Dancing to Your Own Beat with Stacy Pottinger
By Madison Kobe ’18
The Dance Department at Carthage is working towards building a new experience for performers and audience members, especially Stacy Pottinger, dance minor director and assistant adjunct professor of theatre. Professor Pottinger has been on Carthage faculty for nearly ten years now, and has accomplished much in her time here. I was able to meet with Professor Pottinger to talk about the upcoming dance performance, and her hopes for the future of the dance program, featuring a portable stage on her holiday wish list.
How do you utilize your past experience in choreographing the dance shows?
Well, first I bring my own personal experience as a dancer into play when I’m teaching students, especially when I’m teaching them concepts or am coaching—what we call “cleaning” the dance. Every dancer has their own way of approaching the movement that is taught to them. I can step up on stage and remember if I have performed something similar or if I have performed the work before; I know what it feels like in my body and I can express that to them. So, I use my experience as a dancer in a lot of my rehearsals.
As far as choreographing, there are a lot of creative ideas that bubble up in all of us when given the opportunity to create art. Past experience, personal experience; they are both a large part of that process, because the movement ideas come from you as the artist and they have to come from somewhere. Even dances that have been inspired by pieces of art, music, or a novel draw on your experience with that other piece of art. I try to listen to myself, and I try to imagine whatever images are coming to mind and how I can translate them to movement. Sometimes it’s just the movement that comes to mind and I try to articulate it better or shape it.
How do students benefit from participating in the fall dance show?
I think they are for sure getting social benefits from the process of rehearsing. Every dance rehearses at least two hours a week. Some students might only be in one dance, and others may be in two or three. Every week they are in the studio and dancing and moving with a group of their peers. Of course, there is a little pressure to remember sequences and choreography and put it all together on stage, but it truly is a communal experience from start to finish. I think this is extremely beneficial to first year students. We try to integrate them as much as possible to help with the transition of leaving home and their usual dance studio or other social circles they are used to. I think the rehearsals and working on the shows helps ground them, and helps them establish a solid ground from which to build their life at Carthage. I myself had a similar experience when I was a student, so I realize the importance of building a community that welcomes first-year students. It brings the students together through the shared experience that not everyone gets.
How do you think your students will grow and develop their talent?
I have already seen a lot of growth in the students who are juniors and seniors with dance minors in terms of their performance ability as a group on stage. It helps build their confidence, which is crucial when they are going into a career in performing arts. Even if they are not going to be performers, it still gives them confidence when interacting with people, which is huge when you are entering the job market and have interviews and networking events.
What is the process for choosing pieces to perform in a dance show?
It’s a little bit of this and that. We perform one to two repertory etudes every year. Etudes are short pieces that are based on longer historic pieces in American dance, and the collection is established by the American Dance Legacy Initiative, and housed at Brown University. I look at the collection of etudes, which ones we have performed in the past, the group of dancers, and what is happening in the music theatre and theatre departments, as those students also come to our auditions. I consider these things when deciding which etudes would challenge our dancers and simultaneously provide a great experience and show for our patrons. In that sense, I put a lot of thought into which pieces we will do. I invite a guest artist from Brown University to come to Carthage to either teach the etudes, or sometimes I teach the etudes and the guest artist comes to coach and clean it.
As far as student works, I generally look at works that are presented in our spring show, Away from the Mirror, and I look at the final exam works presented in the spring choreography classes. Generally, those works are close to finished; they may have room for development, but the concept comes together. I don’t gravitate to any particular style, which allows for a variety of pieces performed and a deeper exploration of types of choreography for student work.
We have three guest artists this year: Courtney Petrocci from the Milwaukee Ballet, Kristina Saldarelli, who is a part of the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project in Chicago, and Joey Hernandez, who has a concert dance and commercial dance background. I look for variety because I want students to become more versatile through these experiences. For instance, Joey is using props in his piece, and Kristina’s piece is very rhythmic; not only are their styles different, but so are the themes they are exploring.
What challenge(s), if any, have you faced in preparing for this show?
It is a challenge gathering the guest artists and getting the program lined up, but by far the biggest challenge is scheduling. Our guest artists are basically freelance artists, though a few of them teach here as adjunct professors, which means they are on campus at least twice a week. I try to schedule rehearsals around the time they are already on campus, since they commute. I also commute so I have to think about when I’ll be on campus, and each student has their own class schedule. Then, when you find a time that works for everyone, you have to see if the studio in the Tarble Athletic and Recreation Center is available. Eventually, you also have to schedule production meetings so our designers and stage manager can see the dance, concepts, and how the show needs to flow. Ideally, all these discussions happen in September. Let’s just say I have created a lot of Doodle Polls this semester!
