Emily Coolidge, a senior at Principia College grew up in Los Angeles, California with a background in vaulting and gymnastics. She is a theater major and started dancing when we she came to college her freshman year. I interviewed her in late February on why she chooses to dance. Her answers are as follows:
How long have you been dancing?
"Well I’d like to say I’ve been dancing since I was little but I haven’t been dancing from a technique standpoint really until coming to college, obviously my background in gymnastics and then eventually equestrian vaulting sort of prepared me for the strength and flexibility required for dance but learning technique, that really didn’t happen until college. "
What made you want to start dancing?
"After my sophomore year of high school, that was when I officially retired so to speak, from vaulting, which if you don’t know what vaulting is, it is gymnastics and dance in a way on the back of a cantering horse, so very similar to something you’d see in the circus, but it is a global sport, and very popular particularly in Europe. I competed in a couple of national championships in that, but I stopped in the middle of high school because I ended up turning to theater, and musical theater. So that was where I was introduced to a more formal dance setting, was learning choreography for shows but when I got to college I realized that I still love to do these things, I have all these skills that I have acquired from vaulting so how can I still apply them in a way that is similar but different. So I ended up taking modern 1 with Hilary (a dance professor) my freshman year, that’s really where I got introduced to formal dance classes."
Why do you choose to dance today?
"I think because of the feeling that it gives to me but also the feeling that I know it gives the audience or someone watching. The audience doesn’t have to be massive like today when we were showing to just each other (I had interviewed Emily after our Dance Production rehearsal earlier this day), I still feel anxiety, but not negative anxiety but a
"desire to deliver something that will make people feel a certain way or get a certain message across"
or tell a certain story and I think that also makes it similar to theater in a way. We aren’t necessarily being actors but we are still fulfilling that role of storytelling and emoting in a way that people can choose for themselves how they want it to resonate with them. I like the give and take, of it. The giving and receive I should say, that it (performing) provides. I also like the physical challenges too. I have become far more athletic because of dance, and I think it's a huge motivator. I think anyone that thinks that dance is not athletic is very confused. Whenever we do Dolce (a dance from the show) I feel like I’m on a sports team because we high five each other, we hype each other, but we are also being very athletic when we're performing. So I like that aspect of it too."
Do you consider yourself a dancer or someone that dances?
"I think I would consider myself a dancer because as a dancer I am someone who dances but I take it seriously, but I also do it for fun. I think when you love something so much it sort of becomes a part of your identity, you love doing it for the work and for the performance but you also just love to do it as a pass time and a way to have fun and let go, So I would consider myself a dancer. "
Would you like to continue to dance after college?
"Oh my God!!, My dream actually would literally be to, all expenses aside, money, travel, I would love to have my own company because I feel like I have developed my own style in a way and
type of movement but still have taken a lot of things from different people and choreographers, and other dancers. I’d love to be able to tell stories through dance forever if I could, Or be a part of a company would be incredible. Alvin Ailey is my favorite dance company. I wish every day that I had been dancing since I was two years old just so I could be in a company like that because I think they are very powerful. So I guess the actual answer is I don’t know, but I would love to and I am very open to whatever opportunities present themselves that allow me to do that. But you can always dance."
How do you feel when you dance?
"Well, I think it depends on who I’m dancing with sometimes If I’m dancing alone I definitely feel the most as peace with myself that I ever feel, Confident, content, happy, I’m literally not thinking about anything that is why I love going to rehearsal, even though sometimes I get frustrated during technique class I still love it because it’s like stepping into another realm where you just leave everything behind and its just you and music and movement. So it’s very soulful. It almost spiritual in a way, you are just in touch with another part of yourself almost entirely. It is something very hard to articulate, it is almost impossible to articulate.
Dancing with other people is its own experience, I’m someone who obviously is not the most touchy-feely with everybody or comfortable or whatever, I get all ehhh when we do improv or contact improv, but when you put it in the context of dance. "
There is something more human, and you’re reaching a deeper level of humanity with people that the awkwardness leaves and you’re just present and you’re acting on how you feel. You’re not worried about anything.
What is your favorite style of dance?
"I feel like modern suits my style very well, at least my abilities very well, in terms of flexibility and being grounded, It is sort of experimental and I think I identify with that one the most. But I really love the African styles and Caribbean styles, even Cuban dancing. The islands have so many different styles. The Polynesian islands and they have so many different styles and I think we don’t think about it. They really used dance to tell stories. We go to luaus as tourists and think that’s it but no that was how they kept and still today keep their cultures alive, not through luaus. But through dance Hula, Haka, it’s all very important and sacred. So I identify with those styles. "
Photos were taken at Principia College in the McVay Center for the Performing Arts, Dance Studio on February 23rd 2020.