Improvisational CMS dance class gives students space to ‘de-stress and play’

Three figures dance together in front of a multicolored backdrop.
(Drea Alonzo • The Student Life)

Want to shake off the stresses of the week and let loose? New to the roster of group fitness classes at Roberts Pavilion, Dance Jam sets aside an hour every Sunday night for Claremont-Mudd-Scripps students to drop in and move their bodies freely. 

With an improv-based curriculum, Alessia Zanobini CM ’23 designed Dance Jam to be fun, healing and joyful.

“The emphasis and goal of the class is to de-stress and play. It’s not about what it looks like, it’s about what it feels like,” Zanobini said. “With a lot of dance elsewhere, there’s an aspect of how it looks, which is fine and valid, but I wanted a space where that doesn’t matter.”

This emphasis on feeling, not aesthetics, is at the core of Zanobini’s motivation. This summer, she studied dance therapy through Claremont McKenna College’s Creative Works Fellowship, a fully funded research opportunity for humanities students. 

The culmination of her research was a short film titled “(Re)Connecting: Healing the Mind/Body through Dance.” Dance Jam is in some ways a continuation of this project, as it prioritizes a personal experience with movement over anything else. 

Camille Forte CM ’23 went to the first Dance Jam session and felt this positive energy.

I love to dance to music, and I normally don’t get a chance to express myself with those types of free-flowing movements because I was a competitive athlete for a really long time,” Forte said. “It was great to find a new way to be active and connect with my body in different ways.”

The structure of the class makes sure to ease students into moving creatively in ways they may not be used to.

“We started with very basic warm ups,” Forte said. “All of the cues that we began with were very individually-focused. I love that [Zanobini] had prompts, cues and questions instead of actual directions and specific instructions. It really let me feel my body the way I wanted to before we got started.”

After the few awkward minutes it took to get comfortable, everyone in the room embraced and committed to the lightheartedness that lives at the center of Dance Jam.

“The class was really fun, talkative and playful. We were jumping around, sliding our faces on the floor, hugging the wall with our hands — everyone was having a great time,” she said. “Once we realized it was going to be inclusive and no one was going to judge anyone, it was great.”

But Dance Jam is unique for more than its quirky exercises. It’s not choreography-based like many other dance programs, and it is also one of the only dance programs at CMC. 

“There’s not a lot of dance at CMC, and there’s not a lot of dance at Roberts,” Zanobini said. “There’s some 5C clubs, but I like that [Dance Jam] is really low-commitment, good for beginners and it’s not about learning choreography. I’ll never teach you something you have to model in your body. It’s purely moving how you want to move and improvisation.”

At the end of the day, Zanobini wants students to know that her class is accessible.

“It’s open to anyone, regardless of if you think you’re a dancer or not. Anyone can dance and everyone does dance in some way. It’s really chill and relaxing. You don’t need to have athletic strength,” she said. “Just wear clothes you’re comfortable rolling on the floor in.”

To learn more about Dance Jam and register for the class, check out the CMS Recreation website.

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