You could say Amanda Benzin has come full circle. The Orchard Park native, who began dancing at age 3 and went on to become a star pupil in the University at Buffalo's dance program, has been back at her alma mater teaching dance classes for the past week. She is a member of the celebrated Jump Rhythm Jazz Project of Chicago, which performs at 8 tonight in the university's Center for the Arts (North Campus, Amherst).
Benzin snuck away from her teaching sessions on Monday to speak to The News about her company's philosophy, her passion for teaching and what's on tap for tonight's program.
>Can you explain the "Jump Rhythm" technique?
It's actually a rhythm-based technique. The primary difference between this and most dance techniques is that it's about full-bodied rhythm-making. It's not a ballet-based technique. It's rhythm first, and it comes from a concept that our artistic director Billy Siegenfeld has coined, which is "standing down straight." In most dance classes, you're told to "stand up straight" and most dancers or people who are familiar with dance are familiar with that kind of posture . . . We're trying to humanize dance through "standing down straight," so all the bones are dropping down, giving in to gravity, into the floor.
>So it's more naturalistic.
It's absolutely more naturalistic. It's emotionally driven, but you're a human first, and then you're a dancer and a percussionist. Not the other way around.
>Were your parents supportive of your desire to be a dancer?
They were always extremely supportive. They first got me involved in dance class because I was crazy and had lots of energy and they didn't really know what to do with me, so they put me in dance class. I absolutely fell in love with it, and then they couldn't get me to stop taking dance classes. I always was really good at school, and that part was easy for me, and so I could have taken the option of going to school to become a lawyer, but they knew that wasn't my passion and they were always really supportive of helping me pursue what I really love to do.
>It also seems like part of what you really enjoy is teaching. What do you get out of all the teaching you do?
I think teaching is one of the best ways to learn about yourself and also learn about what you're teaching. You can learn from what you see in students . . . You learn to become more clear and to know yourself and develop that relationship with people.
I teach at a studio in the suburbs of Chicago, and it's just really important from when kids are very little to build a self-confidence and a passion for something. That's what dance and teaching dance has always been about for me. It's not about getting the most technically trained and perfect little machine dancers. It's about really enriching your spirit and giving them the self-confidence to do whatever they want to pursue in life.
>What can we expect to see in tonight's show?
The show is pretty diverse. You're going to go on a little emotional roller coaster. We always try to break that fourth wall from the very beginning [by] telling our audiences: You're not just going to sit back and admire what we're doing. We really want you to get emotionally involved.
-- Colin Dabkowski