For six weeks each summer, Durham dances.
A June influx of talented choreographers and performers from around the world marks the beginning of the American Dance Festival.
As an institution, ADF seeks to encourage the creation of new works of modern dance, and to educate and expose the public to the art form.
Dancers from across the country and around the world audition for ADF’s Six Week School. Those admitted take classes from ADF faculty and get to perform in the festival’s summer shows.
James Burgis II, Elizabeth Homick and Benjamin Devaud are three of this summers’ students. They all love dance, but they each have their own story about the trajectory that led them to that love and to their summer in Durham.
James Burgis II
In college, some friends of Burgis convinced him to try out for a role in the school musical. He got one, fell in love with theater and, in turn, found his passion for dance.
Originally from Groton, Conn., Burgis is a new graduate of Rhode Island College. He has only been dancing since he was a sophomore, but once he discovered dance and theater, he thoroughly immersed himself.
“Growing up, I wasn’t great at expressing myself verbally. So when I found dance, I gained this new, effective tool for self-expression.”
He realized just what an important, therapeutic part of his life dance had become when he graduated and went several weeks without it. He says he felt out of shape and was antsy. It was as if his body was urging him to begin dancing again.
This summer is his first at ADF and so far, he’s been loving it. Besides his modern and ballet classes, he is in rehearsals for a dance that Vanessa Voskuil is choreographing (part of a series of ADF performances called “Footprints”).
“I’ve learned so much,” he said. “ADF has taught me a lot about really connecting to my body and being present.”
For Homick, this summer marks a return to something familiar and beloved in more ways than one.
A native of Raleigh, the lifelong dancer is attending ADF for the second time – and logging some quality time with her family when she’s not dancing.
Now a rising junior at the University of Florida, Homick first attended ADF in 2009. One of the youngest participants that summer, she says she mostly focused on keeping up and on feverishly absorbing new information.
“I think this summer has been more spiritual,” she said. “I am not so overwhelmed and can focus, instead, on being mindful, calm and very conscious of what I’m experiencing.”
Homick performed in the Forsythe Project on July 6 and will also dance in Voskuil’s “Footprints.” She has worked with a range of instructors but emphasizes that each one seems to have a common goal: Making the dancers as present and open as possible.
Having begun ballet at age 4, by middle school Homick was fairly certain that dance was her passion, something she needed to prioritize and pursue. Though for years she studied the more exacting, technical elements of dance, she has come to define the occupation very broadly.
“For me, dance is movement,” she said. “I have this overriding belief that anyone can dance.”
Devaud was nervous when he arrived in Durham. He hadn’t been dancing for that long and knew that many of his peers would be much more experienced. He says the environment that greeted him immediately dispelled his fears.
“I thought ADF would be intimidating, but it has a purely positive energy,” he said. “Everyone here is incredibly supportive.”
A student at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, Devaud had his first brush with dancing back in high school when he was trying to prepare for the prom.
“When I first learned about dance, I was just looking to gain the courage to move – to put myself out there and be confident,” he said.
He tried out for ADF without any expectations. He says he read his acceptance letter five times when it arrived – and even considered calling to see if someone had made a mistake.
In Durham, Devaud has been inspired by the diversity of routes that his peers and instructors have taken to arrive at dance. Everyone is willing to share their own stories, he says.
In addition to his modern and hip-hop classes, he is committed to taking other optional classes and making the most of his experience.
“I want to try everything that I can,” he said. “I can rest later!”