Dance invites both creativity and collaboration—two aspects that, when done well, can make a performance utterly entrancing. On Friday, Nov. 2, Vass Shakers, the only non–audition based dance organization on campus, put on their annual fall performance. With only five weeks of rehearsals and one tech week, the group pulled together Friday’s show in a minimal amount of time and still successfully entranced viewers with fresh creativity and fluid collaboration among dancers.
The Shakers performed seven dances to a full audience and presented their range in a variety of styles and skill levels. On stage, students who had danced their whole lives and beginners shared the spotlight. Through dances to songs from Britney Spears’ “Toxic” to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” the Shakers performed styles of dance that ranged from lyrical to hula, not only showcasing a variety of styles but also of skill levels.
For Wenjie Xie ’19, who has been involved with Vass Shakers every semester she has been on campus, Vass Shakers is about accessibility. She commented, “Everyone is free to choreograph, everyone is free to join whatever dance they want, it all depends on what dancers want for that semester.” She continued to highlight the org’s openness: “There’s no auditions to [be a part of the org] or for each piece, it’s just about having fun, stress relief, [and] community. I think I’ve met some of my best friends through Vass Shakers.”
For new members like Violet Cenedella ’22, who came to Vassar with a year’s worth of dance experience, Vass Shakers offered an opportunity to meet new people that didn’t require a large amount of time.
Cenedella said about the inclusivity of the org, “We met once a week, so it wasn’t a ton of commitment, and it was welcoming. Rehearsals are super non-judgemental. We rarely have to do a dance all by ourselves or really prove something to the class, which I’ve found is really helpful. I felt encouraged.”
Returning Vass Shakers member Amelia Zeh ’21 said she joined Vass Shakers in her first year because the org was incredibly welcoming and all of the members bonded over a shared love of dance. She was also drawn to the experimental nature of the org. Zeh commented, “I did a hula dance this year for the first time in my life, and that was really difficult for me, but revisiting older styles like jazz and lyrical, it was great to be able to teach others what I’ve learned. There are just different styles of dance that you can be good at or you can be less used to.”
Jenny Brisco ’19 said she joined the Shakers after Xie, her first-year roommate, convinced her to try it.
Brisco explained, “Wenjie’s been dancing forever, so she joined it because she wanted an outlet for that, and she was my roommate freshman year and told me I had to come to Vass Shakers. I at first was like, ‘No, I’m afraid of dancing.’ Now I’m here, three-and-a-half years later.” For dancers new to performing in front of an audience, veterans of Vass Shakers are encouraging. Cenedella said, “It was kind of nerve-wracking because it was my first dance show that I’ve ever done … There were a couple of seniors that were cheering me on, and that was really nice. I didn’t feel like it was high stakes or if I did mess up everything would be ruined.” The emphasis on inclusivity and versatility of dance styles and backgrounds was apparent in Friday’s performance. Latoria Bailey, a first-year who watched the show, said she noticed the inviting environment the dancers created.
“It was unique because of all the different styles of dance they showed,” she said. “‘The Way I Do’ was my favorite dance because of the dynamic between the music and performers, and the music allowed for a lot of different types of movement. I really liked the song and the way the movements matched the beats and the lyrics.”
Zeh emphasized the warmth and inviting vibe of the org, stating, “It’s the only non-audition dance org on campus, which is a really important thing to have for dancers at any college because auditions are a very scary process, and if you just want to have fun and take competition out of dance, it’s a great thing to have available for people.”
What is most apparent is the collaboration between seasoned dancers and those new to dancing. Anyone is free to join in meetings which take place on Fridays from 4 to 5 p.m. in Kenyon Hall Studio Two. Zeh commented, “It’s always open to everyone. Just stop by if you want to dance or…listen to music and get your body moving, get your vass shaking.”