, joined us as guests and were able to experience a taste of what being on a college campus is like. After my busy week, it was great to end the festival by taking one of the last master classes being offered: Contemporary with Tammy Carrasco. Tammy is a faculty member at The College at Brockport and led us through a dynamic combination that was just the right balance between challenging and fun.
I have attended the inspireDANCE Festival each of my four years at Rochester, and each year, I am more and more impressed by all the unbelievable opportunities that the festival has to offer. The inspireDANCE Festival is a remarkable representation of communities coming together to celebrate a common passion.