The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

‘Dance Nation’ brings realities of girlhood to the stage

The UI Theatre Department presented “Dance Nation,” on Feb. 2, a play that features a troupe of thirteen-year-old dancers who are dealing with the realities of pre-adolescent girlhood. The play will run until Feb. 10.
The+cast+of+Dance+Nation+dances+the+opening+number+during+a+dress+rehearsal+for+%E2%80%9CDance+Nation%E2%80%9D+at+David+Thayer+Theatre+on+Thursday%2C+Feb.+1%2C+2024.
Isabella Tisdale
The cast of Dance Nation dances the opening number during a dress rehearsal for “Dance Nation” at David Thayer Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.

Preteen girlhood is a maze of trials and tribulations.

This reality is especially prominent in “Dance Nation,” a play that introduces audiences to a competitive dance troupe of thirteen-year-old girls, and one boy.

The story follows the troupe as they work toward a big dance recital in Florida with only one solo available for one lucky girl to get. During the play’s runtime, each girl grapples with both her ambition and her changing body as she evaluates whether dance is worth it after all. The UI Theatre Department is showing the play from Feb. 2-10.

“[When getting in character] I thought about my eleven-year-old self,” Olivia Foster, who portrays a dancer named Amina, said. “I was also a dancer at 11, so I know well what it’s like to be in the studio every day, trying to be the best dancer you can be while also navigating girlhood.”

Foster has enjoyed getting to return to the “softness” of her younger self while playing Amina and getting to be open and vulnerable with the audience around her.

Though she is the most talented of the dancers in her troupe, Amina struggles to balance her hunger for winning with her care for the less talented but equally passionate Zuzu.

She has to decide whether her success justifies alienating some of the other girls who are both jealous of her and proud of her at the same time.

“The story tells us individual things about each of the characters. So, I suggested building community with the actors early on,” Margaret Smith, the dramaturg for “Dance Nation” said. “I asked the actors, and the director stage manager as well, to bring in images from anywhere about what they think the play is about and what they think their character is about.”

Smith also encouraged the actors to think about what their characters would be like as adults: What in their lives prompts them to look back at this time? It was exercises like this one that helped each actor to connect with their character and bring the most authentic version of the character to the stage.

“From watching all of the runs and watching the scenes, I think my favorite part of their play is that every time I watch it, I see a new detail that’s like telling me more about this, further convincing me that this is a really great play,” Smith said.

While this play focuses on a group of dancers, it is not necessarily a dance show. Several creative people came together to make this play happen.

RELATED: Feminist author Roxane Gay joins Emma Goldman fundraising event

“It’s been inspiring to be in the room with theater people, bringing my work from the dance department. I believe that dance and theater are stronger together. And that’s been my favorite part: getting to collaborate with this cast, crew, and creative team,” Brady Van Patten said.

Van Patten works as the choreographer for the show and as such, creates the dance movements for the actors. He has enjoyed getting to build the dances and taking inspiration from what others have done in the past.

Smith summed up her feelings on the production regarding the portrayal of such a story.

“I thought it was so incredible that [this play] was able to portray this beauty and this perfection, but also the gruesome horror at this age,” Smith said.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Riley Dunn, Arts Reporter
(she/her/hers)
Riley Dunn is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in English and Creative Writing and Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her time at the DI, Riley interned for Swimming World Magazine.
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
(she/her)
Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.