Tonight, the MC Dance Ensemble is preparing for its show Hollywood Lights to be performed in the Clayton Center for the Arts in the Nutt Theater at 8 p.m. on Nov. 8. Students are trickling one by one into a classroom in the Lambert Wing of Bartlett Hall. As the group assembles, jokes and laughter fill up the small space. Soon, these students will begin one of their nightly rehearsals.
Normally, the group practices in the Alumni Gym, but tonight there’s an event in that space, so they have been bumped to Bartlett. Though the space is quite small for the routines they are running, they make no complaints and get to work—but their rehearsal is unlike the stereotypical dance studio’s. While one of the girls struggles to get the music to play, there are two members of the group in the back corner seemingly attempting to tackle each
other to the ground. Everyone else is chatting, loudly. Belongings are piled together on or around the long table that has been pushed against the side wall—along with about 30 chairs—to make room for the rehearsal. There is a sense of total togetherness in the room.
To make matters more strange and wonderful, when someone misses a step, they laugh and fix the issue. There is no dragon-lady yelling or telling people to extend farther or to watch their toes. They are their own coaches and teachers.
The first number they practice is a twist on the iconic “Singin’ in the Rain,” and has been choreographed by senior co-captain Holly Higgins. Higgins is not only a Dance Ensemble officer, choreographer and full-time student at MC, but also has two off-campus jobs. One of them is in marketing at Farmer’s Insurance and the other is teaching dance classes at a studio in Knoxville.
And she is not the only member who is busy. “Pretty much everyone in Dance Ensemble is ridiculously busy outside of Dance Ensemble. We just have a lot of overachievers,” Higgins said. Some of them are balancing dance with jobs like Higgins, and others have responsibilities like being a resident assistant or even being a dual enrollment student, a high school senior taking college classes at MC.
Like Higgins, all the members of Dance Ensemble can choreograph routines, and this takes extra time out of their busy lives. Co-captain Alex Clay, officers August Greer and Augusta Phillips, and members Cayllah McKensey, Candace Whitman, Claire Macmillan, Adelyn Bryson and Emily Fain have all contributed choreography to their show on Nov. 8.
Dance Ensemble meets four nights per week, normally from around 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., and the members who choose to choreograph are putting in even more hours than that.
“On a typical day, when I get out of class around 5, I’ll go home and sit in my living room to try to figure out what choreography I want to teach that night,” McKensey said. But the payoff, they aaagree, is getting to do something they love with a fantastic group of people. Since they are completely peer-led, the officers of Dance Ensemble—Clay, Higgins,
Phillips and Greer—are responsible for finding venues in which to perform. However, none of these venues will likely be an MC sporting event.
Although there are a few members who participate in both the Dance Ensemble and the Dance Team, the two programs are completely separate.
“When you ask someone about dance ensemble either a) they don’t know about us or b) they associate us with the dance team,” Phillips said. She describes the Dance Ensemble style as being more of a “performing art” and as being a different kind of entertainment than that of the MC Dance Team, so the only pom-poms this group is using are in their tribute to the cheerleading hit “Bring It On.”
The members of the Dance Ensemble are also committed to community service projects. A few other projects that the group is working on are a winter concert to benefit Toys for Tots where admission will be one toy, a 5k run at Dollywood and Knoxville’s Fantasy of Trees. They also performed at parent weekend on Nov. 1.
“It’s kind of funny and sad how we can be doing so many things and still no one really knows about us,” Phillips said.
Yet another responsibility of the Dance Ensemble officers is making sure that the
group has the funds to support itself.
“We don’t have the popularity and crowd that we desire, and so we don’t get a lot of funding for what we do, and I think that what we do is pretty amazing,” Phillips said. “It might not seem like much because we’re dancing in a gym for two months, but if you come to our shows, you’ll see we have lights, costumes and the stage. It looks amazing, and a lot of it comes out of our pockets.”
So why do these guys and girls care so deeply about this program, enough to put their own money into it? The answer lies in the unique bond that these MC students share with each other through dance.
“Honestly, I liked dance a lot, but I didn’t fall in love with dance until I joined Dance Ensemble,” McKensey said.
“Nobody has to be here. It’s different from the baseball team or the football team or even the dance team because they have a coach holding them responsible,” Clay said. “I love dance ensemble because I think everyone is here because they really want to dance. They come to practice because they’re interested and want to be here.”