Hunter Benkoski is a Senior at Principia College from Stroudsburg, PA with a double major in Environmental Studies and sustainability with a minor in dance. She shares her love of dance in an interview I had with her in early March.
How long have you been dancing?
"I started doing competitive Irish dancing in second grade so I was eight, I did Irish from second grade through my sophomore year of high school and I did just that. Then when I went to the upper school, I started learning tap and a really tiny bit of ballet. It wasn’t until college that I really picked up ballet and modern."
What made you want to start dancing?
"I was at a heritage fair and I saw the Irish dancers performing and I thought it was the coolest thing, so I went and signed up, wrote my name down on the list, I was a second-grader, then I walked up to my mom and said mom can I do it? after I had already signed up. Like I knew that I wanted to, I actually cried during my first dance class because I couldn’t get the one, two, threes, but I stuck with it. "
Why do you choose to dance today?
"When I did competitive dance it was very comfortable and normal, learning something new, perfecting it, doing it again, again and again, when I started doing modern, dance changed dramatically for me. For the first time, it wasn’t just dancing to show off tricks and technique and skill, but it was having a more unique deep individual internal experience, nothing else I’ve ever done has come close to it. It’s hard to put it into words, but it’s like you get into this flow state and everything you’re dealing with melts away and suddenly you’re just right there with the movement and nothing else."
Will you continue to dance after college?
"I really hope so, I can’t imagine my life without it, at the same time with a career and doing other things. I can’t imagine it taking up as much space in my life as it does right now but also dropping it and never doing it again just sounds miserable. Like over the summer when I was working out in Colorado I was craving dance. Sometimes I would go into the dining hall after everyone had left, and just dance because I was missing it so much. So I think if it’s just taking classes a couple of times a week then maintaining it in my life that way and doing a performance once in a while, like that sounds manageable and something that I want."
What is your favorite style of dance?
"I really like modern dance, I feel like I’m betraying Irish by saying that. Modern has opened my experience to dance so much more than I ever thought dance was. Coming from the Irish dancing background, while Irish was my first love, and you know shaped the way I move and interact with dance now,
"I think modern allowed me to love dance again."
How do you feel when you dance?
"Generally I feel very free, you come in and you have all this baggage or if you’re having a really awful day that doesn’t just automatically go away, but dancing, in both terms of physical exercise but then it as an emotional experience that it creates allows you to alleviate some of the stress, pain or burden, that you’re experiencing outside of it. In the same way that when you come in and you’re in a great happy mood, you can come in and you can chill out. It can bring you to a more neutral or low energy place depending on what you’re doing. I find that depending on what kind of dance I’m doing it affects my body and my mind differently. Like in Kayleen's dance, that dance is emotional and intense and by the end of it I can feel that tension in my body. Then you can shake it off and walk away from it, but it does create this very visceral experience while you’re doing it."
Choreographer vs. Dancer?
"I really like the choreographic process. It's a really unique creative outlet and the opportunity to either just explore movement or to tell a specific story is really interesting and unique. It’s like a form of expression. But also I love performing, I feel like there is a lot of pressure on being a choreographer not so much of like “oh I wonder what people will think of the movement, that's not as much of my issue, so much as is my movement getting the intent across? Am I telling the right story, are people getting it?" As well as a
teacher of choreography, I feel like there's a lot of internal pressure imposed. I feel like I need to be teaching this the right way and get them to do it exactly how I want. I think I’m pretty controlling in terms of I have a very specific vision and if I could have things my way, I would have it in a very specific way. Obviously flexibility is required, right? Oh this costume doesn’t work exactly, let's try this instead, or oh this prop doesn’t work exactly let's try this instead, or, oh this move really doesn’t work on that person lets change it to something else. But I think I have a very particular vision in mind when I choreograph and then when my dancers are very close but I think they need a little bit more in the elbow or the arm needs to straighten a little bit more. Which I think makes for a cleaner dance but probably is a bit frustrating. Especially in my dance this year where it's so technical that it just actually needs to be that precise to make it look like we're all doing things together when it's in unison, but it is hard."
Do you consider yourself a dancer or someone who dances?
"I’m definitely a dancer, it is a core part of my Identity. I think a part of that is being the youngest sibling, Daniel was an athlete, Kelsey was an artist and an athlete, Hunter was always the dancer, the Irish dancer specifically. For a long time even when I got into college, I was like “I am an Irish dancer.” It took me a couple of years to think no I’m not just an Irish Dancer anymore, I have expanded my boundaries, It is very freeing because it allows you to mix a lot more stuff together, and create something in this contemporary dance world. It’s definitely a core part of who I am."
These photos were taken the day before we left for spring break at our mini Dance Production in The McVay Center for the Performing arts, in the Robert Duvall Theater on 3-14-2020. The other photos were taken in the dance studio the weekend before.