For everyone else, it may be just a regular Friday night, but for West Chester Dance Works, a company of 25 dancers and 15 guest artists, the phrase “I can’t, I have rehearsal,” is very real. The dancers divide themselves between three studios as they rehearse their annual spring concert, Uncommon Spaces: Dancers Who Dare.
In the first studio, the Junior Performers, WCDW’s youngest branch, stands in a diagonal line with their arms lifted and eyes raised. “Don’t let those arms fly behind you!” Melissa Threadgill, the Junior Performer director and a former WCDW dancer, corrects them. She removes her shoes and demonstrates the step. “You want the energy to go all the way through your fingertips.” The dancers reach higher in a way that makes it seem like they’ve grown.
One studio space over, the DM Dance Machine combines with guests from the Shannon Cooper Performance Company for a collaborative piece called “New Hidden Styles.” The choreographer, Michael Nguyen, sits in the front of the studio and scats out a movement phrase. The teens respond with the syncopated sounds of sneakers conversing with the dance floor. It is the type of piece that makes music, as well as dance.
In the final studio, the Signature/Training Company rehearses with a different type of energy. They are a select group of pre-professional and professional dancers. The music plays as the dancers work quietly and intensely, striving to not only dance together, but breathe together as if they measure the music through inhales and not counts.
These three groups, combined with Annointed and Annointed Too, adult and youth liturgical groups, and the Relevate Youth, a youth outreach program that brings dance-based development programs into Norristown Public Schools, make up West Chester Dance Works. For the past 32 years, the company has been a space for dancers ranging in age from 8 to over 60. They all arrive at various stages in their levels of training and their performance careers, but they are all beneficiaries of dance instruction and art exposure.
Typically, dance concerts restrict themselves to one level of performer. For example, professional dancers tend to stay with professional dancers and young children reserve their efforts for showcases or recitals. While the West Chester Dance Works companies participate in these type-specific performances, for their own productions a dancer whose only class is through an after-school program will dance alongside someone takes classes for several hours each day. Those who dance purely for the fun of it will dance on the same stage as those who dance in their dreams. Mothers appear on the same program as their daughters, and each of them adheres to the same standards of respect and excellence.
“Dance is a vehicle that can build and transform communities,” Diane Matthews, the company’s founder and director, explains. “But that transformation can only happen if dancers and non-dancers alike come together to share and experience.” With Uncommon Spaces, WCDW provides such a meeting ground. The event has three parts: a luncheon, a concert, and a silent auction that features items donated by local and national businesses. Much like West Chester Dance Works, Uncommon Spaces is not simply for serious dancers. It is a meeting ground for beginners, professionals, enthusiasts, and supporters to experience dance, and in doing so to be positively changed by the encounter.
Uncommon Spaces: Dancers Who Dare occurs on Sunday, March 29, 2015, at 1:30 p.m. at the Waterford Ballroom in the Valley Forge Casino Resort Radisson. (1160 1st Avenue King of Prussia, PA, 19406). For more information visit: http://westchesterdanceworks.org/2015-annual-spring-concert-and-luncheon.
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