Dancer Finds Body-Earth Connection in the Mountains

Elizabeth Sutton, 2015 UANews Student Columnist
July 8, 2015

"The two weeks at Perry-Mansfield were very valuable to my emotional self. I rarely take the time to reflect on the beauty of nature, and this camp gave me the opportunity to do just that," said UA junior Elizabeth Sutton. Sutton dances in the studios at Perry-Mansfield, a performing arts school. (Photo: Elena Carter)

"Elizabeth, I have a feeling we’re not in Tucson anymore," I thought to myself.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado, felt just as foreign as the Land of Oz must have felt to Dorothy and Toto. Instead of the rocks and desert of the Southwest, there were lush green trees, deep blue skies and mountainous landscapes perched approximately 6,695 feet above sea level. The start of this new experience was somewhat terrifying, yet exciting at the same time.

After a four-hour bus trip from Denver International Airport through the mountains, I took a look around what would be my home for the next two weeks: the 102-year-old Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, home to a summer dance program that is rich in history. Famous alumni include Dustin Hoffman, Agnes de Mille, Merce Cunningham and Jessica Biel. The camp started off training dancers, but now the programs include dance, theater, creative writing and equestrianism. The setting is remote: Students stay in cabins nestled in the woods and spend their days perfecting their art while immersed in nature.

While I was hesitant about this new camp lifestyle, I jumped in enthusiastically at the start of the first day of dance classes. I knew that pushing through the uncomfortable times would help me grow by leaps and bounds.

Students travel from across the country to participate in summer intensives at Perry-Mansfield. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Sutton)

I went through rigorous dance training every day in the dance studios of Perry-Mansfield, looking out onto the beautiful landscape of Colorado through floor-to-ceiling windows. I started my mornings with Pilates, and then took ballet and modern technique classes. After lunch, I took jazz and partnering classes, followed by rehearsal for approximately five hours every evening, often ending at 9. In our rehearsals, we constructed a nine-minute piece and eventually performed the dance in the final showcase on the last day of camp. I am proud to say that I had the honor of performing a solo and a duet with Ryan Dervin, a fellow dancer from the University of Arizona, during the nine-minute production.

Every day I was exhausted and my body could barely keep up, partly because the altitude made it hard for me to get enough oxygen. It pushed my body to its physical and mental limits, and as a result I am stronger than ever before.

Being at Perry-Mansfield allowed me to work with and learn from a varied group of professionals in the field of dance. My teachers included Thang Dao and Roger C. Jeffrey, both Juilliard-trained dancers who currently work as choreographers in New York.


UA students Ryan Dervin and Elizabeth Sutton dance in the mountains of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Both are completing an intensive there at Perry-Mansfield. (Photo: Missy Daiker)

I also got to work with Tammy Dyke-Compton, an assistant professor at the UA School of Dance. She is an alumna of Perry-Mansfield and has been a teacher there for five years. It was her recommendation of the program that encouraged me to attend, along with five other UA dancers. Attending this camp enabled me to network with choreographers and dancers in the hope of working with them again in the professional world.

In terms of dance training, I was well prepared by the UA in working with choreographers to create entirely new dance pieces, which is what I did while at Perry-Mansfield. Also, after attending the intensive, I am newly inspired to pursue excellence in my dance training and can take that inspiration back to school in the fall.

In addition to dancing, I went riding through the mountains on a horse named Trout. During camp, I also got the opportunity to watercolor, roast marshmallows and make s'mores, visit the scenic town of Steamboat Springs and go hiking in the wilderness.

One of my favorite activities was visiting the famous Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a natural whirlpool bath created by geothermal heat. While sitting in the hot springs, I was able to look around at the beautiful woods and when day turned to night, it was so dark that I could stare into the sky at a seeming infinity of stars. The experience was magical.

I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to train at Perry-Mansfield this summer. It helped me grow in my dance technique, in my artistic voice, and as a young artist following her dream.

Elizabeth Sutton, a junior in the UA School of Dance, is one of four students selected as a 2015 UANews student columnist. The columnist initiative was launched in June by UANews and provides students the opportunity to share insights about the work and research they will be doing over the summer in various parts of the United States and abroad. It is the UA's 100% Engagement in action, and the students' experiences will prepare them to be real-world ready upon graduation.


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