I met Britt Baker-Brousseau ’11 by a large window in the ’62 Center’s Ikea Lounge, where we both watched in amazement as the semester’s first snowflakes drifted past. It wasn’t hard to tell that she’s a dancer: She exuded grace and poise in her steps as she walked towards me, and even the way she sat across from me betrayed good posture and a well-held carriage
Baker-Brousseau has been a part of the College’s Dance Company, now known as the Contemporary Dance Ensemble (CoDa), since her freshman year. Last year, she was given the opportunity to choreograph for the theatre department’s spring show, Company. She called the experience “a dream come true.”
It wasn’t surprising to hear that her history with dance extended much further back than her arrival at the College. “I’ve been in dance classes since I was two years old,” she said. “When I was really little I would put on [my mom’s] pink slip and I’d watch The Nutcracker on TV and I’d try to do all the steps. When the guys lifted up the girls I’d yell ‘Papa!’ and [my father] would come in and pick me up.”
Baker-Brousseau continued to dance through childhood but faced a tough decision when she came to college. Though she almost quit entirely after arriving at the College, she decided to keep dancing after experiencing the supportive environment of the dance community. For her, not dancing “would be like taking a part of your identity and chopping it off – because for years, in addition to everything else I did in my life, I’d been a dancer first and foremost in my extracurriculars.”
Baker-Brousseau has choreographed extensively while at the College, but she began creating dances at an early age. One of her earliest attempts at choreography during childhood was for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”; she also held birthday parties where teams would choreograph dances.
Choreographing more often throughout middle and high school, Baker-Brousseau came to the College with a good deal of experience. Only upon arriving here, however, did she develop a deeper understanding of her art.
“Sophomore year I shifted into a more theatrical mode of wanting to tell a story or incite a feeling in the audience, whereas before pieces were very much like, ‘I like this piece of music, so we’re going to dance prettily to it,’” she said. “That was also when I started seeing choreography as something I might want to go into as a career.”
Currently, she is working on breaking down popular conceptions of dance today, claiming that people often have difficulty relating to modern dance because they believe it’s only “art for art’s sake” with no connections to their own lives. The opposite is true, she argues: “I want to prove to people that contemporary dance can be used as a medium for showing universal feelings or a shared experience.”
As a part of her goal, Baker-Brousseau has been working on developing emotion in the dancers for whom she choreographs. “I like having dancers as characters – to me, dancing has always been about acting as well,” she said. “I need to see either a narrative or an emotional depth before I can connect to [a piece].” This year, she is working on a piece for the dance department that is centered on emotions, specifically emphasizing what takes place after an experience of loss.
Her involvement in the department extends into its academic component developed only last year by the College, allowing her to delve into dance as an evolving art form. “I’m really interested in the social and historical basis of dance,” she said. This past summer, she won a College travel fellowship to study dance as a means of expression in France’s postcolonial culture.
She is also taking an independent study about dance theater while organizing an art, music, dance and theater festival called Winter Stock 2011, coming to the ’62 Center this February. While still in the initial planning stages, Baker-Brousseau hopes to organize different stations around the ’62 Center for each artistic medium. “We want to celebrate the amazing creativity we have here on campus and get all these different mediums to have a place to present,” she said.
Despite balancing dance classes, choreography and event planning, Baker-Brousseau constantly has a smile on her face. Her life motto seems to support her well: “I just keep dancing.”