From Taiwan, Dance Students Look to the Future

Seniors Marlee Grant and Hana Springer are using the lessons learned at an international dance festival in Taiwan to vault their own professional goals back home.

From left: Hana Springer, I-Fen Tung and Marlee Grant after rehearsals.
From left: Hana Springer, I-Fen Tung and Marlee Grant after rehearsals.
February 14, 2018

For eight days last summer, senior dance and international affairs majors Marlee Grant and Hana Springer lived out a cultural and artistic dream. The pair traveled to Taiwan where they participated in an international arts festival, rehearsed with world-famous choreographers and shared tips and Ta-a noodles with fellow dancers from around the globe.

For both students, the trip represented more than an introduction to new styles of dance and an opportunity to broaden their cultural experiences. Grant and Springer are leveraging their international exposure to springboard their educational and career aspirations. Grant combined her interest in arts and economics as an intern at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts this year; Springer, an apprentice with the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company, is dancing at stages across D.C. while looking toward a career in global business.  

“As a student, this trip served as a reminder of how fortunate we are in this day and age to have opportunities to be global citizens,” Springer said. “Dancing in Taiwan showed me firsthand how art can be a tool for uniting people, no matter who they are or where they come from. We all are more connected than we often realize, and dancing is a powerful way to express those connections.”

The cultural excursion was funded by a $15,000 grant to the Theatre and Dance Program—part of Columbian College’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design—and the Elliott School of International Affairs from the Taiwanese Government’s Taiwan Connect program. Grant and Springer attended performances and art exhibitions at the Taipei National University of the Arts, took master classes with dancers from prestigious companies such as Bill T. Jones and Wayne McGregor and danced with the innovative Taiwanese choreographer I-Fen Tung.

“The goal of the dance program at GW is to expand its international reach in order to enliven the educational experience of our dance majors,” said Professor of Dance Dana Tai Soon Burgess, who organized the trip. “I look forward to continuing to ensure that we create cultural ambassadors of the future.”

In addition to witnessing a variety of dance presentations from performance art to experimental theater, the international cohort of students joined tours of Taipei architectural highlights like the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taipai, Taiwan.
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan.

“Having this experience in another country gives students confidence on who they are and what their potential is,” said Giselle Ruzany, an adjunct faculty member who accompanied the students. “Being a cultural ambassador is to transcend language and culture and meet in the most creative and humanistic level.”

The highlight of the trip, the students agreed, was working with I-Fen Tung, the founder of Taiwan’s renowned Anarchy Dance Company and a chorographer hailed for avant-garde performances that mix movement with sounds, spoken words and props. Grant, who studied both classical ballet and modern dance, said the minimalistic style was challenging. “She’d tell us to abandon everything we knew about what dance should look like, having us fall to the ground or twist our bodies. [I-Fen] wanted to see the human body do things that it wasn’t used to.”

Seniors Marlee Grant (right) and Hana Springer (left) during rehearsal in Taiwanese choreographer I-Fen Tung’s studio.
Seniors Marlee Grant (right) and Hana Springer (left) during rehearsal in choreographer I-Fen Tung’s studio.

I-Fen’s interactive approach often calls for dancers to invent their own choreography. At one practice, a Taiwanese dancer asked for Springer’s cell phone number—so he could call it during his performance. “As a dancer, I learned that the more you try something unique and unusual, the more likely you are to end up making movement that is spectacular and beautiful in its own right,” said Springer, who joined I-Fen’s troupe yet again for a guest performance at GW’s Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre.

Grant described the Taiwan trip as an artistic and career-building opportunity. “It let me to actively combine my two fields of study— arts and economics—in one great adventure,” she said. “I have a passion for cross-cultural exchange and communication through the arts. Dance can be a universal language.”