Learning to dance like nobody’s watching

A reflection by Jillian Gallardo, ’23, on her first two months with the repertory dance company

Jillian Gallardo

My first two months spent in Washington and Lee University’s Repertory Dance Company have been a blur of perfectly pointed toes and gracefully elongated legs whirling beside my own amateur limbs. As the least experienced dancer in the Company, I struggle to keep up with the never-ending leaps and turns.

Why did I audition in the first place? I had taken a few dance classes when I was younger, but nothing to merit joining a group of girls who have had years of training. A myriad of reasons pressured me: my fear of disappointing friends who asked me to audition, my interest in pursuing the “get out of your comfort zone” mindset everyone recommends to first-years and, in all honesty, just to see what would happen.

A feeling of inadequacy colored my first few weeks as the Company learned short dance numbers during each class. I was overwhelmed by the way that everyone else could perform the piece after a couple of attempts, while I stood in the back of the room trying to emulate those appropriately positioned in the front. It seemed like the hardest level of Just Dance had been brought to life. Even with constant reassurance from others that I was doing well, I could not bring myself to feel that way.

I decided to work on my flexibility outside of class in my attempt to catch up in any way possible. Almost everyone in the Company could extend their legs close to their heads. And so I stretched. I stretched while I did my homework, after I went to the gym, in D-Hall—everywhere. Soon, I was only a couple inches away from achieving a split.

In an embarrassing turn of events, these efforts resulted in me pulling my hamstring. That discouraged my progress greatly, as my necessary period of rest returned me to my original point of flexibility. But nonetheless, I continued my childlike pursuit of being a ballerina.

There came a point in the semester when we needed to learn choreography for the actual Dance Company performance. I determinedly learned the modern dance pieces as demonstrated by two guest choreographers. I was working off of an extremely limited exposure to modern dance.

The pieces certainly came as a surprise to my modern dance naiveté. They don’t include much of what I would have considered “conventional” dance. In the first piece, I spend about three minutes running around the stage in various patterns. Our group watched YouTube videos of fish in order to learn how to emulate their movement. The other piece, according to the choreographer, is themed “sensual anger.” I lacked the emotional preparation for that number. It includes a surprising amount of inaction, with even larger amounts of direct eye contact with the audience. I still am uncertain of whether this style fits me. I continue to struggle with my commitment to the genre.

With such an abrupt change in the places I spend my time, one might think I would not enjoy my hours in the dance studio. It came as a shock when I found myself looking forward to each rehearsal. Even though the pieces may not be suited to my immediate interests, I love to be in the studio just dancing around. It breaks up my academic schedule in a way that I believe nothing else could.

It seems that my mix of happiness and dedication to the Company would lead to me feeling completely at home within it. I don’t feel entirely comfortable saying that yet, but I can say I have accepted that it would be impossible for me to match the expertise of the rest of the Company in a matter of weeks, or even in my entire time at Washington and Lee. This becomes apparent every week when each group receives critique on its performance number. Each week I continue to find myself in awe of everyone else’s talent and my lack thereof. I can concede my own inferiority with the reminder that rehearsals are an enjoyable creative outlet I’ve come to really appreciate.

When I was writing my plans and interests for my post in the first-year Facebook group, it definitely did not cross my mind that the dance company would join the list. I envisioned myself participating in activities like coed volleyball, the Ring-tum Phi or maybe even fly fishing. Somehow I ended up in the Washington and Lee Dance Company.

If you are looking to try something refreshingly new, I would point you in this direction. The company does not require prior experience.

I would recommend joining with a few conditions. It would be impossible to join if you’re uncomfortable with embarrassment. It will, without a doubt, be awkward at times. I would not have chosen to audition if I didn’t appreciate a good risk. If you would like to learn to overcome any self-reservations, the dance company may be the place for you.

Personally, I will keep dancing like nobody’s watching.