Each year Emma Willard School’s dance program hosts visiting artists to teach master classes. This year dance students took classes with dancers from ODC/Dance Company (and attended a performance of the ODC/Dance Company at SUNY Albany's Performing Arts Center) and Lucie Baker.
“The benefit for the program in bringing in a variety of guest instructors when we can is to introduce the students to different techniques and points of view in the field,” says Dance Instructor Barbare Magee. “Often the artists who come as guests also reinforce what we are teaching here, which shows the students that their classes here are preparing them to move into a college environment where they will be prepared to engage at that level.”
The master classes at Emma are unique in that students from the various dance disciplines and levels are in the same class together: beginning ballet learns from an expert in the same room as the intermediate or advanced ballet levels, alongside students in contemporary dance and hip-hop.
The lessons themselves can vary greatly, reflecting the experience and expertise of each dancer. “The two classes offered this semester were very different,” says Barbara. The class with ODC was very contemporary, while the class with Lucie Baker focused largely on the creative process, and integrated elements of collaboration between dancers to create choreography.
“Bringing the intermediate and advanced levels together for these classes lets the students see what the possibilities can be for them. In the creative process class, students were paired randomly, so intermediate and advanced students worked with each other. It was fun to see that the levels disappeared in this context and everyone had equal input and suggestions as they worked together.”
The master classes are an important facet of the dance program at Emma Willard, exposing students to different forms, styles, and ways of teaching, and it happens annually. The 2021–2022 school year saw guests return to the program, after a break the previous year due to COVID restrictions, and this year saw a particularly fortuitous return with the Oberlin Dance Collective performing at SUNY Albany. ODC, formerly the Oberlin Dance Collective, is a contemporary dance and arts organization founded in 1971 by current artistic director Brenda Way. Students were able to get hands-on learning from the dancers, and then see a performance.
“I think as a dancer it is essential to keep learning and expanding your ability,” says Claire L. ’23, a senior who has participated in the Emma Artists program, choreographing her own performances. “Experiencing new teaching methods, new styles of choreography, and just absorbing the knowledge of a professional is always my favorite part about participating in the master classes at Emma. I feel so much more engaged in a master class and it almost feels like a wake up call kind of shaking me out of my comfort zone that says, ‘Okay time to listen.’”
The idea to bring Lucie Baker to campus came from the Dance Department keeping their eyes out for professionals who might bring something different and interesting to the program —having seen her perform and teach before, it worked out that Lucie was going to be in the area during a time that worked for a class. Her experience as a dance artist, educator, and expressive arts therapy facilitator was a good chance for students to get a different perspective on dance as a tool for transformation.
“When I tap into my body, I feel more connected with my movements and understand how to work with different energies of different movements better,” says Yolanda S. ’23, a student at Emma Willard who has taken many classes with the Dance Department, and also participates in the Emma Artists program. “Learning from professional dancers, I discover new training methods, and a dance career feels more approachable. I enjoy the opportunity to interact with dancers.”
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