The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

My Liberal Arts Experience: Learning to Dance at Bates

Chris Lu
Willa Wang ’25, far left, performs in the winter dance concert. Wang never thought she would perform as a dancer before she came to Bates, but has found learning new styles of dance to be a quintessential liberal arts experience.

Coming to Bates, I never thought that I would dance on the stage one day. I never thought I would spend more than three hours per week on rehearsal. I never thought I would perform in Schaeffer Theater and consider the old building one of my favorite places on campus. Bates opens the gate to freely exploring performance art for me. How is the experience of dancing at Bates? How is it integrated into liberal arts education? Several Bates students talked with me about their opinions and their art joinery at Bates to determine potential areas of improvement. 


Bates offers a supportive and encouraging environment for dancers.

Star Yang ’24, originally from Guangzhou China, is a dance major. She never danced before the outbreak of COVID-19. In 2020, Star started to learn classical Chinese dance at home by looking at YouTube videos. Her first dance class at Bates was Flamenco Studio with Lindsey Bourassa, a professional Flamenco dancer. She immediately fell in love with this powerful art form and decided to minor in dance with a Flamenco track. At the moment, Star was the first student who chose Flamenco as their minor track. 

Stepping into junior year, Star took Dance Repertory, which required her to dance every day from 4 to 7 p.m. She learned three different dance styles intensively, which include Flamenco, modern, and Ananya. Star realized she deeply enjoys dancing and the process of creating art. This semester, Star is learning how to choreograph. She works with seven students and meets at least twice a week to develop her original dance “element,” which is performed in the Fall Dance Concert this year. 

“Dancing is physically demanding and arduous, but standing on the stage, remembering all of the hard work you put into those rehearsals and all the years of training and crying in the dressing room. That feeling is unmatched.” Shared May Whelan ‘25, minoring in Dance and originally from Rhode Island. “Before joining the dance community here at Bates, I spent ten years at a classical ballet studio. While I can credit most of my techniques to that strict, rule-enforcing environment, my true love for dance wasn’t shaped until I came to Bates.” Between modern, ballet, hip hop, and Flamenco genres, May has discovered a freedom of movement and catharsis that she never experienced before in dancing, which makes her liberal arts education whole. 

Elaine Wang ’27, a first year from Shanghai, China, is interested in double majoring in Dance and Theater. She jokes that she will “live in Schaeffer” for the next four years. “I love everything I experienced at Bates so far.” Elaine started to learn ballet in middle school. “My past dancing experience was very stressful. People would judge you if you don’t dance well or have no experience in dancing, but at Bates, the vibe in the dance department is very encouraging. Everyone I meet at Bates is nice, kind, and patient. They don’t judge you even if you have no previous dancing experience. Everyone has a chance to be on the stage here. I feel welcomed in Bates’ dance department!” Elaine shared. 


Diversity and Challenges

Dance has been considered a “white-dominated” discipline for a long time, and Bates in particular has faced criticism for systemic white supremacy within the dance programs. “In my four years at Bates so far, I have seen Bates dance department improve its diversity effectively and be more open to students of different backgrounds, but I think some problems are institutionalized,” said Star Yang ’24, whose main dance focuses are Chinese classical dance and Flamenco. 

“For example, when I look for students for my piece that focuses on Flamenco or Chinese dance, I can barely find student dancers because not many people have received training in these types of dance. This needs some structural changes which can’t be solved in the short run.” 


“What is happening on the stage reflects the general vibe at Bates.”

Kendall Jones ’25, originally from New Hampshire, is a Theater and Biochemistry double major. She has also been the stage manager at Schaefer Theater for two years. “I have been working with different members of the Bates dance department. As I worked in preparing for a show or concert, I saw how much effort students put in.” Kendall emphasizes the caring environment Bates offers for dancers and people like her who are interested in performative art.

“I think the stage reflects the general vibe at Bates. Events like the Fall Dance Concert need a lot of people’s effort and energy. Students practiced every day, and when the concerts were coming, they came to Schaeffer for rehearsal and performed for five days in a row. Every day was about 3 to 4 hours of effort. It’s very tiring, but everyone is so energized and supportive. This is not something special in the dance department, but it is the general culture Bates has.” Kendall shared. 


“I thank myself for being bold.”

“My dance experience at Bates has been very fun so far. Although I grew up being shy around the idea of dancing in front of people, coming to Bates allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and explore different ways to express myself.” Said Danny Zuniga Zarat ’25, a Latin American Studies and Studio Art major. Now that Danny has taken two semesters of Flamenco and performed Star Yang’s piece at the Fall Dance Concert, he looks back at his freshman self and thanks him for being bold enough to pursue that hidden passion for dance. “The environment within the dance department has been caring and lively for the most part, and I hope that it continues to grow and encourage a substantial representation of more culturally diverse styles for the years to come.”


Like Danny, Star, and myself, you might not consider yourself as someone who can dance, but you have such a supportive dancing environment at Bates. Why don’t you give it a shot? 

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About the Contributor
Willa Wang, Managing Forum Editor
Willa Wang ’25 is a junior from Beijing, China, double majoring in history and philosophy with a minor in German. She is excited to work as the Managing Forum Editor this year and share her thoughts and observations. When she is not reading or writing, she dances flamenco, swims, and teaches calligraphy. She is a member of ResLife, international club, and 2 B.E.A.T.S.. Previously, Willa served as an Assistant Forum Editor.

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