April 15, 2011 | Jessica Folkema

Dance Guild turns 40 in many styles.

Calvin’s biggest student organization is also one of the oldest. This spring, Dance Guild turns 40. 

On Thursday, April 14, and Friday, April 15, the 40th anniversary will be recognized in two sold-out shows in the newly-renovated Covenant Fine Arts Center. The theme, “Dance Guild Revolution,” alludes to the video game “Dance Dance Revolution” as well as to the evolution of Dance Guild over the last four decades.

“This will be a unique show,” said senior Chelsea Schnabelrauch, one of the five members of the Dance Guild leadership team. “We’ll have typical dance styles such as jazz and hip hop, but we are also paying homage to dances from decades and centuries past. Among other styles, we’ll have disco, 80s grunge and even a medieval piece! We were bombarded with great ideas from potential choreographers. It was awesome to see their creativity come alive when we announced the theme.”

The history

Dance professor Ellen Van’t Hof currently serves as the faculty advisor for Dance Guild and is equally excited for the 40-year celebration.

“Every year is an accomplishment, but this milestone really is special,” said Van’t Hof. “I’ve been a part of this thing since the beginning, but I’m always blown away by each show—each group of talented students.”

Van’t Hof has been involved in Dance Guild since its inception in 1971. She danced as a student, was involved as a professor and was officially appointed faculty advisor 20 years ago. When remembering the early days of the guild, Van’t Hof’s eyes light up. 

“This was a fertile time for the arts at Calvin,” she said. “When the five Fine Arts Guilds were formed in the early 70s, the campus was buzzing with artistic energy. Creativity abounded. Before this time, the word ‘dance’ automatically turned some people in this community off. But the formation of the guilds gave us a platform to be creative and innovative.”

Of the five guilds—which included a writer’s guild, visual arts guild, music guild, and drama guild—Dance Guild is the only one that still exists in its original form.

“The organization has certainly changed over the years,” said Van’t Hof, “but the core value is still the same: to showcase student talent.”

Hundreds of dancers

Over 300 students participate in Dance Guild each semester and, according to Van’t Hof, the numbers are steadily growing.

“That’s been the biggest change in the last 40 years,” she said. “The guild started with about a dozen people. Now we’re in the hundreds.”

Van’t Hof attributes the survival of Dance Guild to the community-based nature of dance.

“So many arts are solitary,” she said. “Writers sit alone at a desk; artists sit alone at a canvas; musicians sit alone and practice. Dance is hugely social. Everyone is working, sweating and bumping into each other. Dance is physical and participatory. Dance Guild has always been unique because it is literally open to anybody. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can be in Dance Guild. Nobody else does it this way.”

Student run

The philosophy draws a diverse group of students each semester.

“There’s really no rhyme or reason to predict who will join Dance Guild,” said Schnabelrauch. “We have all different grades, majors, social groups and nationalities. We’re all Calvin students, but the similarities stop there. The one thing that unifies us is that we like to dance.”

Schnabelrauch and Van’t Hof agree that the driving force behind Dance Guild is the opportunity for students to step up and take ownership in the program and the bi-yearly performances. “Students plan the event; students choreograph the dances; students are the performers and a great majority of the audience. Dance Guild is a celebration of community. That’s why it has survived for all of these years,” Van’t Hof said.

“Dance Guild gives every student, whether they’ve been dancing their whole life or are trying it for the first time, a chance to perform and to discover talents,” said Schnabelrauch. “The biggest realization I’ve had is that the show is not about the technicalities or being perfect, it’s about the dancers.”

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