This past summer, Dance majors Halie Donabedian ’19 and Eva Crystal ’19 were invited to the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine. The festival, which took place from July 15 to August 6, provided both Halie and Eva with a unique learning experience and opportunities to learn from seasoned dance professionals from around the world and to also connect with other aspiring young dancers. We asked them to share their experience attending this incredible and internationally-recognized program, which celebrated its 35th anniversary this year.
A normal day at the festival consists of six hours of dancing, with customized schedules adding variety and individuality to each dancer’s experience. Eva and I decided on ballet in the mornings, modern before lunch, modern repertory, and yoga to conclude our day. We choose a more rigorous schedule that we felt would benefit us not just physically, but also mentally.
The converted gym spaces, lounges, and other makeshift studio spaces have minimal mirrors which is odd for a dance space. The near-removal of mirrors in the learning environment was liberating – I was not held back by my own perceptions of what I should look like while dancing. Instead, I was much more daring and open to trying more experimental movements because I wasn’t intimidated by my own perceptions or seeing mistakes in the reflection of a mirror. I found that without the mirrors, I was free to focus on my technique and movement without regard to superficial aesthetics.
An irreplaceable aspect of the Bates Dance Festival experience was the supportive community in attendance. Like-minded dancers surrounded me, all eager to learn and to foster a community that encouraged doing so. While my peers inspired me to grow during class, professional dancers reaffirmed my career aspirations. The festival provided us with tickets to see new works by dance companies like David Dorfman and Zoe | Juniper – each performance reminding me that all the work I was putting in both at Bates and at LMU was moving me closer to my goal of one day sharing the stage with the professionals who inspire me today.
The festival was unique for me because we were all encouraged to focus less on aesthetic output, ability, and impressing an audience, and were instead asked to focus more on our interconnectivity, intention, and honesty with our movement. The lack of mirrors challenged us to connect and trust in our bodies and the bodies around us. The music from the live accompanists gave us energy and pushed us through the difficult classes. The faculty got to know each of us personally, so they knew how they could push us individually to maximize our experience. At the end of every day, we were always able to meet new people and hear the stories of how they came to dance. It was amazing to be in a space where everyone was motivated and open to furthering their growth. In just three weeks, Halie and I forged friendships that I’m positive will last even beyond our dance careers.
We happened to join the Bates community as they were celebrating the 35th anniversary of the festival, as well as Faure’s last year as festival director after 30 years. This created an even greater sense of connection between the dancers – some of the attendees of the festival had been dancing at Bates for over 30 years. This sense of connectedness was not just limited to the loyalty that longtime dancers showed to the community, but also through experiences like Saturday night dance parties and lectures on the impact we could make on the world as dancers.
Being surrounded by such inspiring and encouraging artists for that three weeks gave me a new sense of self-assuredness, and reminded me of what being a dancer means to me. I am so thankful for LMU’s dance program for encouraging me and Halie to go out of our comfort zone and attend the Bates Dance Festival. Armed with more knowledge and an even greater appreciation for dance, we’re definitely ready for the upcoming school year and beyond.