“There’s no way around the pelvis,” says Molly Shanahan. “A locked pelvis is at the root of mechanical-looking gestures onstage.” That’s one of the tenets of her Movement for Actors class at Northwestern, which she’s teaching for the first time this fall. Another is that there’s a middle ground between what she calls “moribund rest and pumping iron.” I can see the moribund for sure when I walk into a studio at NU’s Marjorie Ward Marshall Dance Center and discover nearly 20 freshmen sprawled on the floor, some in puppy piles, looking wiped out at high noon.
A third challenge is that many of the students—all theater majors—have been spooked or otherwise put off by dance classes. They’ve taught Shanahan a new word: “fancer,” meaning “fake dancer”—a term common in musical theater circles.
Shanahan, longtime artistic director of modern dance company MadShak, actually tries to avoid the word “dance” because her students “have been inundated with the notion of dance as rigid steps.