A four-week dance intensive is exactly what it sounds like.
For the past month, weekdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., students taking Trent D. Williams Jr.’s Summer Dance Intensive study modern dance technique and composition like members of a vinyl-floored boot camp. The undergraduates bring their game faces to the studio, only to break for lunch, pirouetting holes into their jazz shoes until the seventh hour runs out.
The dancers have spent a month preparing for the annual Swamp Dance Fest, a three-day event from Friday to Sunday. This year, dance choreographers Stefanie Batten Bland and Juel D. Lane guest choreographed two compositions — Batten Bland’s “Germe” and Lane’s “Outside Steps.” Both works tackle thought-provoking subject matter and tell compelling stories through the modern genre.
Williams, who has been teaching at UF for four years, received his M.A. in dance and choreography from Florida State University. His choreographed works have been performed in professional and academic venues across the country and he is a founding member of a Washington, D.C., dance theater. He has also performed with popular musicians like Janelle Monáe, 112 and Destiny’s Child, according to the press release.
Williams’ students, all pre-professional artists over the age of 18, came to the intensive July 5 with varying degrees of experience. Some are matriculating freshmen, some are seasoned UF dance students and some are non-UF students interested in the UF School of Theatre and Dance.
“Attending a dance intensive is a great time for dancers to focus on themselves, their technique and their creative voice. It’s very intense in the sense that it’s nothing but dance classes. There are no extracurricular activities, no coursework and no distractions,” Williams said. “We encourage students to use this time to focus on themselves creatively, technically, physically and emotionally.”
All the work showcased during Swamp Dance Fest was created within the four weeks of the intensive. Batten Bland and Lane drew inspiration from their own professional paths and the students themselves, Williams said.
On Fridays, the students get to experience “UnShowings,” a way to break down the creative process and receive feedback for elements that should be shifted or changed. During the school year, students showcase their own work in the “UnShowings.” Bringing this process to the intensive is a way to get students acclimated to what is a common practice in the dance program, Williams said.
Just as the students are dipping their toes into the world of professional dance, Williams said he considers himself a sponge in the way he, in turn, learns from his students.
“I’m always learning different ways to approach teaching, hearing how their learning process works,” Williams said. “I teach my students to be adaptable. This trait is so important for what they might encounter in their own careers.”
Grace Landefeld, a UF wildlife ecology and conservation student, has been dancing her whole life, following in the footsteps of her mother. She decided to continue her dance career beyond high school.
Landefeld said UF’s program “gave (her) a sense of family and community from the moment they said ‘Go!’ at auditions that has continued to this day.”
Landefeld said she cannot emphasize enough the opportunity to work with Batten Bland and Lane.
“Their classes have really challenged all of us, and they have brought to us so many different views of the dance world. We learned about improvisation and dance theater from Stefanie, which we rarely get to do in the dance program, and about how social media plays a huge role in our careers from Juel,” Landefeld said.
“Putting together a piece in a short amount of time can be a stressful situation because you’re on a time crunch, but this wasn’t the case at all, because I trusted Juel a lot. Being part of Swamp has rejuvenated me as a dancer and pushed me in new ways, and the best part is that we’re able to develop connections to the professional world right here at our own school,” Landefeld said. “I’m really excited for the show this weekend. Being able to dance on stage and move with your best friends is an experience no one in the world gets to have, and it’s a great feeling.”
The dancers will perform at the G-6 Studio of the Nadine M. McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Sunday’s performance will have a 2 p.m. matinee.
Tickets are $18 for the general public, $15 for seniors, UF faculty and staff and $13 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the University Box Office or online at www.ticketmaster.com.