Jennifer Waters dancing in the first piece she choreographed for Indy. Dancing waters—Jennifer Waters inspired by her surroundings in Big Sky. A glimpse of IndepenDANCE 2017. This piece is called “Eclipse.”

Annual celebration of creative movement

IndepenDANCE spotlights dancers with ties to Big Sky

IndepenDANCE, a community-based, collaborative dance project with participants in Big Sky, is celebrating its tenth running performance on Sept. 8 at the Ellen Theatre in Bozeman with shows at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

     Part of the project’s mission statement is defined by the desire “to inspire, unite and nurture dancers and choreographers while celebrating diversity and creativity through movement.”  

     All of the show’s participants identify with this statement in varying degrees and the audience can appreciate it as well when the curtain opens to reveal all IndepenDANCE has to offer. 

     Stevie Peterson, the executive director of IndepenDANCE, started dancing on a high school dance squad in Pocatello, Idaho and moved to Bozeman in order to be part of Montana State University’s dance team. After she finished with the dance team, she noticed a “huge void in my life” and was grateful to be able to dance in IndepenDANCE’s inaugural production. 

     Peterson joined the committee during its second year and quickly became more involved as many were planning on letting the show fizzle out, since the audience attendance was low for the first few shows. Taking on the role of executive director was sparked by her desire to not let something with so much potential vanish after just three years.  

     Now with the tenth show approaching, the committee has gained its official non-profit status after working toward that last year. Additionally, the show has moved from the smaller Emerson Theatre to the Ellen and even added a matinee a few years ago once the evening production started selling out regularly.  

     IndepenDANCE grows each year with more dancers, choreographers and audience members. This year, 90 dancers are performing with 24 choreographers and both the matinee and evening shows are expected to be well-attended. Peterson’s favorite part about this show is “the experience, and getting to do it, and seeing people light up on stage.”

     Brette Svenvold, a civil engineer and a dancer in this year’s production, has participated in IndepenDANCE for three or four years, and is inspired by the variety the show offers each year. She works for Williams Civil Construction in Big Sky and commutes from Bozeman to do so. This year, she is dancing in a jazz/lyrical and Bharatanatyam piece by Helen Murphy, and trying out a tap number, which is alien themed.  

     “It’s awesome, I love it so much,” she says, reflecting on Kelly Beiswanger’s tapping choreography.  

     Adults with day jobs, families and diverse commitments can participate in IndepenDANCE and feel tied to the camaraderie of something empowering. Whether a person has been dancing all their life or this is their first time on the stage, everyone gets to feel like a star when the stage lights come up.

     Peterson loves the energy of it all. After curtain call at the end of the show, all one needs to hear is the enthusiastic screams from the dancers on stage who are overcome with individual and collective feelings of success.

     Jennifer Waters, a Big Sky resident, has been choreographing for IndepenDANCE for three years now. Originally from Boise, Idaho, she grew up dancing and teaching at a studio her mother owned. She also was a part of the Off Center Dance Project, a modern dance company, for four years. During her time with the company, her husband asked her to spend at least one winter in a ski town. The couple chose Big Sky and ended up staying.  

     Waters quit Off Center Dance Project to move to Big Sky and was concerned about what her dance options would look like in this little mountain town. She drove to Bozeman once a week to take ballet at the Montana Ballet Company and even went back to Boise in the summer to take additional classes.  

     Eventually, she started paving her own way by teaching ballet fitness and Zumba at the Big Sky Resort, teaching hip hop and ballet for children at Ophir, and starting a ballet curriculum at Santosha. When Waters and her husband moved to Big Sky in August 2015, the house they bought had a bonus downstairs area and Jennifer quickly deemed it as her home studio, primarily for the purpose of choreographing.  

     It is out of this small, chilly, dance-studio-accoutrement-filled basement space Waters holds her IndepenDANCE rehearsals. She is choosing to do a Macklemore mash up this year as she feels his musical style reflects the vastness of her dancing.  

     “He has a wide variety and I like to create a wide variety. I throw it all into one piece instead of just choosing,” says Waters, explaining how Macklemore’s songs entitled “As Soon As I Wake Up,” “Levitate” and “Miracle” are what Waters has choreographed to so far, each with its own specific, dance style and particular feeling displayed.  

     The concept behind her piece is simply focused on creativity and music, which is what drives dancers to this art form. Waters starts the piece with herself on stage, going through a sequence of movements. 

     Next you see her other dancers—Brette Svenvold, Jordan Burt and Samantha Hinckley—practicing a particular movement Waters was doing prior. 

    The four dancers move together into a formation and lace the movements Waters was trying out at the beginning through the rest of the piece. The styles range from jazz/funk to modern and contemporary. Svenvold “really liked what Jennifer did and decided I wanted to be in her piece.”

     Waters’ piece aspires to put an image to the elements a choreographer deals with while trying to put a story to a song: finding passion in the music, taking visualized movement and putting it into the body—and trying to explain this to other dancers. Waters is dancing onstage as well as choreographing, which is perfect for her. Waters says she “loves the part that I get to dance—my own movement—because that is what I create.”

     The opening of the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center and the collaboration with the James Sewell Ballet allowed the dance scene in Big Sky to blossom. Waters can now rent out WMPAC for the ballet programs she teaches throughout the school year. She was able to work with the James Sewell Ballet to create the Twin Sky Dance Intensive, which occurs at the beginning of July. Waters also was named the program coordinator for the intensive and has worked in that role for five years. After the first year of the intensive, Waters became the director of the youth program as well.  

     One of the dancers in her IndepenDANCE piece—Samantha Hinckley—drives up to Big Sky from Bozeman each summer to work as a coordinator for the Intensive. Her role is to be a tie between the students and the coordinators as well as a link between the company members and the students.  

     “The coolest thing about Twin Sky is that they (the students) all get a one-on-one mentorship with a company member,” said Hinckley. “The growth these girls have is amazing in this two- week period.” 

     Each dancer participating in the intensive gets direct feedback from a professional dancer, which is instrumental in a young dancer’s career. Sewell even created new material for the company members and for the students to perform during sessions this July.

     “To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful,” says American dancer and choreographer Agnes De Mille. This quote sums up what IndepenDANCE gives to its dancers, what creativity gives to Waters, and what exposure to dance gives to the students at Twin Sky Dance Intensive, nestled right here in the mountains.  

     Tickets to IndepenDANCE X are now on sale at theellentheatre.com. 

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