When Mollie Morgan '17 traveled to Springfield College in Massachusetts Valentine’s weekend to perform at the American College Dance Association Conference (ACDA), her mind was already on the road again, headed back to the hills of Vermont. “I was planning on leaving on Sunday around noon,” she recalls. Those plans changed, however, when Morgan learned that her dance solo, “Fine Line,” had won second alternate for the 2016 National College Dance Festival.
That’s good news for any dancer, but a big surprise for one who comes from UVM, a school without a dance major — in fact, the only school at the ACDA’s Gala Concert without a dance major.
“This honor means something both inside and beyond the academic dance world,” says Paul Besaw, UVM’s associate professor of dance, who explains that this is the university’s fourth solo work that has made an ACDA Gala Concert. “Other dance faculty from New England have noted our ability to cultivate original, strong solo dance works,” he adds. “It was great to see Mollie continuing that tradition.”
Morgan’s winning movements began with words, actually: her own journals that she combed as a source of inspiration. The wisdom of the late philosopher Alan Watts — who popularized Eastern thought among Western followers — in particular struck a chord in Morgan’s own written meanderings.
“I found this overarching theme about finding contentment and happiness in your present situation — not looking too far ahead or too far in the past,” says Morgan, paraphrasing “The Dream of Life” by Watts. “If you’re given this opportunity to dream up a perfect life, you’ll find that the life you live is the one you would choose.”
And the one chosen by Morgan, who began Irish step-dancing when she was 12 in northern New Jersey, waltzed her all the way to Vermont, after ballet, jazz and hip hop throughout her high school years. College, she saw, would be different. “I’ve always loved Vermont, but I wasn’t planning on dancing,” says Morgan, an exercise and movement science major who discovered the dance program during her sophomore year.
Though there’s no major offered in dance, Morgan was hooked, and declared her dance minor immediately. What UVM lacks in a major, however, it makes up in creativity. “Students are trained to perform in so many environments,” Besaw says. “We do a great deal of site performance, so students are constantly making and adapting dance for art galleries, lecture halls, sidewalks, building entryways, woods and various stage set-ups.”
That training, along with Morgan’s own creative chops, provided some of the momentum behind the award-winning “Fine Line” solo. The ACDA nod means that the piece has a chance to be performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in June. “It is such a big honor to be listed in the absolute top tier of dances,” says Besaw, who also points out that Morgan was just one of five undergraduates chosen for the February ACDA gala, and one of only two students in the Nationals listing. “Huge.”
Closer to home, the UVM community has a chance to see Morgan perform in person when she presents “Fine Line” during the “Dancing Uphill” annual concert, which sees Mann Gym converted into an intimate theater environment. Next month, Morgan will enter an even smaller stage: the UVM President’s residence at Englesby House to be part of a recital of the Department of Music and Dance.
“Mollie represents this great quality that she is learning here, to adapt to different environments and let each space accentuate the strengths and possibilities of the dance choreography,” Besaw says. “Each time I see her solo, I’m so impressed with that skill level.”
That should come as inspiring news to anyone who’s ever soft-shoed across campus with a spring in the step, wondering what might be.
“Good dance is happening here,” Besaw says. “The faculty are positive, collaborative, adventurous and willing to experiment. Our students see that and offer a great deal of energy and ideas to that atmosphere.”
As for Morgan, she won’t forget that Valentine’s eve when something even stronger than Cupid’s arrow struck: a realization that the life she had been dreaming of living through dance was the one she had just shared with the world through “Fine Line.”
“Holy cow!” she recalls of her immediate reaction to the ACDA selection as best of the conference, and as an alternate for the Kennedy Center’s ACDA National Festival in June. “‘This is wild — I’m here with all of these people who are just studying dance, and I’m at UVM, where the dance minor has just developed.’ It made me so thankful for this department, which is so incredibly strong.”