As Boston College’s most talented choreographers and dancers prepare for this year’s AHANA Leadership Council Showdown, one thing remains certain—a little healthy competition brings out the best in everyone.
Showdown is BC’s biggest dance event of the year. In addition to the obvious dance component, Showdown also features a competition in a separate category—culture. While the solely dance-oriented teams compete against each other, the culture groups also perform a dance of their own creation. Both categories have a first place prize, a monetary donation to a charity of the winning team’s choice.
Preparing for the event with vigor and excitement, amid practice and the regular stresses of the week, captains, leaders, and officers from some of these dance troupes spoke about what Showdown and events like it mean for their respective organizations and BC’s dance community as a whole. All this week, from the Brighton Dance Studio and O’Connell House to remote rooms in Gasson, McGuinn, and Lyons, the clicks of heels, booming stomps, and quiet steps could be heard throughout campus into the wee hours of the night.
As the members of On Tap caught their breath after an intense choreography runthrough, Amanda Sackmaster, media director and co-choreographer and MCAS ’18, spoke about the nature of Showdown’s competition for their organization. Even though Showdown pits the different dance groups at BC against each other, there is never a feeling of antagonism among teams. This is in part due to the nature of the event itself. The philanthropic prize means a great deal to each participant. But, as Sackmaster said, the competitive aspect remains healthy because of the attitudes of those involved.
“I never feel like it’s a competition among teams as much as it’s a celebration of what everyone can do,” Sackmaster said.
Many students at BC aren’t afforded the behind-the-scenes look at the dance groups participating in Showdown. But this isn’t something that these students do just because they feel like it—dance is a part of their lives just as much as school. Backpacks full of textbooks and charging laptops littered the edges of the Brighton Dance Studio while Elizabeth Takash, assistant director of the Dance Organization of BC and MCAS ’18, spoke about the way Showdown helps audience members glimpse all of the time and effort these groups put into this performance and others throughout the year.
“It’s really nice to have all your friends on campus actually understand what you do and what you’ve been working so hard on and why you’re not always around,” Takash said.
Many use dance to express themselves creatively in ways that they cannot in other aspects of life. In a cramped hallway next to the stairwell, while his teammates warmed up in a small practice room mere feet away, Vincent Talamo, one of the Synergy co-directors and MCAS ’18, talked about his time on the dance group. Synergy is something diametrically different from his life outside the team.
“Dance is just an outlet to do everything I don’t get to do studying and being finance,” he said. “It’s kind of a creative outlet for me.”
The energy of certain teams was by no means dampened simply because they were unable to find a dance studio to practice in. While others might have been getting ready for bed, Females Incorporating Sisterhood Through Step (F.I.S.T.S.) was clapping its hands and slapping the floor in an empty room in Lyons. Standing next to desks and tables that had been stacked at the edge of the room to clear a practice space, Sammie Oluyede, president of F.I.S.T.S. and MCAS ’17, outlined the game plan of the team.
“We try not to let people know what we’re doing,” she said. “We go under the radar a little bit and then we surprise everyone on the Showdown stage.”
Showdown is not just a competition about dance itself. Many participating teams must try to put on a good dance along with the added pressure that the culture category brings. Masti, BC’s South Asian dance troupe, wants to entertain the audience while also displaying South Asian culture in an accurate way. They play traditional and modern music, as well as use sapps, a wood instrument native to Punjab, India. But as Kristina Scully, a Masti co-captain and MCAS ’17, described, Masti takes this added difficulty in stride.
“I think competition is a really good way for us to showcase our talents in a way that inspires us to try our hardest and also make sure that we’re representing the culture,” Scully said.
Last year’s champion, BC Irish Dance, looks to events like Showdown as an opportunity expand its creative horizons by implementing new elements not usually seen in showcase performances. Siobhan Dougherty, BCID co-president and MCAS ’17, detailed the varied use of hands and movement around the floor as ways to add additional flair to the traditional dance. The integration of new ideas gives groups an edge in the competitive realm. This competitive aspect, however, is also seen as unifying as Aine McGovern, vice president and MCAS ’17, explains it allows the community to admire what other organizations have been working toward.
“To have a competition like Showdown where all these different dance organization can come together and battle it out for the big win is really a cool opportunity,” McGovern said.
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For other groups, like BC Dance Ensemble, this will mark the first foray into the competitive aspect of Showdown. Emily Durkin, Dance Ensemble president and MCAS ’17, explained that though the group had showcased in years past, it never were a part of the competition proper. For DE in particular, the preparation for Showdown is markedly impressive as its Robsham showcase, Masquerade, fell just a week before, leaving a single week to devote to this performance. Different from its usual pieces, it integrates all of its ranks, as opposed to a few individuals in a few pieces. As seen during DE’s practice, this larger collage of bodies is sure be an impressive sight on stage as it adopts uniform motion on this scale.
Vida de Intensa Pasión (VIP) reigned down a performance laden with fire on the heels and faces of its members. For VIP, Showdown is a natural progression of the labor put into dance throughout the year. The competition is not just a way of showing that dance is enjoyable, evidenced by the smiling faces of its members, but that VIP and other organizations take it seriously as an artform. Laura Hydro, VIP president and CSON ’17, explained that given the opportunity to put up the best of their skills on stage is a great way to show how far each dancer and dance troupe has come.
“Showdown is the culmination of work over the course of the year as a dance organization,” Hydro said. “It represent a lot of hours of intense work.”
BC Full Swing looks to Showdown as an opportunity to strengthen its brand and future. After a rousing display of deft feet and whipping heads in practice, Full Swing relished its run with high-fives and smiles. While this took place behind her, choreographer Sarah Steiger, MCAS ’17, explained that events like this are more than just a way to show off impressive lifts, spins, and steps—they also help groups establish a sort of legacy on campus.
“This is Full Swing’s third year in Showdown and that’s as long as we’ve been here,” Steiger said. “We’ve become not just another club on campus, but a dance group.”
When the seniors graduate, Full Swing will be more established than ever before. Events like Showdown represent a goal for which to strive and achieve on a higher performative level.
That goal of Showdown is also shared by troupes like Presenting Africa To You (PATU), which has been preparing for its performance since the first semester. Given the hours of practice put into its piece in a larger performance, PATU makes clear that Showdown is an event on which it wants to leave an impression. As a result, it has all performers looking forward to sharing the fruits of passion with those who sit before them.
“Just be hype and be as excited as we are,” said Vanessa Medor, president of PATU and MCAS ’17. “We only have one chance to do it and we can feed of the crowd’s energy.”
As PATU practiced, pushing each of its members to the height of their ability, it was clear that its energy and passion for the event to come was fuel enough, even into the late hours of the night and early morning. It drilled performances again and again to get it right and leave a lasting impression.
Showdown is a performance opportunity like no other. With so many groups looking to get so much out of the event, it is up to the student body to fill the seats and attest to the hard work put into the labor of love that is dance.
Each and every one of the teams participating in Showdown is clearly putting everything it has into its performance. Late nights, weird practice spaces, and lots of sweat are common across all participants in the weeks leading up to the event. Regardless of who wins and loses, Showdown is shaping up to be one of the most unifying, engaging, and fun shows to relish in on campus this year.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor