I Have a Feeling We're Not in Chicago Anymore

04/04/2012 11:54 am ET | Updated Jun 04, 2012

This past weekend, a cohort of Columbia College Chicago dance majors (including yours truly) loaded up a Megabus and headed for Madison, Wisconsin to participate in the North-Central regional American College Dance Festival.

It was a weekend filled with dance classes, performances, and presentations. We got to meet others from dance programs all around the Midwest (and... Oregon). It was a fantastic opportunity to experience taking dance classes from new teachers with new perspectives. It was awesome to see student work from different schools and to compare and contrast it with what we see semester after semester in our own program. It was non-stop dancing, meeting, and learning.

To step away from the dance experience for a moment, I must note that one of the most jarring experiences was stepping off of the bus onto a real college campus. All of us from Columbia were utterly fascinated by the exotic culture of red and white Bucky-the-Badger emblazoned sweat clothes. Not that we hadn't ever been on traditional, state school campuses before, but something about so many of us being there together led us to contemplate our own collegiate experience and set it side by side with UW-Madison and all of the other schools in attendance.

In some ways, we were very much urban brats. We stood out like sore thumbs with our leather boots, jackets, and brisk city speed walking. We [who were of legal drinking age] were shocked that the liquor stores close at 9 p.m. (Seriously, what is up with that Wisconsin?) Frat guys were also spotted and, to us, they are rare specimens of human best observed in their natural habitat. This habitat apparently entails setting up tables in common areas with innuendo-laden political messages. More power to 'em.

Of course, there were some things we liked about the real college campus experience. The $8 beer boot and hunting video games at the local bar come to mind. It was nice that absolutely everything was within a reasonable walking distance. There were nice trees all over and the buildings were old and beautiful. They had the resources and support to host such a large conference, something Columbia could never accommodate.

But note: not many of these things I'm talking about are dance-related. So what does comparing a traditional state school with my experience at an urban arts school say about the last four years of my life? I certainly didn't get the same social experience, and I almost transferred in my sophomore year because of it. I was in a completely different environment than most of my friends from high school, and I felt alienated. I still will never be able to relate, but I gained so much in the trade-off, including peers that are not only friends but also future collaborators and colleagues.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, many of us seniors in the dance department just started working with a New York-based choreographer. Upon meeting us, she asked where we want to go and what we want to do with dance post-graduation. She was rather surprised that so many of us plan on staying in Chicago. For me at least, the investment in the Chicago dance scene is a very compelling reason to stay. We have spent the last four years plié-ing and tendu-ing and learning about Martha Graham, but we have also been building connections and networking.

Very few places in the country offer what we have here at Columbia, whether in dance or other programs. ACDFA was fun and I learned a lot, but above all it made me appreciative of where I come from. I truly feel embedded in the Chicago dance scene, and that is a luxury as an undergrad. Above all, it's great to be back in Sweet Home Chicago.