Evelyn Dugan ‘21 has been dancing for nearly 15 years. Here, she gives us a glimpse into Lawrenceville’s vibrant dance community, describes her inspiration, and explores dance as both a sport and an art form. See Dugan – and the entire Lawrenceville School Dance Collective – perform on November 9, 7:30 p.m., in the Clark Music Center.
Ashley Duraiswamy: How did you start dancing?
Evelyn Dugan: I started dancing when I was two years old. I remember watching my sister [Victoria Dugan ‘20] in ballet class and tap classes, and I couldn’t wait to finally join. That’s one of my earliest memories, I think: watching her dancing. I lived New York at the time, so I would walk down the street with my mom to pick her up, and that was the biggest thing to me—being able to dance. I moved to Connecticut afterwards and then to Princeton, so dance has just been the constant thing in between all of my moves. It’s always been there.
AD: What types of dance do you do?
ED: At first, I only really focused on ballet and modern styles. Now I like to say that I do anything (but not really tap or anything—that’s very hard!). I focus on ballet, contemporary, modern, jazz, and different styles of jazz, whether that’s “sassy jazz” or really hard-hitting jazz or punk-rock jazz. The Lawrenceville dance program has really helped me explore all of the different styles that I would not have been doing otherwise.
AD: What are all of the ways in which you are involved in dance at Lawrenceville?
ED: For the last two years, I was part of dance my freshman year in the fall term and the spring term, and last year all three terms. I’m planning to do all three terms for the rest of my time at Lawrenceville.
The advanced dance program is really accelerated and really full of variety. We take ballet classes on flat and on pointe shoes, and we also do jazz, choreography classes, contemporary, and sometimes mixed styles depending on the day.
With SDC [Spring Dance Concert], I choreographed a piece in 2019, and I’ve been a part of many dances—student-led dances and dances led by (Director of Dance) Mr. [Derrick] Wilder—that are in SDC and [include] an array of different styles. I think it’s really fun because you get to work with kids who don’t necessarily dance but are really interested and curious, and [it allows me] to give a little insight into what I dedicate most of my time to.
I’m also part of Nachale, which is the Bollywood Indian dance group. I was a part of that last year, and I’m part of it this year again. It’s just so much fun to learn a new style, and basically most of us are learning something completely different from what we ever thought that we would learn as part of dance. It’s just really high-energy and really fun.
I’m also part of Lawrenceville Dance Team, and that’s the competition team. I wasn’t a part of it freshman year, but [I participated in it during] sophomore year and now again this year. When we competed last year, it was really exciting because we won our competition. It’s really nice to continue doing student-led work and pieces with a lot of really amazing dancers on this campus. Getting to all work together is a lot of fun.
Now, I’m a part of LSDC, the Lawrenceville School Dance Collective. We’re dancing a lot more and learning a lot more pieces than I’ve ever learned at one time before (maybe other than SDC last year, where I was in six dances). Right now we’re preparing for our Saturday showcase on November 9 but also performances at Bristol-Myers Squibb, more Tuesday dance series, and more Evenings of Repertoire. Right now, we’re working on ten different pieces at the same time, so that’s a lot, but it’s a lot fun. And this year, I’m going to be SDC rep., so I’m kind of like the student coordinator of SDC.
AD: What is it like to work with other dancers?
ED: It’s really collaborative, I think, because we all learn from each other and strive to make each other better. Each dancer brings a different thing or has their signature moves or favorite styles, so to create with other dancers is just really special. For instance, yesterday, in our rehearsal for LSDC, we were preparing for a work that we’re going to be showing in January, and just to get some brainstorming in, Mr. Wilder turned on the music with our other teacher, Ms. Kristin Devine ‘10. He said, “Everyone get up and dance. Feel the music and just dance.” He started videoing different parts so that we could piece them all together because he wanted to get everyone’s perspectives into the piece—into every piece—and make it a collaborative effort, which it really is. Even though sometimes you just take directions from the choreographer or the technique is set up a certain way, it’s still up to your interpretation, and that’s why I really like it.
