A Look Into Penn State’s Oldest Dance Company, Orchesis

Hidden behind dominating walls of sports, theater, and other larger clubs lies Penn State’s own small community of dance companies. We certainly know they exist, but we don’t hear much about them until a big showcase is looming and there are flyers thumb-tacked to the bulletin boards of Forum. So, what exactly lies behind these flyers, behind these showcases, and behind the scenes of Penn State’s oldest dance company?

Orchesis, a performance-based, student-run dance company here at Penn State, is directly, and appropriately, translated to “to dance” in Greek. The group specializes primarily in the jazz, ballet, and modern dance styles, but is open to a variety of styles. As Penn State’s oldest dance company, 2016 marks its 81st year at the University Park campus.

Orchesis is one of the most driven and passionate clubs Penn State has to offer. The practice hours are long but certainly keep members active and inspired.

“We dance Tuesday evenings, Thursday evenings, and Sunday mornings,” Orchesis junior Samantha Chou said. “Tuesdays and Thursdays are typically reserved for ‘dance classes’ where our members teach combinations. Sundays hold our rehearsal times where we practice for our two showcases each year (one in the fall and one in the spring). In the week leading up to our showcases, we rehearse for four to five hours every night for a full week.”

In addition to the major commitment required at practices themselves, the girls are expected to maintain their fitness outside of the studio as well. “I dance up to nine hours a week with Orchesis in the studio, but on top of that I am always in the gym getting cardio and strength training to stay strong,” Orchesis dancer Avery Felty said.

In fact, time management is a trait that sets the dancers apart. With long hours of practice, schoolwork, and additional activities to partake in, budgeting that limited amount of time properly is an impressive feat.

“Obviously at school, our education comes first and on top of that we are all also involved in other clubs. Budgeting rehearsal time and choreographing is a huge commitment. I know, personally, that being an officer takes up a lot of my time as well. It may be a lot of work, but it’s worth it when it’s for a company and for people that you genuinely care about,” Chou said.

However, despite the strict time constraints the company may put on its dancers, the girls continue to show up day after day, which speaks to their pure passion for the art. Orchesis acts as the creative and emotional outlet for many girls who have danced their entire lives but can no longer turn to their home studios. Because a major or minor in dance may not be every dancer’s dream, the company provides a way for the girls to remain active in the art without sacrificing their academic goals as college students.

“It’s our passion and our escape all at the same time,” Felty said. “I think that’s what drives me personally, and I also believe it’s what drives others in the company as well. We get to come to an open space and do what we love while getting away from school, relationship problems, really anything that is not worth stressing about or worrying about. An open space is our safe haven or our nirvana. Work hard and feel the pain? It’s all worth it when you love something so much.”

The company choreographs all of its performances, allowing individual members to create and teach classes themselves throughout the semester. “At the beginning of each semester, anyone who wants to choreograph can submit a choreography application explaining what style of dance and what song they are thinking about choreographing to,” sophomore Orchesis dancer Daniella DeLaCruz said. “After the applications are due, the choreographers are able to give spiels to the company about their dances. The company members then pick about five pieces that they want to be in, and that night the executive board places each member into about three to four dances.”

Additionally, self-choreographing adds to the innovative, unique flair of each dance the Orchesis dance company performs. By allowing various girls to choreograph, each with their own ideas and inspiration, they create a beautiful production.

“When it comes to choreographing, the members are allowed to do whatever they want,” Orchesis dancer Gabrielle Omatick said. “We support each other’s creative abilities and have performed some pretty unique pieces in the past. Choreographers get to select the music, costumes, lighting, and even the message of their piece.”

“Normally, I’m the type of choreographer that would be walking to class or lying in bed at night and a dance move comes into my head and I end up using that in my dance piece,” Felty added.

In addition to dancing, Orchesis also participates in many alternative activities within the Penn State community. This promotes a family-like quality within the company through team building and bonding outside of the studio.

“We are paired with Chi Phi Fraternity [for THON], and we work year round with the brothers to raise money FTK. This past year, Orchesis and Chi Phi raised about $33,000,” DeLaCruz said.

“We participate in Homecoming and spirit week, as well as THON and canning,” Omatick added. “We are more than just a dance company — we’re a club too.”

If you have interest in joining a dance company, the process appears relatively simple. After checking out the booths at the involvement fair in the beginning of the semester, dancers can audition for the company that they most connect with. However, most Orchesis dancers have been involved in the art since they were young. In other words, our dance moves from THON and frat row might not make the cut.

“I’ve been dancing since I was two years old, so when I came to Penn State, I wanted to continue my passion for dance through joining a company on campus,” DeLaCruz said. “I found Orchesis by looking up dance companies on YouTube, and then I went to the involvement fair as a freshman and talked to the president to find out when the audition dates were.”

While the motives behind each member’s passion for dance may vary, each dancer enters the studio for practice with the goal of supporting those around her. Through the many demands the students face everyday, the members of Orchesis find stability in the studio. It’s their source of consistency. It’s a place where, even if everything else is moving much too rapidly, the girls are able to focus on solely the fluid, cohesive movement of the dance at hand. It’s a movement that speaks volumes more in the realm of unity than any dictionary’s combination of words.

“Dancing has been an outlet for me my whole life,” DeLaCruz said. “When words cannot describe the way I am feeling, I can come into the studio or performance and express all of my emotions through dance. The people I dance with also inspire me. You can tell that each member of Orchesis absolutely loves to dance. The warm, supportive environment that Orchesis fosters is such a wonderful experience, and the girls push me to be both the best dancer and best version of myself I can be.”

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About the Author

Olivia DeBellis

Olivia DeBellis is a writer for Onward State. She is currently a freshman pursuing a double major in Food Science and Nutrition here in Happy Valley. She enjoys people watching, long runs with food at the finish, and binge watching HGTV. Follow her @OliviaADeBellis or send her an email at [email protected].

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