Horn ’17 Forges the Connection between Dance and Identity
Issue   |   Wed, 04/05/2017 - 00:46
Amherst College Theater and Dance Department
Lauren Horn ’17 applied her studies in Psychology by interviewing the dancers performing in her thesis, which incorporates music, sound and text.

Q: How did you start dancing and come to where you are now?
I started dancing at 3 and was a tap dancer and an African dancer at a center for arts of the African diaspora. And I just kept on tapping up to the level that they said if I were to take any more classes I should start doing modern and jazz. So I kept tumbling into dance and trying different genres and never really stopped.

Q: You’re also a psychology major. How do you think psychology and theater and dance work together as disciplines?
Dance and psych allow for a mind and body connection. The way people think affects how I choreograph dances. I’m really interested in identity, which I explore in my thesis, and psychology also gives me other ways to consider that. I was in a psych class the other day, and we were talking about group think, and that made me really excited because I thought — this is what I’m trying to represent in one of my dances!

Q: How does it feel to cast and direct your peers in a piece you have written? Does it come naturally, or is it uncomfortable? What skills do you think it requires?
It’s so weird directing your peers. It takes time to get used to, of course. You think, “Aw man, I have to keep them safe.” I have to create a space where they feel comfortable and ready to share.

I can’t make a piece about identity without focusing on the people in the piece. In most of the work, I interview and ask them questions like, “What is a white space to you? What does a black space mean to you?” Then I use their answers to make them solos, so their responses make the text.

Q: How did you make your thesis an interdisciplinary combination of “music, text, movement and sound”?
I’ve been interested in text for a while now. My advisor is Wendy Woodson, and Paul Matteson is one of my mentors, and they both work with text. I also like including interviews because you get to know people a lot with talking, and I think the best is when I talk and move at the same time. So for the auditions for my piece, I had the dancers do movement and text improvisations. I’d get them to respond with their bodies to a word. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for my thesis, so I interviewed them because I also wanted to respond to what they said. I like working subconsciously, so I just read their responses over a lot, and then I arrived at what I wanted to do.

Q: How did you choose the music?
That’s a funny question. I don’t want to spoil it. In life, if I like this song, I want to dance to it, so for one piece I just did that. Then for another piece I wanted to switch it up and have people have fun.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I am working with Sam Croff ’18 to compose a piece. We talked about chaos, and it’s an entity that we’re still forming.

The last piece, it wasn’t just me picking music that I liked. I wanted to play up these really cool character shifts. I wanted to pick songs because of the contexts in which they were made. We’re trying to go to different spaces and different time periods. What was commercial while this song [was] being made, and what emotion goes into it?

Q: What is it like to study dance in an academic setting? What do you think is the main difference between dancing recreationally and as an art form?
That’s a big question. Dance in a professional or academic setting is more codified within more distinct genres of dance. Social dance is popular dance, so you don’t need to be trained to do popular dance. It comes out of your culture. The culture then influences professional dancers. Popular dance can be more trendy, like some kids came up with the Nae Nae, and it caught on. With professional dance, you’re taught from a young age.

There tends to be more of a wall between dance and music in terms of accessibility. Music can be easily consumed, but with dance you have to participate in it. People get weird about bodies, and they feel like they’re not doing something right.

Q: What role do you think dance plays at Amherst? Do you think there’s a relationship between dance and cultural appropriation on college campuses?
A: Dance is accessible, but a lot of people at this school think it’s inaccessible. I never go there and think everyone sucks at dancing. I like watching people dance because it’s natural, and it’s the way people move and have fun. Dance plays out in that venue … like parties [with] people letting loose or moving. I think people don’t understand dance on a stage because they think they’re watching it incorrectly. You just need to sit back, watch it and think about the way it makes you feel. You wouldn’t look at abstract art and think it’s going to give you one answer.

I think it devalues the cultures where the dances come from. A lot of dance history involves cultural appropriation, teaching dances “of the orient,” but I don’t really think about cultural appropriation at a party. Go up and have fun if it’s a popular dance in America. What does it mean to dance like a black woman? I don’t think there’s a problem until the way the movements are interpreted based on the body. When a white girl starts twerking, everyone thinks it’s super cool, but when a black girl does it, it’s expected or ignored or ridiculed.

Q: What do you think we can do to have more art at Amherst?
That’s actually my job next year. I’m the Arts at Amherst Coordinator, so I’ll be doing that. A lot of having more art at Amherst has to do with accessibility and availability. Sometimes there isn’t enough publicity, especially when faculty bring in really cool people. I also think there should be different communities of art coming together where we collaborate and make fun stuff.