Arts in Action: Students team up with Princeton ARB in second benefit concert for Africa

Alumna Jen Gladney rehearses a number for Dances for Africa, which opens tonight.  The dance performance aims to raise money toward building a well in the African village of Oncata Rongai.By Jess Decina

For junior Jordan Van de Sande, dancing has always been about performance. The Fine Arts major has performed in numerous dance concerts at Rider, whether it’s through the department or student organizations.

This time around, her dancing is for a cause. Van de Sande and other students will join members of the Princeton American Repertoire Ballet (ARB) in Rider Dances for Africa, which opens this weekend.

“Dancing has always been about performance, but now, it’s so much more than that,” Van de Sande said.

Dances for Africa follows An Apple’s Corps, the dance concert that took place last October. Both performances have the same mission: to help a struggling village located outside of Nairobi, Africa. Dances for Africa is the main event for the year, according to Dr. Kim Chandler-Vaccaro, the show’s director.

“We’re always excited about Rider Dances; we’ve had the most incredible people working with us,” she said. “Company members from ARB who are working with and dancing with our students. It’s really exciting for our students, but to be using this talent to benefit someone less fortunate [is] really exciting.”

An Apple’s Corps raised enough money to increase staff at an African orphanage in Oncata Rongai. Proceeds from this event will go to building a well in the village, Chandler-Vaccaro said.

“Water is probably the biggest determining factor in people’s life expectancy,” she said. “It will not only benefit the orphanage, but it will really benefit the area.”

The dancers have been working with Kristin Scott of the Princeton ARB, who worked at the orphanage for several months. Scott’s experiences have affected everyone, according to Van de Sande.

“Kristin has added a deeper dimension to Rider Dances; she has been able to share with us her sentiments and how working in Africa changed her,” she said.

Junior Katie Patikowski agrees. To her, Dances For Africa has expanded “the relationship between dance and social activism.”
Patikowski will be performing in three of the numbers this year. Two are choreographed by Scott and fellow ARB member Lacey Englehart; the other is led by alumna Jen Gladney.

“All the dances are very, very physical, which I love,” Patikowski said. “I’m pretty sure in every dance I’m either lifting someone, getting stepped on or actually stepping on someone else.”

Rehearsals for Dances For Africa have only been taking place for about six weeks, according to Chandler-Vaccaro.
“It seems very frenzied and you’re working very fast; it never feels you have enough time,” she said. “The difference is there’s no script, it’s all original work. It’s pretty amazing to create the piece. It’s a little bit different from theater or band.”

Additionally, Scott has choreographed a piece to the song “Don’t Give Up (Africa)” by Alicia Keys and Bono, which is one of the most moving numbers, Van de Sande said.

“During the dance, images from Africa are projected onto the back wall, and those pictures alone are enough to touch an audience member,” she said.

Not all of the pieces relate directly to Africa. One dance focuses on loss and another is a tap piece, Chandler-Vaccaro said.

Overall, the experience of both An Apple’s Corps and Dances for Africa has “totally changed” everyone involved, Chandler-Vaccaro said.

“There was a sense of community that was heightened,” she said. “There’s nothing that makes you feel better than when you see you’ve done something for somebody else that’s positive. I think the dancers grew up a lot and opened their hearts a lot. It’s been really great for us.”

Dances for Africa will be performed tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 with a Rider I.D. and $10 for the general public.

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