Yoohyun Park/Production Coordinator
Feeling comfortable in our own skin is hard, but dance is one way we can express ourselves freely
In 2015, the concept of body neutrality began to emerge in contrast to the concept of body positivity. Body positivity advocates for a world where all people should have a positive body image despite what anyone else says. However, body neutrality proposes that people should focus on what their bodies can do for them rather than what they look like. It requires a state of mindfulness and listening to the reactions of your body, whether it is saying to eat more, less or to take a walk.
Shiny Huang is a dancer with the Mac Dance team and has danced for nearly her whole life.
“There’s definitely been instances where I don’t feel comfortable dancing in my own body, especially with the perfect body type and shape that has been discussed within the dance community . . . It was definitely more challenging during my time in high school when I was beginning to be conscious of how I looked physically and when I was dancing competitively, I would often compare my own body to other dancers which would emphasize the flaws I saw in myself,” said Huang.
This “perfect body shape” differs among each dance style. In ballet, the ideal shape is slim, long-necked, short torso and long limbs. This is where the divide between body positivity and neutrality exists. Body positivity would advise one to do whatever it takes to feel positive about how they look. However, this can be interpreted as forcing your body to fit that specific ballet mold. In body neutrality, one accepts that their body can move and express itself without idealizing that body type.
In a dance studio, there is a huge mirror in the front where you can stare at everyone and everyone can stare back at you. You might end up comparing yourself to the person next to you — their form is a little better, the costume fits them just a little tighter or their arms are just a little longer. Similarly, in life and in our university career, we can find ourselves constantly comparing our grades, extracurriculars and even the way we dress to our peers. What we don’t see is the constant swirling of similar thoughts and comparisons going through their heads.
“I think maturing in my faith has also really helped me to love my body as it is. Being a Christian, I learned to really put my identity in God and to focus on what's in my heart rather than letting myself worry about what's on the outside,” explained Huang.
This concept of body neutrality focuses on a personal mindset. One can’t change the way others think and it takes a lot to conform our personal mentality that has been shaped by constant external pressure implemented over our entire lives. However, people shouldn’t let this stop them from expressing themselves.
“Dance has always been an outlet of mine, when I'm stressed and needing a break from studying or feeling sad or feeling down from a bad day . . . a way to, I guess, tell a story or to just let my body move however it wants to or needs to. And since I’m not the best with my words a lot of the time, I think my body does it for me whether it’s for someone else to hear or to feel or just a reminder for myself,” Huang explained.
Dance isn’t for everyone but finding a way to release that internal stress and express oneself is important for anyone’s personal journey. What works for someone else may not work for you, just as what worked for you in the past may not work anymore. It’s all about listening to your body and keeping an open and ever-evolving mindset.
Mac Dance’s annual showcase carries on despite COVID-19
Performing arts have the power to, for a brief moment in time, bring people together in a shared experience. This year’s Mac Dance showcase The Show Goes On is a reminder of the students’ ability to come together, albeit online, to share their love of dance. The group features a range of styles: from jazz and tap, to musical theatre and Bollywood.
Last year, Mac Dance’s annual showcase was held at Mohawk College and was almost entirely sold out. This year, the show will be held virtually as a YouTube live stream on Feb. 27.
“We want to make it feel as much like a typical show as possible, so we made a show order, a virtual program, we’re having an intermission and we’re having raffles. Chance [Sabouri, Mac Dance president] is going to do a little speech at the beginning. The biggest difference obviously is that you’re not going to be sitting in a chair screaming at people on stage in front of you,” said Lauren Shoss, a fourth-year health sciences student and secretary of Mac Dance.
In September, choreographers and dancers began the process of preparing dances for the showcase. Each piece is two to three minutes in length and it is up to the choreographer to choose the music and set the choreography for their group.
Dance classes this year have been taught over Zoom, posing its own unique set of challenges, from half of the choreographer’s body getting cut out of the frame to dancing in cramped spaces to getting kicked out of the call due to unstable internet connections. However, through mutual support, everyone moved past these challenges together.
