It was 5 p.m. on a hectic and snowy Monday evening on the Springfield College campus and most students were inside their dorm rooms. However, a select group of 20 scholars gathered in the Fuller Arts Center dancing so elegantly while listening to instructions from Cynthia Nazzaro.
For two hours the young women tried to master each and every step of the art, because they knew what was in store from February 11-14.
The American College Dance Association (ACDA) New England Conference is being hosted by Springfield College for the first time since 1999. Twenty-five schools will be coming to participate.
Originally called the American Dance Association from 1973-2014, the ACDA promotes dance at colleges and universities across the nation. In 12 separate regions the ACDA provides an opportunity for college students to showcase their talent to the dance world.
Every school will be learning from each other, while honoring the legacy of the one and only Ted Shawn.
Shawn is an iconic figure in the dance world. He was one of the pioneers of American modern dance and has a large affiliation with Springfield College. He formed a dance company here in 1933 from athletes he taught at the then all-male college.
“Ted Shawn came here in the middle of the depression and bought out an old farm that didn’t have running water or heat, and he had a vision for creating a place for dance. At the exact same time, he was looking for work and was asked by our President Doggett to come here and teach some classes,” said Nazzaro, a professor of dance.
This old and run-down farm is one of Shawn’s most famous creations and was called Jacob’s Pillow. His creation was a dance school, retreat, and theater while also hosting teas, which ended up becoming the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival over time. It is located in Becket, a small town in the Berkshires, about an hour west of campus.
“He took and trained the men dancers and other professionals out to live at the Pillow and rebuilt it,” Nazzaro said. “For seven years they toured the nation, this company of all these men dancers. It was the first time it has ever been done in the United States and sort of made a place for dance in the world for American male dancers.”
Nazzaro becomes quite impassioned when talking about the contributions made by Shawn and Jacob’s Pillow to American dance. She is quick to emphasize the fact that Shawn had several affiliations with Springfield College, which can be seen inside Judd Gymnasium at any time.
While there is a plentiful amount of information on Shawn and his marvelous contribution to dance, the students who will be involved in the festival get to have one of the most amazing experiences of their lives. All scholars involved will be able to learn from each other, as well as performing in front of judges to hear some constructive criticism.
“This is such a great exposure for Springfield College and it’s an honor to have this huge conference of 350 dancers come and want to perform on our campus,” Angelica Polk said.
Polk, a junior and dance major, is participating in her third year of ACDA. Although she didn’t perform her freshman year when it was held at Boston University, she made her appearance last year at Rhode Island College as a sophomore.
“Connecting with other dancers and being able to work with them on an artistic level is just the best thing you could ever want to have in your dance space,” said Polk, practically glowing with enthusiasm. “So I think it’s very important that we collaborate and make it a community and have this experience together.”
Twenty other scholars will join Polk in the ACDA, although only eight will be dancing with her. They will perform contemporary ballet as well as mixing in modern hip-hop to showcase for the judges.
Every other year is a national competition for the ACDA; therefore once the dancers are finished with their routine in front of the judges and choose their gala, that video is recorded and sent into the national office. After all the conferences around the country choose what to send in, more sets of judges choose which groups go to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
“I feel like our students right now who are participating with our dance repertory company, they’re dancing at a level that I’ve never been able to attain here at Springfield College,” Nazzaro said. “It’s a highly artistic work and the two pieces they’re using are completely opposite, so they’re really going to have to challenge themselves.”
Two years ago, Nazzaro and Springfield College opened up the Repertory Dance Company. Those involved practice six days per week and set their goals high.
Nazzaro has pushed to host the ACDA, in part because of Springfield’s impressive history with dance. She spoke with her two deans, received a ton of support and took off right from the beginning.
“Our dean (Anne Herzog) is so satisfied by the quality that she’s seen. It’s really been great and that’s why we’re hosting this,” Nazzaro said.
Springfield has been blessed with the opportunity to host the ACDA festival for the first time in 17 years. Over 300 dancers will storm the campus for four days and showcase their talents at the Fuller Arts Center. The event, which is open to the public, begins today and runs through Sunday.