Dancing Through the Decades
In December of 1976, many Americans spent their mornings flipping through the newspaper, with stories of Jimmy Carter’s and Fidel Castro’s recent presidential triumphs dancing before their eyes. But the headlines of the December 1976 edition of The Prism were different, focusing not on political hopefuls, but on an exciting new addition to Packer’s world of performing arts: Dance Concert.
Dance Concert has become the most highly attended student show, as it is eagerly anticipated all winter and consistently exceeds expectations. The embryonic stages of the production began with the formation of the PCI Repertory Company in 1975, which was a group of students who had either previously been or currently were enrolled in a dance class. Led by Ms. Linda Ray, the company put on Dance Assemblies in the Chapel throughout the year, and hoped to eventually, according to an October 1975 Prism article, “give a concert with electronic music, composed by Linda Ray, with the help of a lighting designer.”
Their goal was realized the next academic year, as the first official Dance Concert recorded in The Prism was held on November 9th, 1976. Much like today, the concert was diverse in style, including modern, ballet, and jazz pieces. Though the production was a success, it did not have the same emphasis on student leadership as today’s does; two of the pieces were choreographed by guest dancers, both of whom were members of professional companies. However, a small number of students did choreograph, starting the leadership theme that has remained fundamental to the concert for the past 43 years.
In 1984, Mr. Stephan Koplowitz was hired as a full-time dance teacher at Packer, and held that role until leaving to become a professional choreographer in 2006. Under his guidance, Dance Concert continued to grow in prominence, and in April 1991, over 40 students participated.
“My goal for the Dance Concerts was to make them as professional and rigorous as possible,” Mr. Koplowitz explained. He was interested in helping students realize their own potential, as well as in proving the power of dance as an art form. “There is nothing more powerful for a high school student than the opportunity to test their own ability as a leader in a creative setting.”
Mira Bowin, who graduated in 2000 and was a student of Mr. Koplowitz, began participating in Dance Concert in eighth grade, eventually becoming a choreographer during her junior and senior years. Ms. Bowin remembers Dance Concert fondly, naming it as one of her most impactful high school experiences, and is particularly appreciative of the sense of community it brought her.
“The dance room might have been the only space in which I felt safe, comfortable, wanted, and celebrated at that time in my life,” Ms. Bowin reflected.
Jade Sanchez-Ventura (‘99) was another student of Mr. Koplowitz and, like Ms. Bowin, remains grateful for the ways in which Dance Concert bettered her high school experience. Ms. Sanchez-Ventura emphasized the ownership that she and her fellow student choreographers felt over the production, naming that autonomy as core to the participatory experience.
“It really did feel like ours,” she said. “Students made the creative decisions and had total free reign to do whatever they wanted, which was huge.”
Ms. Sanchez-Ventura echoed Ms. Bowin’s focus on community, explaining that the range of experience among dancers is what made the concert so compelling. Unlike some other performative arts, there is no inherent hierarchy in dance, which likely contributes to the warm environment of the concert.
Despite never having met Mr. Koplowitz, Ms. Mandy Stallings, Cross Divisional Dance Teacher and one of the leaders of today’s Dance Concert, shares similar ideas regarding the value of student leadership, individuality, and community.
Both teachers stress the intellectual aspect of choreographing, with Ms. Stallings saying that she strives to “approach choreography in a really deep and thoughtful way.” To her, success is not defined by whether or not the audience understands the intention behind each dance, but by whether or not a dance provokes thought.
Ms. Sanchez-Ventura, too, has never met Ms. Stallings, yet holds a similar opinion regarding the goals of choreography.
“I definitely hoped that my vision would be conveyed, but in a funny way it was beside the point,” she explained.
Julian Isikoff (‘20) was a choreographer in this year’s concert, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, had hopes for his dance that bore remarkable resemblance to those of Ms. Sanchez-Ventura.
“I really didn’t want the audience to gain anything specific,” he explained earnestly. “I wanted everyone to have their own opinion…and to use their own points of view to reflect on what they saw.”
Though Packer students have replaced mood rings with nose piercings in the years since 1976, the role dance has played in their lives has remained impressively consistent. Serving as a perpetual source of expression, comfort, and friendship, the unique appeal of Dance Concert has never failed to resonate with our community, and will likely remain a core tenet of Packer’s identity in the near future.
“I really encourage you to consider doing Dance Concert,” Ms. Sanchez-Ventura urged in an unwitting, yet accurate, embodiment of the affection the concert elicits. “It’s easy when you’re at a school to think that this kind of thing exists everywhere, but it doesn’t.”