Dance has been a part of Eastern since the turn of the last century. In 1904, Pemberton Hall hosted the university's first co-ed dance and since the 1930s, Eastern has been hosting concerts for students studying dance at the university. A dance group had been formed in the 1960s, but the director left with no one to take her place. Until 1981, there was no official RSO dance group open to dancers from all majors.
Then Nancy Nordtvedt stepped in. Nordtvedt, then an associate professor in the Physical Education Department, said students asked her for help. "Some students came here asking if I could [form a group], so I did," Nordtvedt said. "There had been a dance group before [me] but the woman in charge left. I felt there needed to be a place for students and myself to show our choreography for the community to see."
Nordtvedt trained in modern, ballet, tap, jazz and folk dances through private studios and was involved in a dance group at her alma mater, Montana State University. She said when she arrived at Eastern she recognized interest in forming a dance group. Although the group originally focused on modern and jazz dances, the EIU Dancers have since evolved to incorporate many different forms of dance into their annual shows in March.
Dancers are given the opportunity to choreograph different numbers presented in the show. "Unlike different forms of arts, we have to write [choreograph] everything," Nordtvedt said. Nordtvedt said teaching a dance can be challenging. "In dance you need to teach each person, on the individual and group levels, each routine," she said.
In 1991, Nordtvedt was joined in her directing role by Jeanna McFarland, an instructor in the Kinesiology and Sports Studies Department. McFarland became the sole director when Nordtvedt retired in 2005.
The EIU Dancers hold auditions every fall semester and those who make the cuts enjoy membership on the squad for a full year. McFarland said this system allows members enough time to learn the dances for the concert in March.
Each fall new and returning members must audition. McFarland said students with dance experience are more likely to join the group, whether it be from school, studios or self-taught lessons. McFarland said she looks for well-rounded dancers who can do more than just hip-hop or ballet.
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