Silence covers the room like a thick blanket, suffocating suppressed anxieties and superficial chatter. Former concerns seem irrelevant as they float beyond the point of consciousness.
Even the music abates to the point where it is nothing more than a subtle whisper; a companion whose nimble fingers weave their way inextricably into your being.
The senses are numbed, and despite numerous people in the room, an acute sensation of isolation overtakes you. As people begin dancing, a profound serenity is set.
In this moment, nothing else matters. Dancers are engulfed by the intoxicating promise the movement inspires and move about the space as if it is their own.
The dance studio breathes life into the dancers who find it home. It is the one place where wrong answers do not exist, and solace wrapped in inner peace can always be found.
Dance is an art unlike any other and requires discipline and respect. In a small town like Oxford that is known for football and school spirit, many forget about the thriving arts community.
One organization that is not commonly known is the Ole Miss dance organization known as The Dance Company. The Dance Company located on the University of Mississippi campus has created opportunities for students interested in choreographing, dancing, visual design, and stage management.
The company provides an environment for students that support the arts. Members of the dance company are able to study and improve their techniques in all aspects of dance.
The Dance Company has been on campus since 1962, formerly known as the University Dancers. It started around 1986.
In 1962, the company was directed by the school’s wrestling coach. Today Artistic Director Jennifer Mizenko brings many years of experience to the job.
Mizenko began dancing at age 5 at a small studio right outside of Cleveland, Ohio. “When I was 5 or 6, I choreographed my first dance,” she said. “I have always been making up dances.”
She also trained at the Cleveland Institute of Ballet. While in college, Mizenko was originally a pre-med student, but she later realized she didn’t want to become a doctor.
Despite her success as artistic director of The Dance Company, she did not always envision herself pursuing a career in dance. “I have to do this,” she said. “This (dance) is in my blood.”
After graduating with her master’s degree from Ohio State University, Mizenko was offered a job teaching dance at the University of Mississippi, which is what led her to Oxford.
Every year, The Dance Company at Ole Miss holds a spring showcase. This enables students to showcase their skills and their own choreography.
This showcase shows that the dance studio has become more than just a place of learning, but one of exploration. Students are able to uproot boundaries and awaken the creative instincts within.
Regarding this year’s show, Mizenko said, “I am interested in using all of the theatrical elements. This year I am planning two pieces. One will be based on a common reading book.”
She does not have the pieces fully complete yet and is still in the process of picking students for the spring show.
Along with the spring show, members of The Dance Company are also able to experience travel opportunities. This year The Dance Company will be visiting a festival at Auburn University. Mizenko said the company once toured throughout Mississippi. “I’m investigating starting that up again,” she said.
UM junior Vedra Finch has been attending performances by The Dance Company for the past three years and plans on attending this spring’s showcase as well.
“Every year, I look forward to seeing what the company is going to be presenting,” she said. “It’s amazing being able to see how talented my classmates are.”
Although not a dancer herself, Finch is a big fan of the art. “I have always wanted to take a dance class, but sports and academics have always been in the way.”
Many students that have danced for The Dance Company have gone on to dance professionally after graduating from the University of Mississippi. One of the biggest names that a student has gone on to dance for is the legendary Twyla Tharp.
Dance expands one’s understanding of what is acceptable and what is innovative. It is a passion that drives ambition and encourages the betterment of oneself. Students are able to feel content in its simplicity.
On what dance means to her, Mizenko said, “People think it is a big mystery. Movement created doesn’t come out of a vacuum, but from looking at people. I always say that dance was the first art form.”
To Mizenko, dancing is truly her life.
Mizenko offered advice to younger dancers and students. “Take care of your body,” she said. “It is really important. Seize all opportunities, and don’t be afraid. Open your eyes. We just have to find a path to do what you love.”
The Dance Company’s spring show will be held April 7-9 in the Meek Auditorium.