Dance Spotlight: Hannah Berry

Modern dancer Hannah Berry

Hannah Berry, 17, is a Level V modern dancer from Altadena, California. This is her first year taking classes at Colburn.

This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.

How did you start taking classes at Colburn?
I found Colburn through the summer workshop that I did here, a weeklong summer choreography workshop that I did with Tamsin. I really liked it and I really liked the community, and I realized going here would give me serious training. So I was like, I’m going to try it out even though I’m a senior.

How do you like the classes here?
I really enjoy my classes. Modern and contemporary are the styles that I enjoy the most, but I’ve never taken serious, just straight up Cunningham or Graham, which is what a lot of the classes here are. So I really like getting that background, understanding the technique, and really just strengthening my technique a lot. I’ve noticed a lot of changes since I started here.

How are they different from previous classes you’ve taken?
For the modern and contemporary classes I’ve taken before, it’s been more of a mixture, where the teachers just choose things and they don’t tell you the background. It’s not like it’s from a specific technique, they just give you movements to do. And this is more like what they do in company class. One time we followed along to a Cunningham company class and we were doing the same thing as them. It’s really specific as to where it’s coming from.

What made you want to take more serious training?
Last year I had been in a serious ballet program for probably five years, and I decided to stop doing that. I was taking classes at one of my local studios, like modern, contemporary, hip-hop, jazz, everything. It was really great, but I didn’t feel like I was being technically challenged as much as I should. I wanted to find somewhere that would give me that, especially where the focus wasn’t on ballet, since I like modern more. So this was the perfect place to do that.

How did you get started dancing?
It’s kind of a funny thing for me, because I feel like most people start at age two and never stop. I definitely danced when I was younger. My mom was a dancer, so she would teach classes at this place and I would go take classes. I did that for a couple years and I really, really loved it, but then I started doing piano, Girl Scouts, and things like that. So I stopped, for a long time actually, and I didn’t go back until 5th grade. So I’ve always felt like I got a late start. It’s pretty late for dance.

What made you decide to go back?
It’s always just felt really natural for me to dance, almost like, why wouldn’t I? I remember the reason I restarted dance was that my mom put me in a class. I was in 5th grade, so it wasn’t even like I was young and she put me in a class. I was kind of hesitant and nervous about it. But I just really loved getting to work with my teacher and with other people, collaborating, and being able to move in that way. I think I actually started again because I had problems with my feet and I needed physical therapy for that.

It’s been really cool because I love the technical side of it, like really getting to see yourself improve, and doing things where people are like, whoa! And I’m like, this is really comfortable, actually. So there’s that part of it, and of course just being able to express myself. In class, if I’ve been having a rough time, it’s a really, really great outlet for me, and on stage. I absolutely love performing. It’s not just performing that keeps me going, I definitely love the process of dancing, learning dances, and finding my artistic voice. I also think it takes a lot of brainpower, which I like. It can be very complicated to remember different steps and I enjoy having that challenge.

Why do you like modern and contemporary?
It’s always just made the most sense to my body. It feels most comfortable, but also still challenging. It’s very technical, but it’s also enjoyable for me. I like ballet but a lot of time it can feel a little restraining, so I like the expressiveness of modern as well. It’s also more acrobatic, and it’s kind of fun doing things on the floor. There are a lot of different kinds as well, so it’s really interesting to see different teaching styles. It’s not very strict in that way and you can be creative with it.

Are you going to university next year?
I am. It’s been kind of a difficult process for me. I’ve kind of been unclear with what I want and I only decided last night. I committed to Loyola Marymount University in the dance program and so right now, that’s where I’m at.

I want to keep dancing in college, but I also want to branch out and explore other artistic interests that I have, as well as possible academic interests. I’m pretty undecided at the moment, but I definitely chose schools I knew would give me great dance training.

What are those interests?
I have a lot, so it’s not like if I don’t do dance, I’m going to do this one thing. I’m also interested in theater and singing, and possibly things with film, or art history, or urban studies. Those are the main things.

Why do you love to dance?
Again, the physicality of it. Also, I love the fact that dance creates a community and that it really is a way for people to collaborate. It’s like a universal language, which people say a lot. It doesn’t matter if you speak the same language or if you’re in the same position as someone else. If multiple people are dancing, they can connect. I think there’s something very human about it. Obviously, it’s moving your body, but it’s sort of also commenting on ourselves and our human reactions, and I think that’s really interesting. It’s also just very fun. I think everybody loves to dance, so I think it’s a great thing to study and focus on, because people like to see dance and people like to dance.