Writing in the Language of Dance

Dance and English double major Gillian Ebersole ‘20 was selected to attend the prestigious Institute for Dance Journalism and Advocacy this summer, where she spent a week immersed in her two passions – dance and writing. We asked her to share her experience with us.

As a Dance and English double major, I spend most of my time dancing and writing, but surprisingly less time writing about dance or dancing about my writing. When the American College Dance Association announced a new program dedicated to dance journalism, I was immediately interested. After a three-round interview and writing selection process, I was chosen as one of eight students from around the country to attend the Institute for Dance Journalism and Advocacy (IDJA).

I attended the National College Dance Festival in Washington, D.C., and spent four intensive days writing about dance under the guidance of acclaimed The Washington Post dance critic, Sarah Kaufman, as well as The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones and Texas Tech University’s Ali Duffy. Each night, the seven other dance writers and I attended and reviewed a show. The first night, we watched the musical The Scottsboro Boys at Signature Theatre, which pushed me to write about movement in a theatrical show. The following three nights, we attended and reviewed the evening showcases of college dance, featuring 30 colleges from around the country. We were also able to interview dancers and choreographers attending the festival, meshing critique with conversation.

In particular, Sarah Kaufman emphasized the need to cultivate young dance critics in the ever-changing world of media, fake news, and biased reporting. The weekend challenged me to write concise, accurate, and quick reviews of movement and meaning. The schedule was rigorous – each night, we often finished the shows after 10:00 p.m. and had to meet 9:30 a.m. deadlines for all our work. Before attending IDJA, I considered myself to be a slow writer, preferring to think, ruminate, and edit my writing for weeks before turning it in. I was surprised by this experience in that my writing rapidly improved when I was forced to churn out sentences with very little time.

I enjoyed watching dance with a critical eye, writing under tight deadlines, and learning to voice my critique about dance. Buttressed by a group of seven other hardworking dancers and writers, I found myself in the company of like-minded people with similar interests. I firmly believe dance is a language, and these fellow students encouraged me to use my two languages, dance and English, more fluently. Not only did I love working with other students, watching hours of dance and a musical, and writing and editing, but I am so proud of the writing I created over the course of the week. And receiving the level of personal feedback from as revered a writer as Sarah Kaufman was irreplaceable.

All dancers must be able to write about, critique, and express movement through words. My own writing has already allowed me to obtain grants and financial support for further dance study and research. Being surrounded by other dancers and writers at IDJA renewed my love of the language of dance and English. I am incredibly grateful to Loyola Marymount University and the College of Communication and Fine Arts for supporting my trip to IDJA, and I am especially thankful for the guidance and support of the Dance Department Chair, Damon Rago. Over and over again, I am struck by what a blessing it is to study and pursue what I love.

Photos courtesy of Gillian Ebersole.