Summer dance creates promising opportunities

Contributed Photo: Sarah James participated in the Summer Dance Program at Mercyhurst.Contributed Photo: Sarah James participated in the Summer Dance Program at Mercyhurst.

With the current economic climate pressing funds ever thinner, many programs have and may continue to see cuts occur. Unfortunately, the arts sector is often one of the first to experience budget trimming.

The Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts (PGSA), a state-sponsored summer institute for talented musicians, dancers, visual artists and writers, was canceled because of these state-budget cutbacks.

For the first time in 19 years, the Mercyhurst campus was not used by the PGSA program over the summer months, which left the facilities free for other uses.

Seizing this opportunity, the Mercyhurst College Dance Department held its first ever summer intensive: the Summer Dance Experience.

The Summer Dance Experience offered a great opportunity for both Mercyhurst dance majors and dancers from various schools to continue their studies during the summer months with distinguished dance instructors.

Faculty included dance expert Bruce Marks, Carla Hughes, Samantha Kenney and Sarah Purvis, as well as several staff members of the Lake Erie Ballet and the resident faculty of the Mercyhurst Dance Department.

The intensive was open to all students ages 12 and up with at least five years of dance experience. College credit was available for an additional fee.

Classes included standards like ballet, modern and jazz, as well as improvisation, dance conditioning and dance-related seminars. Students in the July portion of the program enhanced their training by learning challenging choreography they performed for the final showcase.

Another distinctive feature of the intensive was its flexibility in scheduling, an aspect that Dance Department Chair Tauna Hunter highlighted. Although the main intensive was July 6-31, with a final performance on July 31, general dance classes were held from June 8 to Aug. 22 with many different enrollment options.

"You can customize the program to meet your needs and your summer schedule," Hunter said of the program. "Come for one, two, three, four or all 10 weeks – or for just a few classes. The choice is yours."

Since many of the students who attended the Summer Dance Experience were fairly young, on-campus housing with chaperoning was available for dancers under age 18. This need for summer intensive RAs gave older dancers a great opportunity to work as mentors for the younger dancers while simultaneously defraying the cost of their own studies.

Sophomore dance major Amy Deer, who worked as one of the RAs, said, “Being an RA at this program was a great experience. I liked knowing what was going on and being able to help people through it. It was nice that the program was small and I got to become friends with the girls I took care of.”

While the Summer Dance Experience was a chance for the dancers to further their training, it also served as a recruitment tool for the dance department, and may continue to do so even more strongly if the intensive becomes an annual event.

“Some girls who were only 14 or 15 told me they couldn’t wait to audition here. It was good to know that I was helping to give them a positive impression of the school and the department,” Deer said.