Sarabande dance group promotes creativity and community, adapts to pandemic

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Sarabande Dance Ensemble is a student dance collective founded in 1982 that mainly focuses on contemporary, jazz and ballet. The group differs from the nearly 20 other dance groups on campus with its diverse and modern stylistic range, and his commitment to original choreography. His performances and rehearsals are directed and staged by student choreographers who have the freedom to incorporate their individual styles into their pieces.

“We choreograph … and we have ten hours of rehearsal every week”, Helene chwe, a Senior in Sarabande, said of a pre-pandemic semester. “But in those ten hours, there are ten dances, and you can choose how many dances you want to do… so you can choose your engagement.”

Saraband offers many students their first opportunity to choreograph, either by leading open classes or by putting together a complete piece. Dancers can realize their own artistic visions, which was not always possible for students training in a dance studio, according to Chwe.

“Being able to do something that is student-run and super independent, [where] people do exactly what they want to do, it allowed me to relax ”, Chwe said to play with Sarabande. “It was still a show, but it was a lot more fun, because… your friend is choreographing something.”

Second year Hana Tzou says she enjoyed learning from her colleagues Saraband members in a collaborative exchange of movement and technique. Before registering with Tufts, Tzou has danced in the same studio since the age of three and has developed a solid foundation in ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary dance. She described her training as having been quite conservative. Through Saraband, Tzou said she was exposed to more experimental dance settings.

“It’s really fun to try a new style on the body and learn different shapes that you can do” Tzou said. “And it really broadened my dance practice. I think I feel a lot more comfortable dancing in a new style, or even just dancing in my own body because I’m in Sarabande… It really broadened my horizons on what dancing can actually be like .

The pandemic strikes

In March 2020, just a day after the university announced its decision to close the campus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Saraband held his last performance on stage in person. Chwe described it as memorable and bittersweet.

“I think a lot of people loved how confusing it was because it took all the pressure off of a good performance,” Chwe said. “It was kind of like everyone had stopped caring about dancing and just rocked and dancing for friends… None of the dances were over, but everyone kind of gave their all. “

According to Chwe, tThe club’s booming seniors took advantage of the summer to deliberate on what Sarabande would look like in the 2020-2021 school year, given the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. The club has made its management structure more horizontal; it has gone from having two presidents and smaller sub-committees to an equitable sharing of responsibilities among the six senior members of the club. As co-chair of the interpersonal committee, Chwe is responsible for planning social events and mediating conflicts between members.

Building a community

Organizing social events requires caution when it comes to virus safety and finding community within the social scene in Tufts were especially tough for many early years. Chwe said Saraband managed to plan Breakout Hangouts Across the Class Years, or the dancers have a coffee or relax together.

For freshman Emma Olshin, bonding with the other early years has been one of her favorite times in Sarabande. Olshin described how the new members rented out and decorated a room at Barnum Hall as a surprise birthday party for another member.

“The people of Sarabande are not only my dance teammates, they are also my best friends.

Second year Hana Tzou

“We sent photos to the big [groupchat], and [the upperclassmen] were so happy that we all became friends… Even though we joined together under strange circumstances, we are all close and they know that Sarabande’s future is in our hands. said Olshin.

Tzou echoed a similar appreciation for the authentic community and family the atmosphere she found inside Saraband as soon as she joined.

“I [immediately had this] a whole network of students from the upper class, and even former students who just contacted me and who said to me: “Anything you need, come see us, we can help you” “ said Tzou.

Before the pandemic, dancers often spent time in a off-campus home that has been passed down through generations of Sarabande members and served as a safe space where members can go whenever they want.

“The people of Sarabande are not only my dance teammates, they are also my best friends. said Tzou.

Sarabande also held weekly conversations about the intersections of race and dance. Chwe said his group last semester discussed the oppression of black voices in dance, particularly regarding the implications of the story of exclusion from ballet.

Olshin added that she appreciates the value of such discussions.

“[It’s important] to educate us on the problems of discrimination in the dance world, because there are a lot of them – especially in ballet, which we have all done at some point in our training ”, said Olshin. “So I think it’s really cool that people are motivated to find out more, and I’ve definitely learned a lot from that so far. ”

Adapt to performance in the event of a pandemic

Typically, Saraband, which is made up of no more than 20 dancers, organizes recruitments and hearings at the start of each semester. Last fall, after conducting a series of virtual auditions, which required three separate video submissions, Sarabande welcomed into its group five first years and a second year among the more than 20 people who auditioned. Chwe noted that the group had not anticipated as much interest and that compared to previous years the addition of six new members was relatively large.

Since Sarabande can’t put on a full show in person this year, she has adapted by adopting video performances. Their last performance, “Fluorescent,” was a 34-minute compilation of 10 dances choreographed by different members of Sarabande. Each dance was performed with a different style and mood achieved through a variety of video editing techniques. Some dances were performed outdoors by masked and socially distant members, while others consisted of assembled segments of individually recorded videos. According to Tzou, the university imposed stricter rules while the group was filming for the performance, which resulted in variations between playing together and alone.

For Tzou, transforming his shared dormitory in a space conducive to dancing was a source of frustration.

“The only thing a dancer needs to dance is space” said Tzou. “To have that taken away, for me, it was really difficult.”

When possible, the group performs repetitions in Jackson Gym, reserved classrooms or outside, even when temperatures have dropped. Even then Tzou added that the lack of access to mirrors, as is customary in typical dance studios, presented another difficulty.

“I feel a lot more comfortable in my body and I have more confidence in myself when I can see myself in the mirror” said Tzou. After two semesters, Tzou said she had gotten used to dancing without a mirror, trusting her instincts and the choreographers’ comments to guide her.

According to Tzou, performing in pre-recorded videos gave the choreographers more freedom to experiment by engaging with a new medium, incorporating camera movements and cuts to transition between formations or add extra textural quality to the performance.

Even so, for the dancers, there is a lot to be missed about the stage performance experience.

“Everyone at Sarabande was in a way brought up for the stage” said Tzou. “I know the majority of people really miss the performing aspect, because there’s just something so exciting about being on stage, your friends are in the audience, they’re cheering you on. This adrenaline rush is so good.

All members of Sarabande have the chance to choreograph. Even new members, like Olshin, had the opportunity to choreograph and teach open classes. Olshin said she especially liked that the open classes gave her the opportunity to share smaller combinations of choreography without needing to create an entire three-minute routine.

“I taught more technique… doing things on the floor or a workout or stretching, or I could do a little combo – I can really do whatever I want,” said Olshin. “People are ready for anything. People can come, they can’t come, it’s very relaxed this semester.

The laid back spirit of Saraband continues to maintain itself as creative and collaborative dance collective who supports his dancers, many of which come from competitive dance circles. Tzou and Olshin entered university with the intention of continuing to dance; everyone researched all the active dance groups at Tufts and felt drawn to Saraband. Chwe, on the other hand, had initially considered taking a step back from dancing, who had consumed a large part of his late childhood, but she eventually felt compelled to join Sarabande after attending an open class in her first year.

“I think they do a really good job of drawing on everyone’s skills, never forcing people to do what they’re not comfortable with in dancing, but also really highlighting what people are really good at. ” said Tzou. “It’s super collaborative. It’s just really wonderful.


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