Each spring the UVM Dance Program presents Dancing Uphill, a four-day performance event featuring original choreography created by UVM faculty, students and professional guest artists. One of the guests for this year’s event January 22-25 is Lauren Blue ’12, who returned to campus two days before the start of spring semester classes to develop an original work in collaboration with 12 UVM students.
Blue works as a teacher, choreographer, company owner and performer in New York City—she’s currently involved with The Children and Teens Program at New York City’s Broadway Dance Center. UVM students understand they are in the company of someone who shares a deep connection with UVM and who is also deeply immersed in the world of professional dance.
“I hadn’t met the students before arriving here yesterday (Saturday, January 11),” Blue said. “So we just plunged right in. In any new project, I like to spend a lot of time just sitting in a circle, connecting with each person and building a group identity. We sat in a circle and just talked. The work will come and we’ll work hard, but first there needs to be that connection, that sense of joint enterprise.”
By late Sunday afternoon, students in the new Cohen Hall Dance Studio were finishing up a long day of rehearsal on different segments of Blue’s piece called “DUSK.”
Senior Mickenzie Zadworny ‘20, who will graduate in May as part of the first class of dance majors at UVM, thinks the close relationship between the dancers is another factor in creating art in a compressed amount of time.
“I feel like as a dancer at UVM we know each other really well. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and that all contributes to a successful collaboration,” she said.
Blue grew up in New Jersey and began taking baby tap lessons at the age of three. By middle school she was performing jazz, hip hop, and ballet, and competed on a local studio dance team. In high school she joined a dance company where she found opportunities to create and choreograph new pieces.
When she arrived at UVM, dancing wasn’t a major. Blue loved reading and writing poetry, and she figured a major in English would help prepare her for a job in the arts. But throughout her undergraduate career at UVM, dance remained her passion and she took as many classes as she could.
“As a first-year student I got a job teaching dance in a studio in St. Albans.” She said. “So I just ran with that. Later I worked at another studio in Waterbury.”
After graduation Blue jumped into the New York City dance scene—her original ambition was to work as a commercial dancer but finally decided teaching and choreography were her true paths.
“The work I was developing was very raw but very much a part of me—I realized I had a voice I wanted to share and a style I wanted to hone and honor.”
She established a company of ten dancers that present show around the city.
“We also brought the group up to UVM a couple years ago for the dance program’s 10-year reunion,” Blue said. “We presented work for Dancing Uphill—it was an exciting experience for all of us.”
Blue has remained in touch with several UVM mentors including professor and chair of the dance department Paul Besaw. She took some time out from her busy schedule in New York—she typically teaches six days a week—to return to Burlington to work with current students on another Dancing Uphill show.
Blue moves gracefully in and out of the group of dancers, pausing frequently to demonstrate a technique or work through a blocking problem. “What do you think?” she often asks, listening to student input.
At the end of the session the group runs through the entire five-minute piece for the first time. Applause breaks out spontaneously as the dancers, concentrating hard on the complex sequence of steps and movements, complete the piece with no mishaps.
When the cheering and relieved sighs dissipate, Blue does a quick review of the day’s progress.
“We’re really not dancing yet,” she reminds the students. “We have to live with this for a bit. Tomorrow we’ll really work on bringing emotion to the movements.”
As the students stretch and relax, Blue talks about her own career as a student and as a teacher. She says it’s easy to get stale as a performer and choreographer, and she still takes dance classes herself.
“I still see myself as a student –there’s always something more that we can learn and give. Working with young dancers is another way to refresh your viewpoint. It’s an awesome experience to create something that just starts as an idea—in a few days we have created a work of art.”
Dancing Uphill 2020 is Wednesday-Saturday, January 22 - 25, 7:30 p.m. at the Mann Gymnasium (Trinity Campus). Tickets: $10 for students; $15 general admission. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Royall Tyler Theatre box office, or online.