Q&A: Stephanie Joe on student choreography in November Dances

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Stephanie Joe is a senior majoring in Dance and Visual and Media Studies who has choreographed and will be performing in the Dance department’s performances this weekend, November Dances. The Chronicle’s Georgia Parke sat down with Joe to talk about the performance and what it means to be a Dance major at Duke. 

The Chronicle: What is November Dances for people who dont know and what makes it different from other performances that happen throughout the year?

Stephanie Joe: November Dances is the dance program's mainstage concert for the Fall semester. it includes works choreographed by professors and also students in a diverse range of styles. ranging from contemporary ballet, there’s African, modern, some more theatrical works—this year we have flamenco. So it’s really cool to see different styles and ones by experienced choreographers and also… with students as well.

TC: What are you choreographing for the show?

SJ: I am dancing in a contemporary ballet piece choreographed by one of the professors in collaboration with the students. And I also choreographed a piece, it’s a group piece with six dancers. There’s four student choreographers and I around eight pieces total, so half of it is student work.

For the African piece and the flamenco piece there are some community members who are performing so it’s not just undergraduate students. I know that there’s a graduate student who’s performing in the flamenco piece and in the modern piece also. So it’s kind of a nice community atmosphere since it’s not just undergraduates. My piece is with six dancers. I am not performing the piece but I’m working with the undergraduate students. The one that I’m performing in is with four undergraduate students total. One of them is actually from UNC.

TC: Is this the major event for the Dance department of the year or one of many that happen?

SJ: This is the main performance [for the semester]. We’ve been working on these pieces since the beginning of the semester and throughout the whole semester for several hours a week.

TC: Can you talk about your personal history with dance and since you’ve been at Duke?

I spent many years dancing prior to coming to Duke. I trained pre-professionally in Houston at the Houston Ballet Academy. I considered dancing professionally for some time and I took a gap year before coming here…. Throughout my time at Duke I’ve really grown a lot through the dance program and I’ve really appreciated the supportive, collaborative and open environment that professors have created. I’ve really appreciated being able to study dance from many different perspectives—not only in the studio physically understanding my body and technique… but also understanding the history of dance and where has it come from and all different cultures that have influenced it. So I think that my understanding of dance has increased.

One of the greatest things about dance at Duke is that it’s so inclusive or very open. In other environments sometimes there’s a feel of “this is right” or “this is wrong” and “it should be done a certain way.” And while we are striving for technical and artistic excellence, the dance program here is very open to people of all levels. It’s exciting when people haven’t tried it before, and they just take a class for the first time.

TC: What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about being a dance major at Duke?

SJ: I guess most people probably don’t really know what I do. I’m actually an interdepartmental major so I’m studying dance and visual and media studies and with a markets and management certificate. Pretty much all the dance majors do a combination of different things and I think that speaks to the interdisciplinary nature of Duke. I guess people might be surprised to find that dance majors here has a much more academic focus. A lot of the courses that are required for the major involve a lot more reading and writing and analysis.... There’s a lot involved.

TC: How do you go from a liberal arts education at Duke into dancing professionally?

SJ: It’s definitely not easy and I’m still figuring it out. I’ll be doing auditions in the Spring. Right now I’m just trying to practice as much as I can and learn as much as I can and building my portfolio, putting together a reel of my dancing and sending that out to companies.

TC: Going back to the November Dances, I read that your piece you choreographed is called “[be]yond.” Can you talk about the themes of that and what that means in the context of the performance?

SJ: This piece was inspired by different things, partly the music it’s music by Nils Frahm and so it’s kind of soft and contemplative. The second piece has more of a stronger resolve. Then I guess I'm taking it from my experiences currently as a senior and just trying to really savor each moment here and enjoy these memories. It comes from a place of thankfulness and I guess hope, there is some uncertainty with what happens in the future. I guess just kind of enjoying this while I'm here and spending time with people and ideas of finding inspiration in different moments and lingering in those. 


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