Rage against ballet

by Mary Louise SpeerDSC_0812

Photos by Lyric Otto


Dancer Karly Batterman tumbled backwards into the arms of fellow performers, appearing confident that they wouldn’t let her down during a meeting of Whatcom Community College’s Modern Dance Club. Dancers carried the Whatcom sophomore offstage, signaling the end of the dance routine.

From the other side of the stage in Syre Student Center, Hannah Andersen, Whatcom’s modern dance instructor, nodded her approval. “Fabulous, large gesture dancing,” she said to the group.

Modern dance focuses on dancers’ own movements and not on traditional moves, as opposed to other styles. Dancers draw on their emotion for inspiration when designing routines and dance steps.

Andersen said the classes and club are open to any student who is interested in modern dance. That style started as a rebellion against ballet, and other more formal dances, in the early 20th century, she said.

“There are different styles of modern dance, and the specific quality and movements all vary from choreographer to choreographer,” Andersen said.

The 11 dancers returned to the stage and restarted their routine, honing their steps, twirls and animated gestures.

“I’m like the head tribe person,” Batterman said about her role in the routine. “We’re [representing] people from different tribes and we all come together, integrate together.”

“I teach what I think is important physically and conceptually to create a strong dancer, technically and artistically,” Andersen said. “This involves classical modern dance techniques and contemporary influence.”

Andersen began teaching dance classes at Whatcom four years ago as an intern. She was hired as faculty in fall 2010 and her background includes a bachelor’s degree in Modern Dance Performance and Choreography from Western Washington University.

“I have studied all over the country to further my knowledge and currently perform and travel with ‘It Must Have Been Violet Dance Productions,’” she said. The group is based out of Bellingham, North Carolina, and Florida.

Batterman, a former gymnast, said she discovered the Modern Dance course when skimming through Whatcom’s catalogue for potential classes. She wanted something to keep her fit between her core classes while studying to become a speech pathologist.

“This is fun. In modern dance you do a lot of movements. [Here] you don’t feel like you’re working out,” she said.

The skills Batterman learned in gymnastics – including following a routine – are helpful with her dancing, she said.

DSC_0827Dancer Eric Ross McKenzie, a freshman at Whatcom, said signing up for the class and participation in the club gives him a good outlet for his love of music and dance. He began dancing in his early teens, and he has engaged in a variety of styles from clogging to hip hop dancing.

He’s majoring in kinesiology, the study of human movement. “I’m kind of a human body nerd,” McKenzie said, smiling.

Both McKenzie and Batterman plan to stay involved in modern dance as they continue their studies after Whatcom.

Andersen said the club puts on two to three performances a year.  She teaches two classes per quarter and there aren’t any prerequisites for the Modern Dance I class or for joining the club. Both the Modern Dance I and  combined Modern Dance II/III class are transferable to Western, she said.

In addition to learning dance movements, the class also deepens students’ understanding of music. “The class has a live accompanist which is really important to learning the relationship between movement and music,” Andersen said.

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