AD: Do you think of dance as both a sport and a form of art?
ED: Yes, for sure—dance is a sport. Right now, with LSDC, Mr. Wilder considers us varsity athletes. For instance, winter sports are starting up, and everybody in LSDC is doing dance for every term, so we’re having practices this week and next week at the same times as varsity sports practice. Even though we don’t travel or compete, we still work very hard every day. When LSDC is part of the schedule that day (because we have it three times a week), it’s after dance classes, so we might have dance from 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. So it’s the same if not more than what a varsity sport would be doing.
Dancers are athletes, but what makes it so special is that it still is art and we try to make it seem like it’s so easy or simple. That’s the whole beauty of dance, I think, because you think, “Wow! How did they just do that?” when you watch it. That just makes it really exciting for me and makes me want to work harder to achieve that because it’s very hard to achieve. That’s my goal as a dancer: to make it seem effortless and easy.
AD: What do you love most about dance?
ED: I guess I really just like experimenting with a baseline technique—in ballet especially because I love ballet so much, and it’s so precise since there’s such an expansive technique within it. But I also like applying it to different things. This past summer, I went to a summer program (or a summer intensive—that’s what we call summer programs in the dance world) with Martha Graham, which is a modern dance company in New York. They focus on ballet, but they mostly focus on the Graham technique, which is a modern style. You can see how every single movement in that technique has a meaning, whether it’s having your neck open and vulnerable to the audience (you’re like a wolf—in a fight for who’s going to be alpha male, the wolf will show it’s neck to say that it surrenders) or if you have your arms out in a certain way, it’s like you’re an owl and you’re flying. Every single dance move has a specific intention. That’s not just for ballet—it’s for all different styles. The intention or story behind a dance, I think, is just really interesting to hear about, to learn about, and to be a part of.
AD: Could you describe what it actually feels like when you dance?
ED: There’s a really big difference for me when I’m rehearsing versus dancing. Dancing is really once you know the steps so well that you don’t even need to think about them. It’s really the feeling behind steps and the story behind all of your movement. It makes you feel free. It’s really kind of like acting—you’re a completely different person. Even if you’re embodying yourself and being very real with yourself, it still feels really different than how you would act on a normal basis. I think it feels very liberating, very free, and just amazing when you take the rehearsal aspect out of it—long hours of repeating and repeating and repeating and perfecting and perfecting one specific movement or the dance as a whole—and really start enjoying it. Really letting go and dancing and testing the limits of the choreography given to you.
AD: Is there anything specific that inspires you to dance?
ED: It’s something I can always go back to and just feel happy when I dance. Regardless of whether I had a test or if something bad happened, I can always go to it.
My grandma also really inspires me to dance. She was a portrait artist. She would always say things like “Just go for it.” She used to say that anyone could draw, and when she went on airplanes, she would always make friends with the people next to her and teach them how to draw and get them into it. At first, they would always say, “No, I can’t do it, I can’t do it,” but in the end, they could after a few little tricks she gave them about things like drawing faces: “Put this here. Oh, that’s like a ping pong ball, [this is like] an almond,” and other things like that. At the beginning of the summer, she passed away. I was really lucky to spend the last few weeks of her life with her. It was really inspiring because even right before she passed away, she was still drawing and still teaching everybody around her the art of drawing and how much she loves it. So I kind of want to do the same thing with dance and continue teaching people everywhere I go about dance and how anybody can dance.
That’s what I also really like SDC. Especially when I was choreographing, sometimes the people in my dance would say, “Oh, I don’t know if I can do that,” or I would do it and they would say, “Uh huh ....” I would say, “Just break it down. You can do it—you’ve got it.” That’s one of my really big inspirations.
Also, my parents are really supportive of me dancing and love dance too (and my sister too), so it’s just really great to have people who support it and then being able to go around and share it with other people.
For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of Public Relations, at email@example.com.