Maggie Grogan (‘20) is a dancer and student dance choreographer working with the Willamette Dance Company and Theatre. Her newest piece is called “Reverie.” See it performed along with other student works at the Fall Dance Concert, happening Nov. 14-23 in the M. Lee Pelton Theatre.
What is the dance program like here at Willamette?
It can be a lot of different things. I wouldn’t say there’s a central dance program, but there are many opportunities to dance. You can dance through Dance Company, which is the student run dance program. A really cool thing about it is that it’s super inclusive, so anyone can dance, all levels. People who want to learn to choreograph, to learn what that process is like, can. For me, especially this year, being able to craft a whole vision of my own means a lot. It’s a very cool experience.
How did you start dancing?
I grew up as a competitive Irish dancer from ages five to 18. It wasn’t until high school that I started doing any other type of dance. It’s kind of a weird and unique background that I have. I also like to note that Irish dance, for me, felt very much like a sport. I didn’t really get to express anything. I’ve competed in the worlds (an international championship competition) before for Irish dance, which is a cool thing, but for me it felt strictly competitive. I didn’t feel like I had a lot of individuality.
What allowed you to express yourself more through dance?
I just started doing other types of dance. I knew how to move, so I wanted to learn how to do jazz and musical theater. In high school, I had a dance teacher who was really influential. He taught me a lot about how the body works and moves. He’s a very creative person and very theatrical himself and I learned a lot from him.
After coming to Willamette, I’ve been able to explore different styles of dance. I choreographed for the Dance Concert two years ago. For that, I felt like I had to do a piece that was very rhythm-based. With my Irish dance training, that was easy, but it was difficult since I didn’t have a tap background. I don’t really know the language for that dance style. I feel like I’ve kind of grown in the sense that I know now how to approach pieces in a way that allows me to make a statement. Now I feel like I’m telling a story that I have a lot of personal connections to. (The dance piece) is a queer love story, which is really exciting to be able to portray, although it’s a little bit scary. It’s something I’m really looking forward to showing. It’s exciting to work on something that people can relate to.
For the new piece, it’s very much that I’m telling a story. The piece, called “Reverie,” will be shown in the Dance Concert. We’ve got a person who will be tapping and I will be doing movement based in jazz technique, although it feels very theatrical. It’s primarily a duet between me and one of my best friends. She is a classically trained ballet dancer. We also have some people who have trained in hip-hop. I think we have one dancer who has done every kind of dance that you can do. It’s interesting to take everyone’s backgrounds and figure out what we can create. It’s definitely a huge collaborative process.
How have the classes at Willamette influenced your style?
There was one experience I had here that really stuck out. Our professor had us pair up with the improvisational music class. We did three days of collaboration, where our classes were going on at the same time. All the musicians would do their thing while learning how to connect with us. We did ours and learned how to connect with them. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of.
What style of dance have you studied that is furthest from the Irish dancing that you grew up with?
Definitely aerial dance. I didn’t like heights back then. I also came from a training where you don’t move your arms at all, so it was a difficult challenge learning to express myself using only my upper body. That’s the furthest I’ve been outside of my comfort zone. I think the things that push me out of my comfort zone make me think about what I’m doing well and where I need to improve. It really helps with fine tuning.
How does being a dancer inform your life outside of the studio?
In the past, I’ve worked as a choreographer for a musical theater company. Over the summer, I’d teach classes and choreograph five smaller children’s musicals. I think that I was able to do that because of my experience through Willamette Dance Company.
I’m a health and exercise science major. I’m learning all about the human body, and I definitely want to go into a career where I’m able to work with dancers and athletes. Because of my movement background, I feel like I have a different understanding of the body. It’s a way of articulating in a different way. I really see dance helping with that some day.
If you’d like to see yourself or another talented Willamette artist featured, contact <dcjohnston>. All mediums of artistic expression are welcome.