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Heart and Sole: The Union dance program


A scene from the Winter Dance Concert "Whirled in Flux" (Photo by Ryota Matsue)
A scene from the Winter Dance Concert "Whirled in Flux" (Photo by Ryota Matsue)

Originally published in the Union College Magazine, Spring 2014

High-achieving students. A passion for the performing arts. The freedom to explore and experiment.

Union’s dance program is personal, powerful and profoundly enriching for students from all backgrounds and every discipline.

“Union dance is for everybody,” says Miryam Moutillet, dance program director. “We have engineers who dance, we have swimmers and hockey players, we have many pre-med students. Dance offers something they can’t get elsewhere.”

A former ballerina with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens who has choreographed, performed and directed her own companies internationally, Moutillet joined the College faculty in 2001. Her singular dedication to the student body – in every sense of the word – is a large part of what makes the dance minor increasingly popular, drawing hundreds of students to the gleaming new Henle Dance Pavilion each year.

“Participating in dance has helped me grow tremendously,” said Keilah Creedon ’14 of Flagstaff, Ariz., a history and math major with a minor in dance. “Miryam has particularly shown me that dance can be so much more than fitting steps to music, that it can express intention and is an avenue in which we can find ourselves.”

The dance program encapsulates many of the qualities that make a Union education special.

At its core, it blends discipline and collaboration in an environment that promotes personal development. Students work closely with each other and with faculty and staff who champion their success.

Miryam Moutillet
Miryam Moutillet and Marcus Rogers with students at a Steinmetz Symposium dance rehearsal

“I like that this program is a place for innovation and the melding of the mind and the body,” says Charles Batson, professor of French. He team teaches, with Moutillet, “Staging Explorations in Theater and Dance,” which forms the intellectual, academic and creative foundation for the Winter Dance Concert. Batson calls this opportunity to teach dance “another amazing thing about the flexibility and cross-pollination of academics at Union.” 

Other collaborators in the dance program include and Set Designer and Professor of Theater Charles Steckler, Costume Designer Brittney Belz and Lighting Designer Robert Bovard, as well as Marcus Rogers, assistant director of dance, who choreographs, dances and teaches (jazz, tap, lyrical, Broadway), Laurie Cawley (Zumba, modern dance), Christine Geren (ballet, Pilates for Performers) and Carla Wasbes (hip hop).

“The department is small and intimate, which produces great friendships and fosters a beautiful camaraderie between people who otherwise may have never crossed paths,” said Krystle Gallo ’12, a mechanical engineer who minored in dance and won both a NASA scholarship and an Edward Villella dance scholarship while at Union. She now works with General Dynamics in Pittsfield, Mass.

“Dance has always been a way to express myself,” Gallo said. “It kept me grounded during the toughest academic times. And taking classes like ‘The Dance Experience’ and ‘Dance of Bali’ let me explore my creativity and learn about other cultures.”

Dance students choose from multi-level technique classes in a range of styles, from ballet to Broadway, as well as practica in choreography, courses in dance history and more. There are many opportunities to work independently as artistic directors and choreographers, overseeing other dancers as well as actors, musicians, lighting technicians and visual artists in performance.

The program also encourages students to take leaps of the imagination by engaging with other academic and intellectual interests.

For Creedon, that meant fusing her love of music and dance by performing Baroque dance at a recent faculty colloquium with Music Department Chair Dianne McMullen.

Creedon and Batson breathed life into the 17th century dance form by performing together on stage in Memorial Chapel, illuminating McMullen’s lecture and also Batson’s research on early music and dance.

Keilah Creedon '14 and Prof. Charles Batson
Keilah Creedon '14 and Prof. Charles Batson performing Baroque dance

“It was such a wonderful experience,” Creedon said. “One of the main reasons I chose Union was because it offered a dance program in conjunction with other strong academic programs.”

Gallo brought together dance and engineering in her Sophomore Scholars Project, in which she studied biomechanical forces on the body in motion.

“Performing the study on my dancer friends, I made connections between technique and strain on the body. This was exactly the type of interdisciplinary project that I had hoped to complete. It combined my two passions into one.”

Above all, dance provides a joyous expression of the individual spirit. This is especially evident each year at the Winter Dance Concert, which showcases original choreography based on conceptual themes. This year, 28 students appeared in five performances of “The City,” a splashy tribute to life and art in the Big Apple.

“This was a great experience for me,” said David Thai ’17. He and Alvin Andino’15 captivated audiences with their bravura breakdancing.

“I’m only a freshman but am doing big things already,” said Thai, of Boston, who has been break dancing since middle school and was thrilled to find an outlet for his peripatetic talents at Union. He and Andino are members of U-Break, one of many student performing clubs that complement the dance program.

Moutillet, meanwhile, credits her new home in Henle as imbuing this year’s Winter Dance Concert with a deeper sense of accomplishment.

“This building has been inspirational,” she said, “just perfect for harnessing all sorts of creative energy. We have space. We have light. We can move. We can collaborate. Working and dancing here are so uplifting.”