May 31, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 58°F


Freedom in dance

Four dancers sprint to their partners, each of whom is stationed at the four corners of the room. With unflinching confidence, they jump upside down into their partners’ waiting arms. The duets spin in unison before each dancer breaks away, and both are on the floor again.

Allison Usavage/ The Ithacan

Down the entrance steps to studio three of the Dillingham Center, excited voices and laughter are audible as the Rock Hard Dance Company rehearses.

Senior John Xavier Miller, co-artistic director and co-founder of the company, said his role is to instruct the group to achieve the dance concepts he envisions.

“Girlfriends and boyfriends, can I have everyone running into the sash?” Miller said to his company members at their Sunday rehearsal, “Sash them up and put them down in fun ways.”

The four dancers nod in agreement to instructions that would seem incomprehensible to an outsider. They return to their respective corners, only to run full speed toward their partners again. In this manner, they practice the sash — a term the group has given to describe a jump and lift.

With a modern dance style that is free and experimental and a group camaraderie that projects a sense of confidence in its dance moves, the Rock Hard Dance Company has achieved great success since its creation in fall 2006.

Miller and Samantha Abrams ’08 started the company to spread their passion for modern dance.

Three semesters ago the group’s performances could only fill Dillingham’s small studios, with 40 to 50 people in the audiences. Now, the company’s shows sell out the 280-seat Clarke Theatre.

Junior Megan Mizanty, the group’s co-artistic director, has seen the audience grow greatly in the last three years since she joined as a freshman.

“It’s really snowballed in the last year and a half,” Mizanty said. “It was really incredible to see the difference in response.”

Junior Sarah Myers went to see the Rock Hard Dance Company last semester. Myers said she was impressed by the expressive modern style of the performance.

“It was different because the [dancers created] a way for each student to relate to the show,” Myers said. “It was really good.”

Recently, the company was requested to perform at the North Branch Arts Festival Oct. 11 in Wyalusing, Pa., a festival that has brought different talented performers to its area for the last 15 years.

The company is also practicing to audition for the American College Dance Festival in March at Penn State University. The festival is a prestigious event in which the best college dance groups in the region come together to enroll in workshops and perform.

Miller said being selected to attend would be a great learning experience for the dancers, as well as an impressive achievement.

“We would be with the best of the best in the region,” Miller said. “That would just be amazing.”

Unlike other dance companies at Ithaca College, the Rock Hard Dance Company is a small group with only 13 members.

“We have a lot more of a family feel,” Mizanty said. “It’s that feeling of closeness with everybody. You have the ability to step out of your comfort zone.”

Because there are so few members, Miller can allow some flexibility in the execution of each dance during rehearsals.

“It’s all about the creative process of 13 minds getting together every week,” Miller said.

In every performance it gives, the company performs around six choreographed dances and five shorter pieces that are totally improvised.

Mizanty said the greatest rewards of the improvisation are the impressive pieces that come from moments of pure spontaneity.

“You are completely unaware of the song, completely unaware of who you are dancing with, completely unaware of what you’re going to do,” Mizanty said. “You just move onstage.”

Senior Alana Webster joined the company in 2006. She said she chose to join because of the group’s freedom in selecting the dances it performs.

“It’s something I was drawn to because it allows me to express myself in a freer way,” Webster said. “It’s more of a release.”

The Rock Hard Dance Company tries to focus on more than just the movements in its choreography. Miller, as well as the rest of the company, tries to make the choreography express emotions and ideas.

“We try to go for more of the storytelling aspect, the meaning behind it rather than just dancing for show,” Miller said.