USF Dance Senior Hannah Smith Reflects on Studying Abroad in Paris

Thursday, April 11, 2019

As USF dance senior Hannah Smith concludes her studies in the USF dance program, she looks back on an unforgettable experience that transformed her practice as a dancer: going to Paris as part of the USF Dance in Paris program in 2017.

The program’s intensive dance study provided Smith with new perspective on how to approach her dance and choreography.

“I feel like going to Paris and learning from teachers who don’t get to come over here often … gave me new insights into who I am as a dancer — how I like to move, how I like to choreograph — and I think going to Paris that summer caused a complete shift in my choreographic tendencies,” said Smith.

Smith’s time studying dance in Paris was her first time being abroad. There, she was welcomed by the program’s dance faculty, reinforcing her belief in a universal truth among all dancers.

“The dance community in general is very welcoming,” said Smith. “Dancers that I’ve come in contact with like to take care of each other and we like to lift each other up and encourage new research in our bodies and find new pathways to being a new artist or a better version of the artist we were yesterday.”

Dancer instructor Christine Denessey taught her how to free her hips, move unexpectedly, and place different meanings to different movements. She also learned lessons that extend beyond dance—she learned how serve her soul through dance, and to simply be happy with who she is.

Smith also had the chance to experience the rich history and culture of the city.

In between dance classes, Smith saw iconic Parisian sites such as the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, and other museums.

In Paris, Smith choreographed a dance solo, which she performed an iteration of at USF in 2017. Smith had the chance to perform on the streets of Paris in a site-specific work and for seniors living in a building near the students’ dormitory.

Smith received financial support the USF for the Dance in Paris program. Numerous scholarships made her trip of a lifetime possible. She recommends Dance in Paris to all dance students, and she recommends students start their planning early.

No matter how students fund their study abroad program, Smith says the dance faculty are very supportive, and in the end, there is only one problem.

“It goes by so quickly,” said Smith. “I wish that I was there for longer.”

In February, Smith led a successful Student Dance Concert as president of the student organization the Student Dance Production Board.

The concert, held this year on February 1 and 2, is an important annual showcase of USF student dancers and choreographers of all levels. The concert embodies the tight-knit spirit of the USF dance program by fostering collaboration and mutual support.

“No matter what level you’re in, no matter whether you’re a freshman or senior, everyone loves to dance and we love to dance with each other,” said Smith. “It kind of creates that bond that’s really special to be a part of.”

The students harness this bond for a good cause. Proceeds from the Student Dance Concert go to the USF Michelle Vargas Memorial Scholarship, an award given to passionate dance student with financial need. Smith, herself, received the award in 2018.

As president of the Student Dance Production Board, Smith has the opportunity to market the annual concert, coordinate new events, and work together with other Student Dance Production Board officers. She learned about her own ability to deal with challenges, be a leader, and work together with others toward a common goal. Smith says the experience allowed her to experience the role of an arts administrator, a path she is considering as a potential career.

At this year’s Student Dance Concert, titled Configurations, Smith presented her own choreography. Her piece, A Restless Bunch: A Lack of Careful Deviations, confronts the family dynamic through the passage of time. She called upon four USF students to create an original music composition and performance. She also cast four USF student dancers who she said resemble her family members.

Smith played with the idea of unison, and how breaking the unity of a family might help an individual pursue their dreams while simultaneously leaving the family unit less whole. She describes the score for the piece as “chaotic and beautiful,” and she also included an investigation of family through the lens of her Christian faith.

“Even though there is all of this, there is a foundation that we can stand on no matter what,” said Smith. “Whether these things are deviating or coming to unison, these things will always be there.”

On April 24, Smith will present her choreography alongside her graduating peers at the Dance BFA End of Semester Showings.

Smith expects to graduate in May with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dance and a second degree in Communication. After USF, she plans to submit her choreographic works to festivals and pursue opportunities teaching dance.

With her undergraduate studies coming to an end, Smith reflects on her decision to study at USF.

“This is the only place I applied because I knew that this was it for me,” said Smith. “This is the only place I wanted to be, and it’s proven to be the best place I think that I could’ve gone.

For more information on DanceUSF and the Dance in Paris Program at USF, visit the USF School of Theatre and Dance.