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NMSU Dance Society dances its way to the top of dance festival

The New Mexico State University's Dance Society has been selected to perform at the American College Dance Festival in New York this June.

New Mexico State University Dance Society members Candace Williams and Joseph Putman performing "Touch," choreographed by Debra Knapp, director of the NMSU dance program. (NMSU photo by Hilary McDaniel)

The NMSU Dance Society, a club supported by ASNMSU and comprised of dance majors and minors, was chosen after attending the American College Dance Festival in Wichita, Kan., in early March.

"I'm overwhelmed, honored, appreciative," said Debra Knapp, director of the NMSU dance program.

The American College Dance Festival is divided into 10 regions. Twenty six universities, including NMSU attended the Central conference. The two best choreographic dances from each region were selected to attend the national conference.

During the regional conference, all day classes were taught by professional dancers and university teachers. At night, dance performances by each university were held. Each performance was judged by three adjudicators who would then give feedback about the choreography.

"The adjudicators only knew the name of the dance," Knapp said. "They didn't know who choreographed it or which school was performing, so they could only judge on choreography."

At the end of the conference, a gala was held and eight dances were chosen to perform, including Knapp's dance "Touch," a duet, performed by Candace Williams and Joseph Putman, inspired by a sculpture by Las Cruces artist Dan Tapper titled "Harmony." The music was composed by Las Cruces musician Geof Abruzzi.

Two of the eight performances were then chosen to go to the national conference.

"It was a great honor to be part of the eight gala pieces and then to be chosen to go to nationals," Knapp said. "It's amazing."

Knapp said she was very pleased to be chosen especially since NMSU's dance program was created nine years ago. They had attended the conference for the past six years and hadn't won a spot in the gala.

Knapp wasn't the only NMSU winner at the conference, Williams was awarded outstanding performer, the highest award at the conference for a performer.

"This is so special for Candace," Knapp said. "She was going to change her major, but I talked her out of it and she is glad that I did."

At nationals, Williams will compete for Dance Magazine's and American College Dance Festival's performance award, which is given to the best dancer of the 10 regions.

"Candace is a beautiful dancer and brings a lot of artistry to her dancing and I'm glad the adjudicators recognized that," Knapp said.

While Knapp's dance will be performed at nationals, there will not be a choreography competition.

Knapp said after the national conference they plan to continue working on choreography and will continue to build the program to train dancers for professional careers.

Knapp said the awards also are important to the NMSU dance program because the national recognition will allow them to grow and expand recruitment.

"Going to these types of conferences change dancer's lives," Knapp said. "It broadens their experiences, allows them to learn from professionals and makes them stronger. Even though we hadn't won the other times we went, we still learned from each experience."