UNL dance students and president of the Orchesis dance group welcomes the crowd at the #saveunldance performance in front of the Nebraska State Capitol on Friday, Oct. 9th, 2020 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The tangerine glow of the late-afternoon sunset basked upon members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Orchesis Dance group on the steps of the Nebraska State Capitol. Susan Ourada, associate professor of dance at UNL, spoke to a crowd of over 50 students, parents and passersby before kicking off Orchesis’ celebratory dance.

The UNL Dance program found itself in a precarious situation Sept. 3, when UNL chancellor Ronnie Green announced that the undergraduate Dance Program would be eliminated from the Glenn Korff School of Music. With the program on the cusp of demise, a redistribution of endowments and aid saved the program.

“We were in a dire situation just a few days ago, and now we’re here at the Capitol celebrating the continuation of the UNL Dance Program,” Ourada said. “It really takes a village when traumatic things happen. Everyone gathered around to support us. This is grassroots organizing at its best.”

To celebrate the saving of the UNL Dance program, the Orchesis Dance Group presented four dance numbers ranging from interpretive dance to Urban Latin dance. 

The first number consisted of almost every member of Orchesis. Accompanied by the sounds of live xylophones, marimbas and bongos, the interpretive piece featured Orchesis members slowly and methodically pacing around the steps of the Capitol as they contorted themselves through exaggerated twistings of the hips openings of the arms.

After the dance, Gayle Rocz and Jordan Patt, two graduates of the UNL Dance program, spoke to the crowd about the number of opportunities and connections the program has given them after they graduated.

“The connections we make at UNL Dance are lifelong,” Rocz said. “It’s possible to have a career in dance outside of UNL because of these connections.”

The second number was an expressive Urban Latin dance. The accompanying music was a mix of recent Latin hip-hop hits, from “MALA SANTA” by Becky G to “China” by Anuel AA, Daddy Yankee, KAROL G, J Balvin and Ozuna. 

“Most of the seniors here are from Colombia, Mexico and Puerto Rico,” said Andrea Trejo Hernandez, vice president of Orchesis Dance Group. “The purpose of Orchesis as an organization is to highlight the diversity we have at UNL. We want to expand the program to other styles and other rhythms to show the diversity of our dancers at UNL.”

The third dance number was a solo break dance freestyle routine by Martin Liu. The performance was full of flair and staple breakdance moves.

Before the closing speech, senior Thao Duong spoke to the crowd and discussed her experience being an international student and how the UNL Dance program saved her life.

“Before I decided to pursue dance, I used to hear from dancers that dancing had changed their lives. I didn’t fully understand this at the time, until a drastic turning point occurred in my life,” Duong said. “Dance was the only reliable thing for me. It was the only thing I felt safe to hold onto.”

The final number encompassed six members of Orchesis performing an interpretive dance. Each member had a prerecorded message playing over a solemn piano. Each speech detailed the physical and emotional journey each dancer took to participate in the program. Each ended in the same phrase: “I am part of the UNL Dance program.”

“When my family was 8,000 miles away, when my depression held me back from reaching out for help, when I was alone with my own darkness battling the constant suicidal thoughts, dance was there for me,” Duong said. “I don’t feel ready to leave this community yet, but I know I am ready because of this community to take on the next chapter of my life.”