“So many striking meaningful images filled the stage, images that will stay with me for a while,” one adjudicator said after witnessing the Fresno State Dance Ensemble perform during the American College Dance Association (ACDA) West Conference at San Jose State University.
The nine students had just performed the piece “From… last nights attempted restless sleep” by choreographer and Fresno State Professor Kenneth Balint and those students would later find the performance earned them a spot in the gala — one of ten chosen by the conference adjudicators.
“What I heard most from the students was that the honor of gala status represented a regional and national recognition to them as aspiring dance artists, educators, and collaborators to the world around them,” said Balint.
The status meant a lot for the Theatre Arts Department as well, which has recently added a B.A. Dance degree. For the Dance Program, it proved they exemplify sound practices and provide a solid curriculum for the increasing number of dance students in the Valley.
“This is the fourth year in a row that the Contemporary Dance ensemble has been awarded Gala status by the adjudicators at ACDA, a rather remarkable accomplishment,” said Balint, who stated he wasn’t aware of any other school who had achieve the honor four years in a row.
Attending the conference were students Jazmin Alvarado, Nathalie Contreras, Elizabeth Del Rio, Dulce Flores, Caitlin Gainey, Jessica Lopez Morales, Samantha Roberts, Sahar Shahnematollahi and Zach Segovia. Their journey began over six months ago at the start of the Fall 2018 semester. Students described a rigorous practice schedule, which often included weekends and maintaining peak mental and physical energy in the weeks and days leading up to the ACDA performances.
“We had three days of mentally preparing for San Jose and for me, it was to make sure I didn’t let my body fully rest just yet. I knew if I let my body rest for just one day, my energy for San Jose would not be the same energy I had throughout the performance,” said Jessica Morales, student.
That performance earned them a spot in the Gala — which meant the students needed to continue to be in peak shape.
“It was pure excitement… I know I felt pure joy when I saw that we made it to Gala. But it was also nerve-wracking,” said Marales. “It turned into a situation where I didn’t know if I was going to be able to bring that same energy from adjudication into the Gala.”
“Earning a spot in gala makes you remember the long rehearsals and moments of frustration, where everything felt exhausting but incredibly worth it in the end,” said Elizabeth Del Rio, student.
“The actual gala performance felt like the best we had performed that piece. The audience roared!” said Caitlin Gainey, student.
The ACDA has 13 regions throughout the country and their regional conferences are the primary means for university programs to perform outside of their own academic setting. The conferences also allow the students to be exposed to the diversity of the national college dance world. Most of the conferences culminate with a gala concert which includes eight to 12 pieces selected for their exemplary artistic quality.
“I feel that anyone who takes part in dance, should have the opportunity to attend ACDA and experience everything it has to offer,” said Del Rio. “Along with the performance, students are surrounded by a community of dancers every day and have a strong sense of support among one another, and of course, the end goal to immerse themselves in the art of movement.”
In the time since the conference, the students have reflected on what the experience means to their education and their future.
“It teaches discipline, courage, getting outside of your comfort zone, and it provides you with a community filled with other students that love what you love. It is extremely beneficial to be reminded that there are parts of education that value the arts,” said Gainey. “There is a career out there for you in the arts, especially if you are passionate and committed.”
The group performed two dances at the conference. The other work, “Salvation” by student choreographer Caitlin Gainey was also positively received by the adjudicators.