At age 26, professional dancer and choreographer Billy Bell has already had an exciting career that has led him to compete in two seasons of FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance, to dancing in Back to Broadway with Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, participating in Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, acting in the New York City production of Sleep No More, and dancing in a Britney Spears video and with the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in New York. This week, he is the Michigan State University Department of Theatre guest resident artist in dance.
Every semester, faculty in the Dance minor invite at least one professional to guest-teach classes, allowing for a larger variety in the students’ dance experiences.
It’s really lovely to bring somebody else in to mix everything up and confuse their muscles.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the students to get to work with somebody as professional and varied as Billy,” said Brad Willcuts, Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre and Choreography. “It’s really lovely to bring somebody else in to mix everything up and confuse their muscles.”
Maddie Keller, a junior studying Kinesiology with a minor in Dance, enjoyed the different styles that Bell brought to the classroom.
“I am normally used to ballet, which means I am used to only moving in a certain strict way, but Billy paired that strength with other types of movements that allowed me to be a lot freer,” she said.
Bell’s visit is especially beneficial to students in the Department of Theatre, who have much to gain from dance and movement classes.
“I have been trying to open up their minds to something a little bit more experiential, and even experimental, pushing them past their limits, going outside the traditional dance methods with more improvised techniques,” Bell said. “I want them to feel comfortable in their own skin. It’s not just that they need to be open to someone else’s ideas, they also need to be open to their own ideas and allow themselves to expand beyond what their own perimeters are.”
Bell first visited campus in 2011 to assist Psychology Professor Lauren Harris with his research on how dance affects the human experience, and has wanted to come back and work with dance students ever since.
“What I appreciate a lot from the dance students at MSU is their willingness and their openness to just go,” Bell said. “Even if what I say sounds bizarre and crazy, the answer from them is always ‘yes,’ which is really nice.”
On top of guest teaching dance classes, Bell has choreographed a piece for Orchesis, a dance company affiliated with the Department of Theatre, and is teaching it to the Orchesis dancers this week. Orchesis will perform the dance for the public on Saturday, November 12, at 1 p.m. at Happendance Dance Studio, 3448 Hagadorn Road, Suite C. A special performance also will be presented by Happendance, and refreshments will be available.
What I appreciate a lot from the dance students at MSU is their willingness and their openness to just go.
“We just want to show the community what we have been working on and celebrate dance,” Bell said. “We also are trying to bring awareness to the dance community here in East Lansing because it is so strong and it is something that needs to have a little bit more light shed on it.”
Admission to the November 12 performance is $20. Funds will support the MSU Friends of Theatre endowment fund and the Happendance need-based scholarship program. For more information, see the Happendance website.
Written by Alexandria Drzazgowski, Professional Writing Major