Dance troupe shakes off exclusivity, competitive tone

The Vass Shakers will be perfoming on the Kenyon Stage Friday and Saturday for their annual spring show. Members of the group are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and explore their creativity. Photo By: Vass Shakers
The Vass Shakers will be perfoming on the Kenyon Stage Friday and Saturday for their annual spring show. Members of the group are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and explore their creativity. Photo By: Vass Shakers
The Vass Shakers will be performing on the Kenyon Stage Friday and Saturday for their annual spring show. Members of the group are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and explore their creativity. Photo By: Vass Shakers

Five years ago, the Vass Shakers performed just two pieces for their spring show. A relatively new group, the Vass Shakers have seen an immense growth since the early days of small shows on campus. This week, the group will perform eight. The group’s president, Dylan Bolduc ‘15, has witnessed the growth firsthand. She explained, “My freshman year we performed only two pieces in the dance department’s spring showing, I choreographed one of them. We now have our own show each semester where we perform usually 6-10 original pieces each semester.”

This Friday and Saturday, they will be performing their annual spring show in the Kenyon’s Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater–both shows are at 7:00 p.m.

The spring show is the culmination of several months of hard work for the Vass Shakers. They have been preparing for the show all semester. The show itself will consist of eight choreographed pieces and about 25 dancers in total. Bolduc explained, “Vass Shakers’ Spring Show serves as our big end of the semester performance that we rehearse for all semester.  We are doing eight original pieces that range from hip-hop, to jazz, to contemporary [styles].”

The show will be very diverse in content, reflecting the group’s unique makeup. One dancer in the group, Sunny Gaughen ’18, explained, “I’m very excited for the show we’re working on. It’s definitely an eclectic mix that really demonstrates each choreographer’s style. There will be a little something for everyone!”

Another dancer in the group, Jackson Ingram ‘18, added, “[This] show is going to be even bigger and crazier than last semester’s. Counting two group numbers featuring the majority of our members, there will be eight pieces total, all student-designed and choreographed.”

The group takes the creative direction of its dancers very seriously. Since its first semester on campus, students have choreographed all performances and had ample opportunities for input in the organization as a whole. This is one of the lures of Vass Shakers.

As for the show’s theme, Ingram notes, “I feel like this particular set really emphasizes self-confidence, one of the core themes upon which the organization is built.” The Vass Shakers are one of Vassar’s newest dance groups at Vassar. Founded in 2012, they do not hold auditions and try to make themselves as inclusive as possible. This inclusivity has encouraged many to try dance that otherwise would not have and has brought many new perspectives to the group.

“Vass shakers celebrates the love of dance by bringing together lots of different people in a nonjudgmental environment,” says Bolduc who has been a member of the group since its first semester.

The group’s dancers credit Bolduc and other senior members with helping to create such an accepting environment. Ingram notes, “Most of us, myself included, haven’t had any formal training, but Dylan and the rest of the board have done a fantastic job making dance accessible and fun for everybody.”

Ingram says, “Anyone can dance, regardless of body type, experience level, or area of study.” The cast has a broad range of experience. Of this diversity, Bolduc says, “We have some members who have been dancing their whole lives, and some members who will be dancing on stage for the first time at this show!” Rebecca Starble ‘17, a dancer and Executive Board member of the group, reiterated, “some of…[the group is] new to Vass Shakers and others have been dancing with the group for multiple semesters.” She has been a dancer in the group for two years and a member of its Exec Board for one.

The group’s low-key atmosphere not only makes it appealing to beginner dancers, but also fuels creativity. From Icona Pop to Wham!, the group has performed to many different styles of music and dance over the years. This semester’s performance promises to be just as eclectic. “I don’t think you can really assign one specific style or genre to Vass Shakers–there’s a lot of room to creativity and collaboration and the group is always supportive when people want to try something new,” says Gaughen.

The dancers in the group are encouraged to choreograph performances and lend their creative expertise. They are heavily involved in determining what goes onstage. Starble elaborates, “I’m choreographing two pieces for this show with Sammy van Leer ‘17. One of our dances is a group dance, and the other is a smaller lyrical-style piece.”

This collaboration and dancer input creates a sense of camaraderie that can be felt on stage. According to Gaughen, “I got involved with Shakers last fall and it’s been a great org to be in as a freshman. It’s very low-stress and anyone can get involved, no matter how much (or how little) dance experience you have. We have a lot of fun at rehearsals and that really translates to the final show.”

From its inception just three years ago, Vass Shakers has brought diversity and a little humor to the dance scene at Vassar. The group celebrates its dancers and their creativity, which can be seen in their performances.  Bolduc has nothing but positive sentiments about her experience with the group, saying, “I have loved being a part of Vass Shakers growth over the past four years!”

Its other members share similar feelings; there is a lot of excitement within the group to spread their craft with the campus and community. “There is no better feeling than being on stage performing a piece that you are proud of while having so much fun with your friends,” says Bolduc.

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