DASAC Gets Out: Dance Ensemble Celebrates 15-Year Anniversary
Issue   |   Wed, 04/19/2017 - 01:20
Beselot Birhanu ’17
This semester’s theme was a tribute to Jordan Peele’s new movie “Get Out,” a satirical horror film about race relations that is especially poignant today.

This past weekend, Dance and Stepping at Amherst College (DASAC) performed their spring show in Keefe Campus Center’s Friedmann Room titled “DASAC Gets Out.” DASAC, Amherst’s student-run dance group focused on hip-hop, Caribbean and other dance styles originating from the black diaspora, celebrated its 15th anniversary with this show. The group was founded by black and brown students disappointed at the lack of representation of black dance. Each semester, the show is given a culturally relevant theme (last semester, the show was an homage to Beyonce’s newest album “Lemonade”). This year, the theme drew from “Get Out,” Jordan Peele’s satirical horror film, which cast a critical eye on American race relations and made for a hilarious marketing campaign. The trailer featured the dancers of DASAC doing the viral #GetOutChallenge, and the promotional posters depicted parodies of the movie’s iconic poster. It is fitting that DASAC chose this film on which to base its theme, since it so brilliantly makes explicit the racial tensions and injustice in America that black people have felt from the beginning. Through their shows, DASAC unapologetically and explicitly shows off dance styles historically suppressed and boxed in by white America. With this show, DASAC made it clear they were getting out of that box.

DASAC directors Anise Diaz ’18 and Matthew Holliday ’19 put on an electric show that truly created a vital space for black dancers and the beautiful variations of black movement. The simple red and white lighting system in Friedman, while outdated, was utilized in a way that interacted directly with the show. The lights went red during sensual and sexual moves and flashed during pointed hip sways. The crowd loved it. Indeed, this truly felt like a black space through its audience participation, which, dating back to West Africa, has always been a huge part of black performance techniques. The active and loud crowd triggered not only excitement but also a warm feeling within the room as the closeness between students and love for each others’ work was palpable.

The choreographers showcased various styles, including sexy hip-hop dance, Caribbean, breakdancing, stomping and slow partner dancing. They included DASAC veterans such as Janna Joassainte ’17, Christine Croasdaile ’17 and SJ Doi ’18, along with first-time choreographers DJ Williams ’20, Sarah Young ’20 and Olivia Zheng ’20. Each of the pieces contained a number of dancers ranging from as few as four to as many as 15 and encompassed a broad spectrum of styles, both within hip-hop and across other areas of the African diaspora.

Highlights from the show included Croasdaile’s “Caribbean Vybz,” a nine-person, dancehall-inspired piece with fast rhythms; Doi’s and senior Kasia Ifill's piece, “Act Like a Girl,” an all-woman piece that encapsulated more R&B styles; and senior Vanessa Henscheid’s “Revenge of the B-Boy,” a breakdance fighting piece built around Star Wars costumes and remixed music from the movies. DASAC’s traditional stomp-and-chant step number was particularly entertaining this year, centered on a “DASAC Factory” and choreographed by DJ Williams ’20. This was one of the standout moments of the night, and one in which the audience was most involved. Williams played a strict, military commander-like factory owner who terrorized and ruled over her workers. The workers’ chant “Get in line, stay in line; all work, no love, no play! Get in line, stay in line; it’s what we do all day!” led into a well-synchronized stomping and clapping pattern with the dancers in straight lines. Eventually, the workers rebelled against this tyranny while the owner’s back was turned and did more freestyle R&B dancing, before the owner returned an puts them back in line. Williams was a delight to watch in this role: charismatic, intimidating and engaging in punchy improvisation with rebellious audience members.

In addition to the fast-tempo, hip-hop style, the show also contained its share of slower pieces. For example, “You Used To,” choreographed by Thais Calderon ’17 and David Wang ’17, heavily utilized partner dancing in addition to hip-hop. In what was perhaps the most intimate moment of the night, two dancers came out in the middle of the piece and danced to Kehlani and Charlie Puth’s cover of “Hotline Bling,” using smooth body waves and pushing and pulling each other.

The show’s costumes also made the show engaging and made each piece stand out. The Caribbean-themed costumes made Croasdile’s piece one of celebrating pride in Caribbean culture. Pieces about one-upping people in terms of style and attitude, such as senior Kali Robinson’s piece “How to Switch Up on a Scrub,” used T-shirts, shorts and sideways caps. Pieces about innocent facades belying aggressive attitudes used elementary school clothing, and pieces with a specific theme used more elaborate costumes. The costumes brought a playful, quirky and sometimes serious element to the dance, and in some cases facilitated a narrative within the pieces.

The show ended with the entire DASAC company coming out to dance to “Walk it Out” by Unk, and this sort of cathartic freestyle summarized the mission of DASAC. DASAC provides a safe space for black bodies (and other people of color) to fully represent themselves and to move as a community. That whole room felt like one community by the end of the show, and everyone unfortunate enough to become trapped in the “Sunken Place” had fully emerged to the tune of good black vibes.

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