Last week Red Clay Dance from Chicago arrived at Knox in the form of Vershawn Sanders-Ward and Sara Ziglar to bring something new to the college’s dancers.
“It was totally worth it, but they lead a hard workout the entire time. It was more definitely like an intensive workshop than just a class. We were working on so much that we don’t usually do here, and just the change of not doing regular technique into this was hard but worth the challenge,” freshman Kilee Vega said — who attended every single class Red Clay offered.
She was talking about Afro-contemporary which is the specialization of the Red Clay company.
“I’m very studio trained… so I didn’t know what I was getting into doing this … Just how much it varies. Just how you can take a simple structure and add what they’ve added to it and give it that aerobic workout, but at the same time you’re also dancing and your heart’s pumping, and that’s just something I hadn’t experienced at Knox. It’s not something I’d experienced in life or the dance world,” Vega said of the often low-to-the-ground movement that worked her back muscles more than usual.
Sanders-Ward founded Red Clay Dance in 2008 in New York City after completing her master’s at New York University and partaking in a two and a half month internship in Senegal.
“That’s where I thought about my own choreography instead of auditioning for others,” Ward said. “The fusion of the forms I used was very intriguing to me.”
These forms include West African dance, which distinguishes her Afro-contemporary movement from other companies.
“There is this very interesting weave between the African contemporary movement and the more classical structure,” she said.
A year after its founding, Sanders-Ward moved Red Clay to Chicago nearer to the southern suburbs where she grew up.
She was invited by Professors of Dance Jennifer Smith and Kathleen Ridlon to instruct a week-long dance residency at Knox. Sanders-Ward arrived last week with Red Clay company member and teaching artist Sarah Ziglar. The two team-taught all of their classes throughout the week with Sanders-Ward as the lead. Some classes were very structured in technique. Others focused on strength building. A few were improvisational. Zigler felt her theater background helped facilitate these particular sessions.
They did not know what to expect, since dance is only a minor at Knox.
“I was really surprised at the willingness to try new challenges … [students were] really pushing outside that comfort zone,” Sanders-Ward said. “They approached it as a new style rather than adapting it to what they already know.”
Zigler echoed this enthusiasm, explaining how the Knox dance program exceeded her expectations.
“It’s been pretty amazing, considering where you guys are located,” she said of the college. “The devotion to the arts and the willingness to come to our classes is pretty impressive.”
Zigler and Sanders-Ward both spoke of warm greetings and a welcoming atmosphere when they arrived at the college. They felt they were able to get to know students well as dancers. One afternoon they even accompanied sophomore Angela McNeal for some community outreach at Galesburg High School North where Mcneal regularly teaches a step class.
“They [the GHS North students] were so welcoming to us … by the end of the hour we spent with them they were making up their own phrases and teaching each other moves. It was incredible,” Ziglar said.
Having enjoyed their week experiencing and influencing Knox and Galesburg dance culture, both Sanders-Ward and Ziglar hope to return, perhaps with more of their company and a performance along with more classes.
“I’m excited about the seeds that have been planted here at Knox,” Zigler said.