What has been your favorite part of working on this show?
Definitely seeing how the program comes together. All the different dance pieces rehearse separately throughout the week. We talk about them at production meetings or show rehearsal videos so the designers can see how the dances come together, but we have yet to actually see the program from start to finish.
Along the way I have really enjoyed working with the students in rehearsal. I am working on three dances, and I feel like I have had time to invest in considering what the dance is about, how the dancer can best communicate that, and how to teach them to give the audience more information through their movements. I have had a lot of fun during the process. We get a lot of work done at each rehearsal, but we are still able to have a great time; I usually walk out of the building with a smile on my face, laughing at something that happened at rehearsal.
What are your hopes for the future dance shows this season?
I’m always looking for new ways to enrich the audience’s experience. In the past three years, my Dance Theory and Practices course has presented pre-performance dances based on the first-year novel in the lobby spaces. They read the book over summer, talk about it in class, have movement assignments, and eventually make dances from their experience with the novel. I’m constantly trying to add layers to our show to get the audience more invested in dance and feeling like it’s worthwhile to come out in December to see the dance show.
I am trying to grow the performance experience beyond the limits of there being the performance and the audience leaving immediately after. I want to create more space for discourse between the dancers and the audience. It’s important for artists to talk about their work, particularly with dance because it is pretty abstract. It’s hard for dancers to talk about what they had to do, but it’s different for actors because they had a text with established tones and expressions they need to convey.
I think this was successful last year during Away from the Mirror because it was in the studio theatre, so the space was much more intimate. There was very little space separating the dancers and the audience. The dancers worked on presenting to three sides versus just the front, and being used to engaging with someone sitting less than a foot away from them while they are performing. We definitely broke down some of the walls between the performer and the audience, and it was a great experience. This is part of the reason I am really dedicated to having pieces performed in the lobby, because it challenges the students and helps them become better performers. They have to deal with more distractions, like people walking around them or the Starbucks rush between classes, and it allows them to interact with the community more. It also shows the community that dance can happen anywhere, can address meaningful social themes, and that dance is another mode of discussion and expression. This was especially effective during Vet Night of the Arts last year.
What advice would you offer to a student considering pursuing a career in dance or performing arts?
It depends on specifically what they want to do. If you’re interested in performing, the first thing you need to do is pick the community that best supports that through curriculum, and beyond that, a community that offers opportunities in networking, conferences, and meeting people. If you want to pursue choreography, you need to find a community where a choreographer can thrive, like Chicago, the Twin Cities, New York, and other regional centers. I think it is important for students going to college to pursue a degree in performing arts to take what they learn and bring it back into their community.
Beyond that I would encourage everybody to look at other parts you can play. There are plenty of schools, organizations, and companies that need people with business, design, and marketing skills. It is just as important for students to become board members for non-profit dance organizations, working front of house, or designing marketing material, because there is always a high demand for people supporting the fine arts. I think Carthage is helping encourage students down this path because, not only are they performers on stage or at rehearsal running lines, they are also in the scene shop working on sets, or the costume shop designing costumes, and they have an opportunity to work in the box office or as house managers. None of these jobs are simple; they require a skill set that is extremely important in maintaining the arts, and that’s not even considering the education side of the arts.
What would you like to see in the future for the dance program at Carthage?
I would like to see the program continue to grow in regard to number of students, but I would mostly like to see another studio established. The Exercise Science program and the TARC have really worked with us to share the space, but it would be nice to have more space. I also have considered the idea of a portable stage that could be set up for about a week that would have performances during community time.
Despite this shortage of space, we have still grown and continued to thrive during my time here. I’m proud of the work the students have done and how the performances have grown, and I want to keep that up.
My next goal is to make connections with community centers and to integrate service learning into our curriculum. I have some ideas and possible connections that I want to pursue after the performance this weekend.
Tickets are still available for Nimble Attitudes on December 8 and December 9 at 7:30 p.m. and December 10 at 3 p.m. in Wartburg Theatre. There will be pre-show performances in lobby. Show times are as follows: Friday and Saturday at 7:05 p.m. and Sunday at 2:40 p.m. Tickets are available 24/7 at www.carthage.edu/tickets