Looking Forward: Dance at Interlochen Arts Academy

Over the next year, arts directors from Interlochen will share their vision for the future of their discipline at the Arts Academy. This is the second of the series and will focus on the future of the dance program. Cameron Basden has been the Director of Dance at Interlochen Center for the Arts since 2009. Prior to coming to Interlochen, Ms. Basden served as Ballet Master and Co-Associate Director for The Joffrey Ballet (1993-2008). 

I first encountered Interlochen as a dancer in the apprentice company of Joffrey Ballet. It was February and we traveled to northwest Michigan for a performance in Corson Auditorium. It was hundreds of miles away from any major city and seemed like such an unlikely place for an arts community. But a fellow dancer and close friend of mine had attended Camp and she shared stories about the amazing and inspirational atmosphere, the complete dedication, and the community of art that exists in the woods of northern Michigan. I have been intrigued by Interlochen ever since and welcomed the opportunity to join the faculty.    
The dance program at Interlochen was formally established by Hildegarde Lewis in 1940. At that time, the Ballet Russes was touring the United States, Martha Graham had established a new vocabulary of modern dance, Balanchine had formed the School of American Ballet, and the American Ballet Theater had just been established. Dance was finally taking root as an American art form.
As the present director of the Interlochen dance program, I am grateful to my predecessors who developed such a strong program. Today, we learn many similar skills. We are still housed in the original dance building on campus with its amazing views of Green Lake. But the dance world has evolved and dance training has changed. We continue to look for ways to maintain a high level of artistry while offering the best possible training and tools to our students.
Since the earliest days of dance at Interlochen, the program developed in a way that reflected the trends in the larger world of dance. Ballet and modern dance were unique dance forms and were rarely mixed, if ever. Later, in the earliest days of the Academy, ballet and modern started to blend and dancers became more physical and athletic, and technique became more important as an established vehicle for realizing the creativity of choreographers. Over the years, directors of the Interlochen dance program have sought to find the “right” balance between ballet and other contemporary work, always offering a ballet class but infusing students’ studies with more contemporary and modern work as well.
With the enormous range and variety of dance styles in demand today, from hip hop to line dancing to aerial work, we remain committed to providing dancers with a strong foundation in ballet. Why? Today’s dancers must be aware of line, the use of their feet, extension and turn in or turn out. They need to have wonderful athletic facilities that are capable of a full range of movement and various forms of dynamics. The technical skills and coordination required in ballet complemented with contemporary, composition and jazz enable an awareness and coordination that allows for any style of movement.

Having a solid technique is only the beginning. We continue to work with our dancers to develop a sense of artistry, an awareness of space, connectivity and performance – all are necessary for future success in the dance community. We work with guest instructors who bring many different backgrounds, voices, technical demands and personalities. They offer contemporary classes, various ballet styles, Graham-based classes, composition, jazz and cutting edge choreography. And we continue to look back to learn from the greats of the past – Balanchine, Arpino, Diaghilev, Massine, Nijinska and others.

We have also made significant strides in our understanding of wellness and injury prevention. The physical demands of our art form have always taken a toll on dancers’ bodies, but today’s Academy dance program incorporates screenings and preventative exercises to give students the tools they need to dance longer and stronger. Studies have found that cross-training in yoga and somatics, using a range of motion and muscles, can help dancers maintain stronger and more facile bodies. The wellbeing of our dancers is of utmost importance, so we will continue to learn and incorporate methods that have been proven to maintain and improve their health.   
We also learn and interact with our own community of artists on the Academy campus; the environment at Interlochen provides unlimited opportunities for collaboration and creation with filmmakers, musicians, writers and others. Having the ability to produce a full-length production each year accompanied by the Academy Orchestra is not only a tremendous artistic and technical growth opportunity for the students, it serves to unite the dance department.
Our academic instructors build an excellent foundation in literature, history, math and science. Within our own department we have a long tradition of providing opportunities for exploration and discovery that would be considered unusual in most of the dance world. But we remain committed to this approach because we believe it gives our students a depth and sophistication that will make them exceptional artists and dancers.
Ultimately, dancers’ careers are made through creativity, determination, hard work, perseverance, passion and artistry. Every day we encourage those attributes as much as possible. Our dancers all have a unique voice to take into the world as dancers, artists and individuals.