“We've heard from a lot of our dancers that people are just so thankful. They see dance as a break and escape from the stress of school. I know that's how people feel in a typical year — you go into the studio and you kind of leave the rest of the world behind [to] focus on dance for a bit and just let yourself really get into your movement, so it's really nice that people are still able to get that from the year,” said Shoss.
The Silhouette interviewed some of Mac Dance’s choreographers to get an in-depth look at some of the pieces that will be performed this year.
Going Home by Kevin Vong
Vong described his piece’s style as a type of hip hop fusion that blends contemporary and hip hop styles.
Choreographed to Sonn and Ayelle’s Lights Out and Vance Joy’s Going Home, the piece pushes traditional definitions of hip hop. Where hip hop is typically defined by its hard-hitting movement, Vong brings out the texture and subtlety with particular attention to emotion in his piece.
“Especially during the pandemic, [I was inspired by] going home to reconnect to what is important to you instead of looking out to the material world. Sometimes family, home, is what you should rely on and it’s really important,” explained Vong.
For Vong, dance has become a form of home and he hopes that the audience will feel that through movement. Currently in his fourth year of linguistics, Vong said dance will forever remain as a source of inspiration and for all intents and purposes, his second home.
Got It in You & Grave Digger by Lauren Shoss
Shoss roots her dance pieces in storytelling. Drawing from her personal life experiences, her two pieces Got it in You and Grave Digger are two halves of a whole, with antagonistic but related storylines.
Got It in You, a lyrical dance set to the song of the same name by BANNERS, is based on the idea of finding the strength and power within yourself to overcome life’s obstacles and challenges.
Complimentary to Got It in You,Grave Digger is a contemporary piece exemplifying the feeling of being weighed and held down. Set to the song by Matt Maeson of the same name, Shoss described the piece’s darker and more aggressive tones as a welcome challenge, as she branched out of her comfort zone to create the more intense piece.
Now in her fourth year of the health sciences program, Lauren is considering pursuing a master’s degree in sports psychology, with the intention of working with athletes from a mental health perspective.
“I think [work with athlete mental health] is really needed in the dance world. I've seen a lot of my teammates suffer from body image issues, low self-confidence, perfectionism and eating disorders . . . It is a very neglected population, but they're in need of support,” explained Shoss.
Burlesque by Hannah Armstrong
Armstrong’s jazz group is channelling their inner Christina Aguilera in her piece entitled Burlesque, inspired by the film. In her first year choreographing a jazz piece, Armstrong decided upon the theme of burlesque as a fun and uplifting dance concept.
“The biggest challenge was probably just trying to envision how I wanted the routine, while also trying to make it [conducive to] online [viewing] . . . What can make a jazz routine really great are the transitions, group formations, interaction between dancers and just the energy on stage, so trying to replicate that online was probably the biggest struggle for me,” explained Armstrong.
As one of two co-vice presidents for the recreational dance team, Armstrong admires that Mac Dance connects diverse individuals by their mutual love of dance. In the spirit of The Show Goes On, she detailed how the Mac Dance community has impacted her as a dancer and as a person.
“I did competitive dance throughout high school and I always assumed that that would be the end of my kind of dancing career, but coming to university and then finding this team [allowed me to] keep doing what I love. . . I'm very thankful that everybody is here because they want to [dance] for fun and because they're invested,” Armstrong said.
Vienna by Abby Buller
When finding inspiration for her piece, Buller found that she clicked instantly with Billy Joel’s Vienna. As a tap choreographer, she liked the song for both its musical elements in combination with tap sounds as well as its message.
As tap dance is largely dependent on dancers’ timing of tap sounds with each other and the music, creating a tap dance in an online environment poses its own set of challenges. With technical difficulties in teaching over Zoom, Buller pointed to the timing of intricate steps as one of her greatest challenges.
Buller described her creative way of splicing dancers’ videos together for her dance’s showcase performance.
“When I get dancers to send me their videos, I want [to coordinate] their feet sounds, but I need to [overlay the] music in with it. I was so happy when this worked out — the [entire group] has Bluetooth headphones, so they're going to listen to the song through their headphones, film out loud so the can get their feet [sounds] and then I'll put the music in over top,” explained Buller.
The Mac Dance team hopes that The Show Goes On will bring people together in an otherwise distant time, reminding them that even though we are physically distant, we are still all in this together.
