Samantha Mullen, Monkeyhouse member and Endicott graduate, has been absolutely invaluable throughout the last few months at Monkeyhouse, from facilitating dance workshops with Fleur d'Orange at Endicott, to her work on the upcoming Project 7.19. Following the recent Fleur d'Orange residency, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sam about her experience with the Endicott Dance program. I also got to pick her brains about the importance of diversity and community as a dancer.
AC: How important is dance and performance to a well rounded interdisciplinary education at Endicott?
SM: As an undergraduate business student at Endicott College, I believe dance and performance were and integral part of becoming a better student. For my major, concentration, and one of my minors (all of which did not have any direct connection to dance), I sat in classes that taught students the information needed to obtain concepts and how to accurately research topics to gather useful information. Although there were structured presentations, none of these classes prepared me to be able to present myself with whole-hearted confidence or to be able to learn using different techniques with my body. Dance significantly improved my ability to connect concepts to movement to reality in a sense of immersing my being into an idea. With both dance classes and being on the dance team, I became comfortable with my own style of movement, which also gave me the ability to become comfortable with my own style of learning or processing information. In a recent job interview, it was pointed out by the interviewer that dancers have this incredible ability to look at a situation, in this case a business situation, in ways that many others cannot. It teaches you to think outside of the box, look for different angles that may not be the most apparent, and find ways of moving through the problem solving process that would not be either visible to others nor easy enough to dive into. This is extremely accurate. Dance and performance has created the ability to be quirky and unique while maintaining confidence in presenting my abilities, even if they are not the most common or well understood.
AC: How does Endicott help foster the on-campus artistic community? Does it support local artists in the larger community?
SM: During my time at Endicott, the arts were highly promoted. There were constant opportunities to watch performing arts shows, both drama productions and dance performances, as well as student art on display in the VPAC. I distinctly remember students in the art program creating installations in public areas on campus, which sparked interest in what they were actually doing as I did not know the concepts behind it. There are other campus events that incorporate dance and arts that I am not sure of the name of anymore but one in particular involved dance on the beach and sand art. The school is also really good about connecting alumni and the community to on-campus artistic events with mailings. I have received calendars of all of the art events and post cards about specific ones, which is really nice to be reminded of the shows going on. Endicott also does a very good job about supporting artists by bringing different forms of art to campus. There is a gallery located on the first floor of the VPAC that is always filled with different exhibits from various artists. It is also refreshing because it is not always the same types of art in the gallery, so you are able to experience various things. And the dance program is very good at bringing choreographers from all over the world to the campus for students to learn different styles or watch unique shows. I distinctly remember an African group who sang a song from the Lion King and taught us how to dance as their tribe does. Those who participated in the workshop actually got to perform with them later on during their open show for the campus. Choreographers are also brought in to set work on dance students, and many of them have had local connections. I have been lucky enough to work with many of them and still have connections to a few, which I would not have had if Endicott and Nikki did not work so hard to coordinate their visits to the school. I am not sure about the other forms of art at the school, but alumni dancers are always invited to perform choreographed work in the Student Choreographer Showcase held each December, which is also a great way of seeing where performing artists have gone after school and if they were able to carry on a performing arts career.
AC: Do you feel it's important to showcase racially and culturally diverse artists?
SM: I think it is extremely important to showcase all types of artists to expose how each is different yet similar all at the same time. Art is beautiful whether it is from a white, Hispanic, black, Muslim, christian, puritan, American, African, Asian, any sort of background a person could possibly have. Showcasing diverse artists fosters the notion that all people can have intricate thoughts, innovative ideas, and create beautifully, sometimes misunderstood artwork that has a message of some sort. There is a big issue of generalization or categorization that has been occurring for countless years. It causes problems in group dynamics and the acceptance of different types of people. This is also true for the acceptance of their art forms or artwork. It would be like saying it is okay to perform contemporary dance pieces because that is what is accepted on national television every Thursday night, but any other form is not real dance. That is false. A dancer could sit in one place on stage taking a moment to make eye contact with each individual in the audience or bark like a dog, and it would still be real dance. Showcasing racially and culturally diverse artists at such a crucial time when there are influences all around students will, hopefully, prevent these generalizations from occurring in the future.
AC: What role does diversity play in building a strong dance program?
SM: Diversity is important in a strong dance program because many students come from a studio setting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any sort of dance studio setting for learning how to dance, but it is not enough to carry on dancing after school. Skills and technique are important in being a good dancer, but it is the concept of diversity that makes a dancer well rounded. Being able to understand the different textures of dance, how to dance as an individual, and how to be part of a group are significant as well. At Endicott, I was able to learn from dancers from different areas of the country and the world as well as from different cultural backgrounds and dance styles. It has improved my concepts of movement and helped me find my niche. It also helped me be more open minded to accepting/pushing myself into various types of dance forms instead of sticking to what is main stream or believed to be "popular" at any given time.