Alumnus dancer returns

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Lowell alumnus Chuck Wilt (middle), joined by Kyle Filley (left) and Rebecca Margolick, visits the Lowell dance department and demonstrate some of his works. Photo by Shyla Duong

Lowell alumnus Chuck Wilt (2010), a New York City-based modern dance choreographer and performer, returned to his alma mater on Feb. 9 to perform for Lowell’s dance department and Lowell Dance Company. Wilt and two members of his dance troop, UNA Projects, showcased works in progress and discussed the challenges of being a professional dancer.

Dance teacher Wendy Jones, who invited Wilt to perform, instructed him during his time at Lowell. Jones said that as a dance student at Lowell, Wilt was challenged by her choreography and grew to dance outside of his comfort zone.

Wilt performs a dance piece that he and his troop has been working on for one week. Photo by Shyla Duong

Today, Wilt has moved beyond the style of dance Jones taught him. During his recent visit to Lowell, Wilt exposed student dancers to his own brand of modern-style dance, which is much different than that typically performed by Lowell dancers, according to junior Liana Rokh, who is in Advanced Dance. Lowell dance classes typically use music in their performances, while Wilt and members of UNA Projects performed entire pieces, as well as segments of pieces, without any music during their visit.

When practicing these pieces and others, members of UNA Projects opt to spend intensive periods of time, ranging from one week to one month in rehearsal, rather than having a fixed daily schedule, according to Wilt. The dancers prefer to work this way because many of them are members of other dance companies and work many side jobs.

Wilt says his process for choreographing varies from piece to piece. “I come into the studio and find different ways to do movements or draw in ideas,” he said. Wilt frequently pulls inspiration from his own “tangible history and experience,” as well as photographs, pieces of text, and music.

In the five years since he founded UNA Projects, Wilt has become acutely aware of how the increasingly high cost of living has impacted dancers’ lives. “It used to be you would train, but sometimes not go to college for dance, and just dance for a company, and that was your career,” Wilt said. “Now, everyone is doing five to seven jobs and finding time to commit fully to a few dance companies.”

Wilt, as well as the two UNA Projects members who accompanied him to Lowell, Kyle Filley and Rebecca Margolick, have experienced this challenge of juggling a dance career and other jobs to make ends meet. In addition to dancing with UNA Projects, Wilt has received multiple artist-in-residencies in the past, while Margolick teaches fitness classes and works as a grant writer, and Filley works for other dance companies and teaches yoga.

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Like these professional dancers, Rokh, although still in high school, is already familiar with the struggle of finding a balance between dance and other work. “I have three smaller side jobs,” she said. “I’m balancing them during my weekend, so it’s a little different, but I kind of know how it feels.”

Filley believes that the challenge of balancing a dance career and other jobs that help pay the bills has benefitted dancers. “I think [it’s] forced dancers to become really well-rounded, and flexible and smart,” he said. Wilt echoed Filley’s point of view, saying dancers have the opportunity to pursue additional careers that interest them on the side.

Filley and Margolick perform a dance piece for Lowell dance students. Photo by Shyla Duong

Although valuable, this change is also seen as burdensome by many dancers, as it can be difficult to find the right balance between side jobs, dancing and a personal life. Wilt and his former instructor Jones, however, believe that the change is an obstacle that dancers can learn to manage, and they encourage young dancers to pursue careers in dance. “[I want to] show the students that it’s possible to have a career in dance, and not just by being the artistic director or choreographer,” Jones said. “You could be a dancer, you could be a manager, you could be a dance writer. Just see that you can go out and do that.”