By: Kate Hayden
It takes a former dancer to recognize the longing. After years of warming up, slipping into dance costumes and stepping out under the stage lights, a dancer enters college and usually leaves the art behind. Now, time and money are more valuable than ever, and committing to either the competitive dance team or a Des Moines hobby class for adults is impractical for students.
It took three former dancers, juniors Annie Collins, Tori Halloran and Maureen Snook, to decide Simpson College students shouldn’t have to leave dancing behind – or miss an opportunity to be introduced to it.
“Annie Collins had this light bulb moment where she said, ‘I miss dancing, and I know there’s a lot of other girls and guys who miss dancing’,” Snook said. “Would we want to start this club?”
In an email, Collins credited the inspiration to a friend at home who also danced.
“At her school, she attends dance club. After talking to her I realized that I could bring this idea to Simpson,” Collins said.
Snook and Halloran “loved the idea,” Collins said, and in spring 2014 they began working out the details of starting a new campus club, including gathering a list of signatures of people who would be interested and writing a mission statement. By the start of the school year, Dance Club was ready to begin offering their weekly, one-hour sessions, with a warm-up and new dance style taught at every session by a ‘visiting’ student choreographer.
“We’re calling them sessions instead of meetings because we don’t want anyone to feel like if they miss one week they can’t come another week,” Halloran said.
Dance Club members have learned everything from swing dancing to line dancing, “Thriller” to “Single Ladies”. They’ve also teamed up with other campus organizations such as Latinos Unidos.
“We did a pre-salsa night for people to learn the basics before [Latinos Unidos] had their major salsa event,” Halloran said.
Even Greek life took part as visiting choreographers. Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Pi Beta Phi and Kappa Kappa Gamma had members teach part of their stomp routines following Yell Like Hell to Dance Club attendees. Halloran hopes more campus partnerships will be a part of the club going forward.
“We want anyone who has dance background, or who doesn’t have dance background but has a good routine, to come show it to us,” Halloran said.
Junior Lauren Kisley, who started ballroom dancing in high school, took on the group’s offer when she choreographed swing dancing one week. Instead of teaching a traditional full dance routine she offered something very different.
“Swing dancing is a social dance, so instead of choreographing five or so eight-counts, I instead teach five or so different moves that can be incorporated in any place and as often as possible while dancing,” Kisley said.
While swing dancing is her favorite style, Kisley enjoys attending the club to learn new styles without the pressure of being present every week.
“I have attended most of the sessions even when I am not choreographing because it is always fun to see what they’re going to teach next,” Kisley said.
While there are challenges to starting a club from scratch, it’s been counterbalanced by how well the three founders work together, Snook said. Dividing club responsibilities and working on warm-ups together keep any one member from feeling as though they have too much on their plate along with all their other campus responsibilities.
“We’ve all been in leadership positions before, and all three of us are very good friends,” Snook said. “We all came into this with a lot of respect and understanding for each of our positions. There was never a huge challenge we had to overcome…all three of us are equal representatives and equal founders of the club.”
“Having three people work on one club made it incredibly doable for us,” she said. “I could not have brought Dance Club to Simpson without Tori and Maureen.”
The group has plenty of plans for Dance Club in the upcoming semester. Keeping the variety of dance styles going is a major goal, Snook and Halloran agree. New programming is on the horizon – like a couples’ swing night near Valentine’s Day – and hopes to partner with outside dance companies that can teach styles students aren’t able to, like a Bollywood routine. There’s been discussion about fundraising for a charity cause, like the campus Dance Marathon program or the Des Moines Dance Without Limits, which is a Des Moines Ballet Company program working with intellectually disabled students to help them develop
Whether dancing veterans or trying something new, Collins hopes other students take advantage of the space to relieve stress in their life.
“I personally find it therapeutic for myself because dance club guarantees one time a week where I am able to release myself, express my emotions, and take care of the stresses in my life in a healthy way,” she said.
“Dance is my release.”