Swarms of people gathered in the University Center Theater on Friday to watch the University of Montana’s latest dance club recital. When the audience settled in and the lights went out, there was no curtain to open. No dancer took the stage. Instead, the spotlight started spinning and the Dance Club’s second consecutive dance film festival began.
The Dance Film Festival was born out of necessity in the era of COVID. With the strict mask mandates, social distancing protocols and class size limits, traditional dance recitals were virtually impossible for the club to organize.
“[The 2020 fest] was a big hit for the students and also for the audience because it was a very different way of looking at dance, ”said Brooklyn Draper, assistant dance teacher. “We wanted to give them the opportunity to see the dance again through film, videography and editing, so we decided to bring it back this year.”
This year’s show consisted of a 38-minute presentation of 10 different short films. Each short film has been choreographed, directed and edited by students, faculty and alumni. The show featured 21 different UM dancers in all.
In the crowd, over 60 students, guests and even the dancers themselves exploded into applause at the end of each short film. People cheered on people they didn’t know as loud as their friends, and the community spirit of the dance was tangible.
Dance Club’s first-term president and third-year UM student Hannah Dusek led the production of this year’s show, supported by the rest of the club’s management team. She was previously involved with the dance team as treasurer, although she considers this a big step forward from her previous experience.
According to Dusek, dancing on film couldn’t be more different than a live performance.
“You can do different angles and you can make things just about perfect because you can record them multiple times,” she said. Dusek herself has choreographed, directed, edited and starred in two different short films, and recorded another.
The 10 films varied a lot from film to film. While some were simpler, depicting dancers in a studio… dancing, others were much more experimental. The second film of the evening, “Pop! Choreographed and directed by Noelle Huser and Amie Shea, featured three girls in nude leotards applying lipstick all over their bodies and frantically popping balloons, all while Huser herself sat in a room. white covered with a pasty substance. However, the disturbing music and imagery was representative of a deeper meaning: “self-perception and internal responses to external pressures surrounding womanhood.”
Other films were more upbeat and story driven. “Rock Inclusive,” choreographed and directed by Megan Johnson, was a celebration of the British invasion and featured a handful of dancers exploring the Hip Strip while tracks from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones played in the background. “1979! , Starring Shenoah Curley-Wildshoe, Alex Gilbert and Elijah Jalil Paz Fisher, was a celebration of funk, disco and hip hop, narrated by three strangers meeting at a bus stop and exploring each other’s musical tastes.
Once again the Dance Film Fest was a great success. The show itself was free, but donations were strongly encouraged. The money raised went directly to the Dance Club; he plans to use it to fund a trip to the American College Dance Association’s regional conference, which has been confirmed to return in 2022.
Due to all the positive feedback Film Fest has received this year and last year, the Dance Club plans to make the show an annual tradition, COVID or no COVID.
“Screen dancing is nothing new,” Draper said. “It’s been around for a long time. But we are finding that because of COVID, it is becoming more and more important for people to be able to watch it. This makes it more accessible. And it is important for dancers to appropriate these more digital skills for their careers.
Dusek agrees that accessibility to dance is vital in these uncertain times. “Dancing brings so many people together,” she said. “Dance is just a way for the art to express itself in the world for people to tell their stories. It brings different cultures together and I think that’s such an important thing right now.
“Dance is truly a physical form in which to unite as humans,” said Georgia Littig, Treasurer of the Dance Club. “We spent so much time apart, I think movement is a great way to bring the bodies together again.”
The UM Dance Club’s Dance Film Fest is available to stream online until Friday, November 5 at 11:45 p.m. Access the link via the club’s Instagram bio, @umontanadance. Donations are always accepted and encouraged.
“We implore the public at this point,” said Dusek. “We want people to watch us. “