November 9, 2023 | ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT | By Brett LeVan
Dance Workshop, one of the largest student-run organizations on Colorado College’s campus, has evolved over the past 36 years. First started in 1986, Dance Workshop continues to be a dominating event for the CC community.
Accounts from CC alumni, as well as current and past dance faculty reinforce how prevalent dance and especially Dance Workshop was and continues to be for the CC community.
Peggy Berg, a dance graduate from Bennington College who taught at CC from 1980 to 2011, still lives in Colorado Springs as a yoga instructor. Shortly after Berg’s arrival to the college, they and one other dance faculty member established the dance major. While the dance department as a whole does not necessarily reflect Dance Workshop, “it’s not always the case that dance as an art form is supported in academic institutions,” Berg said.
Dance Workshop is heavily funded by CC and supported by students. Dance often comes with “students insisting…or demonstrating whatever they can do to get support,” Berg said. Perhaps this is why Dance Workshop continues to be such a successful event for dancers and movers alike.
Dance Workshop has “changed dramatically,” since its beginning. “It was very much tied to the faculty and what we were doing with choreography,” Berg said. But at a certain point, the students diverged from the faculty and the production became more independent from the dance department.
While chuckling, Berg said, “I understand [Dance Workshop] is a bit wild now.”
Patrizia Herminjard ’96, a filmmaker, choreographer, and lecturer in dance at CC has been a prevalent member of the dance department ever since being a student here. Herminjard was involved in both Dance Workshop and DanSix (originally known as the Faculty Dance Concert), while a student at CC. Herminjard returned to teach at CC in 2005 and became a lecturer in dance in 2011.
When recounting on what Dance Workshop was like during her time as a student from 1992-1996, Herminjard said, “DW was the opposite of what it is now…it was this weird little space.”
Dance Workshop was a small student club with the fall performance held in Cossitt Gym and the spring show held in Armstrong Hall in what was then-called the Armstrong Theatre.
Herminjard said, “maybe 20 people at best” were a part of Dance Workshop. It remained a small production “for a long time actually…when I came back to be a teacher one show was in the [Cossitt] Gym.”
In the following five-10 years Dance Workshop outgrew the Cossit space, and both shows each year were then held in Armstrong, where they are held now.
When Herminjard arrived as a student at CC she recognized herself as a “technical bunhead,” someone who usually grows up dancing in a more traditional ballet environment. Dance Workshop was very creative in the beginning and quite quirky, Herminjard said, “and not really technical in the traditional sense…[but] a lot of what DW makes fits a certain mold.”
Dance Workshop also had a closer connection to the faculty, Herminjard said. “Faculty [were] present during the auditions and [were] often asked for advice on how to place dancers and which choreographer to pick.” The cast was often small, with eight or so pieces in a show and it was “wonderfully diverse and quirky…truly,” Herminjard said.
The shows were well attended by an exciting audience, Herminjard said, with, “lots of beer bottles rattling down on the cement in the audience.”
When Herminjard was a student and a few years after returning to teach, the dance faculty chose two Dance Workshop pieces to be reworked and performed at later dance productions. Herminjard said that one piece was performed in the annual Faculty Dance Concert, now called DanSix, and the other piece was performed at the American College Dance Festival Association in the Northwest Region to be adjudicated.
“I think this offered students important learning opportunities,” Herminjard said. “I’m a big fan of reworking. It’s really tough to get it right the first time, especially under a rushed Block schedule.”
Herminjard has fond memories of her time in Dance Workshop. “It was a fun, social and safe place to create work with friends,” they said. This fondness was felt then, and it continues to be felt by students, both in Dance Workshop and in the audience today. While the sheer size and content of Dance Workshop has changed tremendously, “the desire to perform has stayed the same,” Herminjard said.
In 2011, the Dance Workshop Mission Statement was rewritten and established for the community. This rewriting was in response to creating a Mission Statement inclusive of all.
The statement reads:
“Dance Workshop is a biannual production open to all skill levels with choreography, performance, and leadership conducted by members of the student body. It is the most attended student-run event on campus. Dance Workshop strives to foster an open, respectful, and dynamic environment where everyone’s voice and contributions are honored. This electric production cultivates opportunities for dancers and choreographers of all skill levels to express themselves through dance. We value an inclusive and safe space for creativity to thrive as individuals’ meaningful ideas are translated and explored through movement.”
Ankita Sharma ’21, currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. and was a dance and anthropology double major at CC. Sharma was a prevalent member of the dance community while a student here.
Sharma was one of the Dance Workshop co-chairs sophomore year through graduating and choreographed every Dance Workshop while a student. The Dance Workshop co-chair leadership position, which has been a role of Dance Workshop since Herminjard was a student here, became a formal paid position Sharma’s junior year, and, “we really helped make that happen,” Sharma said.
“When I got to CC, [Dance Workshop] was going through a period of change” in response to campus culture, Sharma said. Dance Workshop was the, “hottest event on campus,” and had high participation amongst students.
But during Sharma’s second semester with Dance Workshop, the organization was noticing issues of racism on campus and within the community and talked through what, “[Dance Workshop] stood for as an organization…and I remember that was a big focal point of my entry into the Dance Workshop sense was being involved with that.” Dance Workshop was always a space for Sharma and others to say something in response to campus culture.
There was also a shift after Sharma’s sophomore year regarding the types of dances being presented at Dance Workshop. Sharma said during freshman and sophomore year there were very few “hiphoppy” pieces, but by junior year, there seemed to be more dances that rallied the crowd. The dances being shown deviated from having any seriousness, Sharma said, and, “by the end of my time with Dance Workshop… [there was] less diversity in what was being presented.”
By winter of 2019, Dance Workshop, “was growing and it was alive,” Sharma said. The performance had maxed out with the biggest semester that had ever been had with close to 350-400 people auditioning. With such a large number, Sharma said there wasn’t even enough room to have everyone shown on stage.
But the finale from 2019 was also one of Sharma’s fondest memories from Dance Workshop. Sharma had big visions for what the finale of the show could look like, and really wanted to make the finale a piece for everyone. Having the chance to choregraph on 200 plus bodies in a space “felt like a rare privilege…to feel that many people moving on stage with you.”
When the pandemic hit and the campus was forced to revert to a virtual Dance Workshop, Sharma said, “everyone went about the creative aspect of creating dance slightly differently.” This really shifted Dance Workshop for a period with two semesters totally virtual.
While Dance Workshop has gone back to being a popular campus event everyone loves and cherishes, Sharma said, “I do think something special happened during COVID-19 for a brief moment that made things a bit more experimental.” And showed the resilience of students wanting there to be campus community and culture present through Dance Workshop.
As an art form, dance is ever changing. There has been a huge momentum surrounding Dance Workshop at CC over the years. And through all of Dance Workshop’s changes and challenges, there is a reason why the evolution of Dance Workshop is so grand: because “things have to change,” Herminjard said.
The dedication from dancers to non-dancers, the leadership and craft from choreographers, and the hours of care spent from the four incredible co-chairs are all aspects of Dance Workshop that make it what it is today. Through Dance Workshop’s many stages, one thing remains the same. “Students dance their hearts out every night in Armstrong and their friends are there to support them,” Herminjard said.
Remember this as the CC community gets ready for another incredible Dance Workshop performance. The Fall 2023 Dance Workshop performances are Nov. 9, 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Armstrong Hall’s Kathryn Mohrman Theatre. Doors open at 7 p.m. and it is first come first serve seating.