Courtesy of Danceworks

Danceworks, Yale’s largest non-audition dance group, is performing their fall showcase this week with 197 performers. 

Many of Yale’s most prominent student organizations are known for their exclusivity, but Danceworks, whose semester showcase “Level Up” opens this week, is a proud exception. Their dance workshops and showcases are open to all students, including those with years of dance experience or none at all. This is their fifth in-person show since the pandemic. 

“Our show, Level Up, it sold out in just a few minutes, and most of the tickets are just everybody’s friends and family coming to support because it really doesn’t matter if they’ve performed on stage before or have never even danced,” said co-president Angela Zhao ʼ25. “I think that’s the best part about Danceworks. We’re all just here to have fun and feel confident.” 

As their third dress rehearsal began, Zhao and co-president Josh Atwater ʼ24 spoke from a megaphone in front of a crowd of dancers, rehearsing their introductory remarks for the performance. They invited audience members to try their own moves on the dance floor during intermission and reminded the audience that they too could dance in the showcase next semester.

With that, an elaborate light display illuminated the Off-Broadway Theater and a dizzying audio  narrative began. 

Each of the 28 dances in this year’s showcase, all student choreographed, are framed within a larger comedic narrative filled with knowing references to dance studio drama. This year, the story involves two reluctant dance partners who sucked into a video game. The two have to work together to escape the game. 

Student choreographers clipped their own music, but co-production Managers Resty Fufunan ʼ24, Elyse Nguyen ʼ25 and Anya Bibbs ʼ25 stitched together the audio visual production. 

“I’ve learned so much from the process of running rehearsals, keeping myself on par, with making sure I have parts choreographed, about doing formations,” said student choreographer and fDanceworks member Lindsay Pierce ʼ24.

Pierce had participated in several Danceworks programs before she choreographed her first piece. She said that she was hesitant at first to begin choreographing given her lack of formal dance training, but has since choreographed two full-length pieces. For this semester showcase, she choreographed a “high energy, semi hip-hop” dance to “Fly Girl” by FLO ft. Missy Elliott, she said. 

Danceworks will celebrate its 40th anniversary in the spring. The group was, from the beginning, a space for dancers with all levels of experience to explore the medium together. But COVID-19 brought new challenges.

The pandemic put a halt to Dancework’s in-person performances, but the group’s work continued via Zoom. Atwater told the News that inclusion became more challenging.

“There were certainly some challenges with [inclusion] through COVID,” said Atwater. “There were capacity limits on how many people could be in a rehearsal studio or in a performance venue and whatnot, so we did our best really. The board did their best to make everything the largest capacity possible, while still following COVID guidelines.” 

Zhao credits “the resilience of the Danceworks community” with keeping Danceworks’ mission alive. 

At the beginning of each semester, students sign up for student pieces they are interested in performing and are sorted by the Danceworks board. Danceworks has around 2,000 people on its mailing list, Zhao estimated, but a lot of recruitment happens at showcases. At each performance, the co-presidents invite audience members to sign up for future Danceworks showcases and workshops.

This semester, around 300 students showed interest, with around 200 of them performing in this week’s showcase, one of the largest numbers in recent years. 

Alexis Cruz ʼ27, a first-year dancer in this semester’s showcase, is one of them. Cruz, who danced a lot in high school, said she was drawn to Danceworks because of its emphasis on inclusion and “fun.” 

“When we all work together to create these dances, it really pays off, and it’s really rewarding to get to put a whole semester’s worth of work on stage,” Cruz told the News. 

Zhao and Atwater encouraged Yale students with any level of dance experience to sign up for their mailing list and watch for future programs on their Instagram. They will announce an informational session for next semester, dates and deadlines for signing up and other pertinent details at the end of the semester.

Cruz encouraged Yalies to get involved in Danceworks’ programs. 

“Everyone is still so welcoming, no matter what your level of dance experience is,” she said. “And you get to meet so many new friends [in a] welcoming and supportive community.”

While tickets to this week’s showcase sold out almost immediately, interested students can register for the waitlist on Yale Connect or watch a live stream of the show at 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday. “Level Up” was be performed in-person at the Off-Broadway Theater on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. and will play at those same times on Friday

Danceworks was founded in 1984.