“Mac Dance reminded me of what the dance community is supposed to be just like. A bunch of people coming together to have fun, to share a common passion, to create something really beautiful and meaningful together and just having a great time,” said Buller.
As one of the outgoing presidents of Mac Dance, leaving the team after four years of dedication is going to be hard for Chimira Andres, but she knows it will be in good hands.
The Mac Dance team started as an amalgamation of all dance groups on campus. Now, there is a competitive team with 40 members and a recreational team with over 200 members.
The competitive team participates in weekly conditioning and technique classes to prepare for their three provincial dance competitions and their year-end showcase. Meanwhile, the recreational team — which includes jazz, ballroom, lyrical, hip-hop and acro among other styles — focuses on learning one main routine for a final showcase.
The club’s mission, written by Andres, states: “We hope to see any and all dancers who wish to have a space to dance no matter what level or style they call their own.”
While the competitive team has regular auditions to choose to perform in their three competitions throughout the year, the recreational team’s auditions are just for placement.
“You can start at any level that you want, but there is beginner, intermediate and advanced — which is not disclosed initially to make it more fun and inclusive,” said Andres. “Then the execs will separate the dancers according to their styles and levels.”
For Andres, coming into Mac Dance at the competitive level and watching the club grow over the past few years has been one of her biggest rewards.
The Mac Dance team started as an amalgamation of all dance groups on campus. There are now both a competitive team and a recreational team with an average of 40 people on each team.
“It’s nice to see it full circle,” said Andres. “As the president, it is so different playing a leadership role versus just being a member. You see things much differently.”
First taking up dance as a child as a form of childcare, Andres started off in ballet, like many others.
“My mom put my sister and I in it for childcare and we have been going to dance ever since,” said Andres. “And like most people, I started with ballet because it’s the foundation of all dance. Since then, I’ve done jazz and contemporary hip-hop, and I also went to an arts high school.”
Though able to perform several different styles, Andres is most passionate about her first love: ballet.
“Everything that you do in ballet speaks volumes,” Andres explained. “The amount of work and technique it requires shows through not your flexibility, but the strength behind it. If you can hold your leg in the air for 10 seconds, it requires a greater strength than just kicking it up there. This makes it athletic and graceful at the same time.”
That level of athleticism is what makes Andres take the “dance is a sport” side of the age-old debate. In terms of technique and training, she believes that dancers can have even more body awareness than some athletes. Though for Andres, she does recognize how the artistic element of dance makes it different from many other sports.
“If you look at the criteria of the word ‘sport’ I feel like dance falls into the category, but I think the artistry and the creative aspect adds a bit more,” said Andres. “For example, a lot of sports, for the most part, are very easy to judge. It’s a win or a lose, or either you score or you don’t. But for dancing, you can’t always see the win or the loss because it is so subjective.”
Although some still may not see dance as a sport, Mac Dance had the opportunity to perform at one of the biggest sporting events in Canadian university sports: the U Sports Vanier Cup.
“It was fun to be able to do something fun to start are season,” said Andres. “We were able to perform as one group all together and also do separate jazz and hip-hop performances.”
“If you look at the criteria of the word ‘sport’ I feel like dance falls into the category, but I think the artistry and the creative aspect adds a bit more.”
One of Andres goals for the club during her time as president was to become more involved in the Hamilton community and the opportunity to dance at the Vanier Cup was just the beginning.
“We’ve been working with high school students and are really trying to get involved in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board,” Andres added.
As Andres prepares to graduate and leave Mac Dance behind her, these goals are part of a framework she hopes to leave behind with the club.
“I want to leave them with enough organization so that they feel more confident to follow up with the plans that they make,” said Andres.
Knowing first-hand how tough and stressful being a student can be, the Mac Dance president always turned to dancing to keep her grounded.
“I know how a much a safe haven Mac Dance was to me, so as I leave, I hope to leave them with guidance and for them to know that they can always reach out to me,” Andres said.
In the home stretch of the school year, Andres and the competitive team are preparing to take their last dance: a year-end showcase entitled All The Stars. The showcase will take place on April 7 and will feature both the contemporary and hip-hop teams.