Dance troupe adapts to changing restrictions

IODE dancers, from left, Mariah Neil, Ashley Redfern, Sidney Collino and Victoria Atkins used lights while moving through the woods one dark evening at Collino’s Grandmother’s backyard (Photo by Helen Robinette).

Even when unable to meet on campus, the Inside Out Dance Ensemble has still made it possible to safely meet together over the last year.

Founded by dance instructor and MCCC adjunct professor of theater and humanities Kellie Lajiness in 2010, the IODE is a dance group at MCCC that performs contemporary dance shows throughout the year in the campus’s Meyer Theatre.

The group has danced to a variety of media in the past, from live and recorded music to pre-read poems, with dance improvisation encouraged from each member.

Upon the announcement of MCCC shutting down in March 2020, the group could no longer meet in person. The announcement was made weeks away from the IODE’s 10-year anniversary scrapbook-themed “Rebel” performance, which was eventually canceled.

MCCC student and IODE dancer Sidney Collino said the break from meeting in-person was the longest time she’d ever gone without dancing.

Collino was able to have the group meet outside of her grandparent’s house to practice in September, the first time they had danced together in-person since the shutdown.

IODE dancer Victoria Atkins said that first meeting after not seeing each other for months was very emotional.

The IODE continued to meet outside members’ houses and at the Hidden Lake Gardens where Lajiness said they had their first outdoor audience.

As they finished a dance at the Gardens, the dancers began hearing clapping from passersby.

“People were really hungry in broad daylight to start attaching themselves to art,” Lajiness said about the feedback. “That felt so good.”

Lajiness said during these outside meetings, the dancers were able to use sight specific dancing techniques with their outside surroundings.

The IODE continued to meet in different outdoor areas until loosening of restrictions allowed them to meet inside the Meyer Theatre late this fall with social distancing guidelines put in place.

Dancing individually in their own space, they said, was different because they are used to being driven by each other.

“It was definitely weird because we went from all that contact improv to having to stay away from each other,” said IODE dancer Mariah Neal.

Lajiness said these guidelines didn’t hinder the dancers’ dynamic with each other.

“This group has quite a bond whether they’re able to stand close together or not and it’s really quite apparent,” Lajiness said.

When the group resumed dancing on campus, Collino, who is also a writing fellow, proposed the idea of partnering with the Writing Center’s Poetry Contest and to interpret dances based on the winning contest entries.

Collino said this idea was to help get students involved with the Writing Center and creative writing while also creating an audience for the IODE.

The IODE had a dream-themed performance in 2019 where each dancer wrote a poem about their ideal dream and danced to an audio recording of the poem.

“We’ve danced to poetry before, why not combine the two?” Collino said.

Collino said this is a collaboration of two of her favorite things.

“I love working in the Writing Center and I love dancing,” Collino said. “I’ve always been in school and dance, but it’s never overlapped until now.”

The Poetry Contest was first announced in the Fall 2020 Semester and winners were planned to be announced with the dances being completed by the end of that semester.

Following MCCC’s second shutdown at the end of the semester, the poem entry deadline was extended. During this time, the IODE also couldn’t meet again in person until January.

Assistant professor of English Lori Jo Couch and assistant professor of communication Mark Bergmooser officially chose the six winners of the contest.

Winners are typically voted on by the writing fellows and announced at the bi-annual Poetry Night. This year, both the Fall and Winter Poetry Nights were canceled.

“I am very excited to see the finished product, and I am grateful to the Inside Out Dance Ensemble and Kellie Lajiness for their efforts!” Couch said.

The dances will be performed with audio tracks of the poems being read.

Writing fellows Noah Black, Brittanie Bruck and Emilee Breitner each read a poem along with IODE dancers Collino, Atkins and Betsy Brockman.

Collino’s personal favorite dance is to the poem “The Story of Us” by Sara Ackerman. In this dance, all the members do improvisation with books on chairs with Collino using a ballet bar for the piece.

The IODE will post video recordings of the dances on the internet for the public to watch by the end of April to coincide with National Poetry Month, Lajiness said.

She and the dancers also hope to perform the dances in-person to a small audience in May.

“We have some veteran fans that have been following us for 10 years,” Atkins said. “We hope to get new fans but also feed our veteran fans who had not been able to see us, most of them our family members.”

Lajiness said the ultimate feedback that dancers strive for is to have an audience.

“It’s just five girls and me on a Friday night and a Saturday morning diving and moving and it has meaning to us personally,” Lajiness said. “But it means so much more when we get to share that with others.”