ALMA, Mich. — A few lucky students found themselves dancing with a woman who has worked with the likes of Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Usher on Monday.
The Central Michigan University dance team enjoyed a two-hour session with choreographer and performer Danielle Polanco at the DuHadway Dance Dimensions studio in Alma.
The lesson focused on a particularly feminine and sensual style of dance known as “vogue femme,” which Polanco now teaches all over the United States as well as overseas. Polanco, who began her professional career at 17-years-old working for Beyoncé, said teaching people to vogue is important to expand their skill set when it comes to dance.
“Every style helps something else,” Polanco said. “My ballet, believe it or not, helped me with hip-hop. When people stop themselves from doing other styles, they stop themselves from getting better.”
The concept of “vogue femme,” a style of dance that originated in the Harlem ballroom scene in the 1980s, was new to the women of the CMU dance team. Many of them were visibly uncomfortable with the deeply feminine movements Polanco demonstrated.
“It was definitely something different from what I’ve ever done,” team captain Stephanie Brantigan said.
Polanco used her disarming humor and playful critique of the team to slowly ease them out of their comfort zones until the dancers resembled nothing close to those who first walked in the door.
Brantigan said Polanco’s attitude during the session helped the team get out of the day-to-day routine they’ve adjusted to in preparation for athletic events at CMU.
“She was just kind of wacky and silly,” Brantigan said.
This playfulness allowed the women to relax so they could fully experience something new. Throughout the session, Polanco motivated and galvanized the team with phrases such as “time to wake up and dance,” and “alright ladies, good luck.”
In general, Polanco receives the same reactions each time she teaches voguing to others, so the initial reluctance of the dance team posed no problem.
“I’m used to people letting themselves go eventually,” Polanco said. “This didn’t surprise me. I’m like, ‘Oh, they’ll be fine in two seconds.’”
One of the reasons that Polanco travels so far to teach vogue to students is to increase their confidence and share tools they would not normally have access to. Voguing is an extremely feminine dance style, and learning even its basic elements requires dancers to be comfortable with their bodies.
“(It’s important) being comfortable in your own skin,” Planco said. “And not being afraid to not know things. It’s OK not to know.”
According to Brantigan, the dance team hopes to integrate what they learned in Polanco’s class about confidence and body image into their future performances.
“Probably just like the sass and the attitude,” Brantigan said in response to the elements that helped them the most.
As someone who was long-opposed to teaching, Polanco now takes it upon herself to spread her knowledge and love of dance to act as a guide to young people all over the world.
“I could tell these girls never had anything like this,” Polanco said. “I was glad that they definitely opened up and took in all of this.”
Polanco, who has also choreographed for Janet Jackson and Chris Brown, is now back in New York where she was scheduled to teach her usual classes the following night. She will continue to travel and teach wherever others reach out for her help.
Those interested in keeping up with the CMU Dance Team can follow them on Twitter @CMUDanceTeam, or on Instagram @CentralMichiganDance.