At a few minutes to 6 o’clock on a Monday evening, dancers trickle into a rehearsal space on Babson College’s campus. Bags, shoes, and water bottles line the floor. Standing in front of a wall-length mirror, Dani Plaha ’22 and Meredith DeMarco ’22 work out last-minute choreography they will teach the dancers.
“I think we should get started,” DeMarco announces to the room. Grabbing a tablet, Plaha says, “Let’s run through the formations,” and proceeds to show each dancer where she should stand on the floor, looking not unlike a basketball coach laying out a play.
The dancers and choreographers are all part of the Babson Dance Ensemble (BDE). Founded in 1992 and now celebrating its 30th anniversary, BDE is one of the largest student organizations on campus with nearly 60 active members.
As the dancers gather on this Monday evening, the group’s annual spring performance, taking place April 7 and 8, is just 17 days away. It’s not a time to panic, at least not yet. BDE veterans know dances continue to be polished and perfected until the very last moments leading up to the performance. During tech week, which occurs the week before the show, dancers rehearse into the wee hours, some seeming to practically live in Babson’s Richard W. Sorenson Center for the Arts.
Those hectic, exhausting nights may still be a little ways off, but on this Monday evening, there is still much work to do. “It does make me nervous when we don’t have choreography done,” DeMarco says, “but it always works out.”
This evening’s practice is held in the Sandra L. Sorenson Rehearsal Studio and Black Box, a bare-bones space with cinderblock walls and minimal distractions. Located in the Sorenson Center, it is a place to work and create.
Playing loud pop music with a big beat that’s meant to get people moving, Plaha and DeMarco put a group of eight dancers through their paces. Having just returned from spring break, the dancers seem a little unsure at first, their movements a bit rusty. But again and again, they work on their routine, the choreographers kicking them off with a call of “5, 6, 7, 8.”
As the minutes pass, movements grow smoother and crisper. Feet step. Arms swirl. Hair twirls. Bodies sway and shake. And, all the while, the music thumps. “Make it big,” says Plaha, as the dancers stretch their arms, pointing to the ceiling. “Make it huge.”
BDE holds two annual performances, one in the spring and one in the fall, and the dance routines featured in those shows contain a wide range of styles, from hip-hop and contemporary, to Afro-pop and Bollywood.
This Monday evening, the dancers are participating in a relatively new hip-hop style of dance that involves them all wearing high heels. For the routine, dancers are able to wear whatever type of heel they want, so some go for sturdy, block heels that are two or three inches high, while others sport towering stilettos. “Some girls want to go for it,” DeMarco says.
Heel dancing can be difficult. DeMarco confesses that, in a past performance in heels, the roar of the crowd and the adrenaline pumping through her body made her a bit unsteady. “On stage, I found myself getting a little wobbly,” she says.
By 7 p.m., rehearsal for the heels routine wraps up. “It was good,” DeMarco says. “I think everyone got the hang of it by the end.” As one group of dancers leaves the rehearsal space, though, another files in. Until midnight, one group after another will use the space to prepare for the spring show.
Eleven people, including two men, gather to practice a hip-hop routine at 7 p.m. Dancers wear sneakers, not heels, and Plaha handles the choreography alone this time. She has a lot to run through. Her aim is to teach as much choreography as she can and worry about perfecting it another time. “I’m really sorry this is so much to take in,” she tells the dancers. “I know it’s not clean. We’ll learn it now and clean it up later.”
The practice moves quickly, and there are laughs when things don’t go quite right. At one point, Plaha instructs the dancers to do a moonwalk, a la Michael Jackson, and there are squeaks from the sneakers as they glide across the floor.
Though Plaha has been dancing since kindergarten, she says that BDE welcomes dancers of any experience level. As long as people are comfortable with getting on stage, there is a place for them at BDE. “I feel the org is very inclusive,” she says.
Having dance in her life is important to Plaha, and she is grateful to be a part of BDE. “I didn’t want to give up dance when I came to college,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine giving up dance.”
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