Shall We Dance? : An Overview of Dance at the Five Colleges

 Graphic by Carrie Clowers '18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers '18

BY GABBY RAYMOND ’20

For students who feel permanently attached to their desks and are looking for a way to shake the dust from their bones, dancing could be an opportunity to do just that. 

On campus there are several different styles of dance classes — including modern, ballet, Argentine tango, Baroque and West African dance, which are offered for two academic credits. These classes meet once to twice a week and could serve as an introduction to the world of dancing, as well as fulfill P.E. requirements. 

If an academic dance setting is unappealing, the ever popular performance groups also serve as a way for students to get their feet wet. 

Rebecca Reichel ’20, who joined RAQs, the body positive belly dancing club her first year, feels that dancing with a team has given her a way to be grounded in her body. “Having the chance to just move without having to worry about what comes next is a very freeing experience,” she said. “I tend to get in my head a lot but when I go to belly dance I go back to connecting my brain and my body instead of my body following around my brain.” 

Before joining RAQs, Reichel had no previous dance experience, but she felt that didn’t matter. “The students choreograph where everyone is in terms of skill level, and we go over the same material every semester so if you’ve learned the moves before, or it you haven’t, everyone is on the same page by the end of the semester.” 

For Kusha Chopra ’21, who joined Jhumka her first semester of college, dance has served as a way to form community and learn about herself. “I never saw myself on a dance team, truth be told. But the experience has been a high,” she said. “Jhumka has made me more confident about how I choose to use my body and express myself. It is more than just a form of exercise for me, it’s a family that I am proud to be a part of.”

Besides RAQs and Jhumka, students can also look into performing with Rainbow Jelly, the K-pop group, ODM, the J-pop group, Bhangra, the traditional North Indian group or the Mount Holyoke Folk Music and Dance Society. 

For those who might want to dabble instead of making a commitment to a team, social dancing clubs and events offer a stress-free environment to learn a new dance and meet lots of people. There are many opportunities around the Five Colleges to try different dance styles. 

Smith sophomore Tijana Cooley, who dances salsa and tango at Hampshire, feels that the social dance environment has allowed her to relax in the academic environment of college. “Dance has consistently been a way to destress,” she said. “It’s a creative pursuit so it doesn’t feel like I’m wasting time, and once I’m dancing, I can just let myself have fun.”

There is no lack of Latin style dancing around the Five Colleges. The Amherst College Salsa and Bachata Club meets on Tuesday evenings from 7-9 p.m. in the basement of Lipton House. The first hour is usually bachata, followed by an hour of salsa. Also on the Amherst campus, every Friday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. is a meeting of the Amherst Argentine Tango Club in studio 2 of Webster Hall. 

The Hampshire Salsa Rueda and Tango Club meets Sunday afternoons from 2:15-4:15 p.m. in varying locations around campus. Focusing primarily on Salsa Rueda, which, according to the group’s Facebook Page, is “a Cuban circle dance where the leaders pass the followers around the circle ... that also teaches the basics of salsa movement, and lead and follow, in a clear and sensible way.”

Besides Latin dancing styles, there is also an established Contra dance scene in the area. Contra, which has its roots in square dancing, is a folk dance in which lines of couples create different figures and switch partners throughout the song. The Mount Holyoke Folk Music and Dance Society hosts their own events, as well as attend the Downtown Amherst Contra Dance that is held at the Masonic Lodge in Amherst “most Wednesdays from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.,”  according to the group’s Facebook page. The Hampshire Contra Dance club also holds a contra dance on the second Wednesday of every month at 7:30 p.m., but charges a small donation for non-Hampshire students. 

For those who want more western styles, the UMASS ballroom dance team hosts lessons and a social dance every two weeks. They also teach anything from salsa, bachata and west coast swing to the waltz, cha cha and rumba. Their closest upcoming event is a salsa lesson on Monday, April 9 at 7 p.m. in the lobby of the Fine Arts Center. There is also the Smith Social Dance Organization which holds weekly lessons focusing on swing, salsa or blues dancing. They encourage members to both lead and follow and meet weekly. 

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