Antoine Thomas believes dance has the power to bring out the best in all of us.
That's why Thomas -- who spent his youth dancing in New York before going on to earn two degrees from EIU, join the EIU staff and own a local dance studio -- is morphing the EIU Dancers into a three-tiered organization that welcomes dancers of all abilities.
"One of my goals on campus is a dance movement," said Thomas, who became the group's director three years ago. "I recognize the fact that not everyone's born to be a dancer, but I desire for everyone to be part of the club."
EIU Dancers Spring Concert
EIU Dancers to perform four shows of spring concert
The EIU Dancers' 32nd annual spring concert, "Tribute" -- their biggest show of the year -- will honor those who have inspired them as dancers and performers.
- 7 p.m. Thursday, March 21
- 7 p.m. Friday, March 22
- 2 p.m. Saturday, March 23
- 7 p.m. Saturday, March 23
Where: The Theatre, Doudna Fine Arts Center
What: 25 dance pieces encompassing a variety of dance styles, including jazz, lyrical, modern, ballet, tap, hip-hop, rumba and disco, performed to music by Florence and the Machine, Alex Clare, The Black Eyed Peas, Sherie Rene Scott, Rick James and more. The second act will be a tribute to Michael Jackson, including ?Black and White,? ?Man in the Mirror? and ?Thriller.? Suitable for all ages.
Tickets: $10 for general public; $5 for students and senior citizens. Buy online at www.doudnatix.com or call 581-3110.
Questions? Contact director Antoine Thomas at 581-8397 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Under Thomas' direction, the EIU Dancers -- a recognized student organization since 1981 -- has expanded into three segments, with varying degrees of skill and commitment required.
Any dance enthusiast is allowed to join the EIU Dancers Club. No auditions are held. Members pay dues and meet monthly.
2. Performance Team
Auditions are required for this 16-person team, which is geared toward dancers who have passion and an ability to learn technique and performance. The team performs at a variety of requested performances on campus. Practices are held weekly.
The 16 dancers that form the company are members with the strongest technique, a strong desire to learn and familiarity with choreography. The company requires the most commitment -- practices are held at least three days a week, and many practice daily.
The EIU Dancers’ repertoire includes modern dance, ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop and character pieces.
Auditions are held twice a year -- once in the spring and once in the fall. This spring, auditions will be held during Celebration, on Saturday, April 20. Both men and women are encouraged to join at all levels. Those who want to dance professionally will benefit by learning more about terminology and technique that is required in the industry; those who just want to have fun will find that and more.
No matter which level people get involved in, they find their lives enriched, Thomas said. Dancing is a great stress-reliever, both for the performers and the audience, he said.
"I tell my dancers it's a privilege and opportunity to dance, to bring people joy," Thomas said. "I look at a performance as a movie. People go on a magical journey of emotions with you. You get that opportunity to let people forget about their lives and just enjoy your dancing."
The organization also builds discipline and character. Members of the EIU Dancers -- especially at the more demanding performance team or company levels -- become adept at time-management. In addition, each member is required to have a good attitude, "because one bad attitude ruins it for all of us," he said. And because the organization is largely student-led, members also gain leadership experience.
"I have not seen anyone who's left this program who did not become a stronger person or more responsible," Thomas said. "It's just amazing to see them grow and develop as dancers and as people."
Olivia Link, a freshman psychology major from Lisle, said the existence of the EIU Dancers helped influence her decision to attend EIU. She auditioned for the 2012-2013 squad last spring when she was still in high school, and she was named a member of the company and the performance team.
"Being here has already made me a much, much better dancer," Link said.
"My favorite part of it is the size," she said, comparing the small group to the 150-member dance team she was on in high school. "I like the sense of community."
Link's full schedule also includes serving as art chair, sisterhood chair and chaplain for Alpha Sigma Tau, so finding time for EIU Dancers is a challenge, but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"It definitely helps me prioritize," Link said. "If I didn't love it, I wouldn't do it."
One of Link's favorite aspects of EIU Dancers is that Thomas is such an accomplished dancer and that he dances along with them.
"He can give actual advice about dance; he has credibility."
A few years ago, he purchased the former Jacqueline Bennett Dance Studio on the Charleston square, renaming it the DanceLife Center. He finds his joy in dance -- both performing and teaching others to better their craft. In the end, all who identify themselves as dancers are part of a larger family, he said.
"I can go anywhere in the world, and if I find a dancer, I'm home," Thomas said.
The EIU Dancers' biggest annual event is its spring concert; the 2013 show is set for March 21-23. Thomas hopes to expand the reach of the EIU Dancers to include performances in area communities and schools. In addition, he is working on the possibility of having a one-night show of the spring concert in Chicago.
The EIU Dancers are sponsored by two EIU departments -- kinesiology and sports studies, and theatre arts -- as well as the DanceLife Center.
For more information, see the EIU Dancers' website at www.eiu.edu/eiudancers.