Artist of the Week Zachary Weiss on the Communicative Nature of Dance

“It’s a great art form to tell stories with. People talk about how body language is most of communication. If I’ve been able to improve my ability to communicate with my body through dancing, I think that’s a big part of [dance]. It’s all about communication.”

Zachary Weiss ’20, engineering major and dance minor, has been dancing since he was only eight years old in his home state of North Carolina. It all began, he says, with his love of attention.

“I always liked to be the center of attention as a kid and to perform. There was a boys’ scholarship at my sister’s studio, and you could take classes for free if you took ballet. And you got to perform on the big high school stage at the end of the year. So I was like, I like to perform, so I started doing it.”

Weiss’s love for performing only increased as he grew older. What started with just dance performances morphed into vocal performances and musical theatre performances, including roles in “Legally Blonde,” “Spamalot,” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” In fact, Weiss’s dance career actually gave him a leg up in musical theatre. 

“It translates well into musical theatre which is something else that I like a lot. Usually, people go into musical theatre with a good vocal background and not necessarily the best dance background, so that gave me a nice niche for that.”

Today, however, dance for Weiss is about a lot more than just attention. It’s about emotion, expression, and communication. Specifically, Weiss clarifies, it’s about communication with the audience. 

“When I’m dancing I can feel the audience’s eye on me, and I feel like I know what to do to show them what they need to see,” Weiss explains. “It’s a collaborative experience with the audience, which I think is rare. The audience’s eye is there, and that informs my work. That’s the kind of dance that I like to do — there’s a connection with [the audience], having to draw them in, and show your emotions through your movements.”

Weiss feels and communicates the most emotion when dancing duets. Unlike more individualized expressions of dance, a duet requires an unspoken exchange of thoughts.

“The most emotion I feel, or rather connection, is in duets and partnering, because you are being physically close with somebody else, and you have to be in tune to what they’re thinking and what their body is doing. Two people dancing together and feeling what to do next … not based on words but based on body movements, sometimes leading, sometimes following, sometimes blending in between the two.”

Here at Swarthmore, Weiss has been focusing primarily on ballet, but Weiss’s true passion has always been modern dance. In fact, before transferring to Swarthmore, Weiss studied at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts as a contemporary dance major.

“There’s more variance [in modern dance], and it allows you to do improvisation and choreograph your own work outside of the typical ballet practicum. In modern dance you can be you.”

As of late, Weiss has been considering more and more pursuing dance as his primary career. Though he will be graduating with an engineering major, Weiss explains that recent experiences have convinced him that he may want to dance professionally.

“I auditioned for a modern dance group called Pilobolus; I went to NY to audition for them on a whim, and I made it through five cuts to the final four and almost got the job!” Weiss exclaimed. “And it was a huge bit of validation for my work and what I’ve done. It has made me realize that I might still want to do dance after college and maybe pursue that even more.”

Moreover, Weiss’s experience with the Doug Varone and Dancers company has given him a glimpse into what it might be like dancing professionally.

“They came for a week to help make sure the work looked good on us, and it was super cool to dive deeply into one of the major modern dance groups’ works of today. It helped humanize the people who are doing [dance] professionally — they don’t seem that far removed from me.”

Most importantly, Weiss is grateful to have had the opportunity to dance. Dance, says Weiss, has helped him discover the significance of art. 

“Art is incredibly valuable. I used to think that art isn’t really valuable in the sense that it doesn’t really bring anything new or help progress society, but I’m starting to see more how happy [art] makes people, and how you can explore important themes today in a dance piece. It’s giving me more value today and more reason to pursue it than I thought before.”

You can see Weiss perform this coming weekend in the Dance Concert on Friday at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday at 8:30 p.m.. Weiss will be starring as Siegfried in “Swan Lake,” as well as performing a solo, a pas de deux, and dancing in a Doug Varone piece titled “Mass.”

Featured image courtesy of Nara Enkhtaivan for The Phoenix

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