Andria LaRocco and Beth Liebowitz, both class of 2010, dish about the obstacles involved in running their own show and their grand plan for their future studio.
Where are you from?
Andria: I am from central Mass, about 45 minutes west of Boston. It's called Grafton. A small little town. I graduated with less than a hundred people.
Beth: I'm from New York.
What made you decide to attend UMass?
A: I got a nice scholarship to come here so it was the cheapest. I also knew that I wanted to dance and major in dance. What's cool about being here, though, is that it's very doable to have two degrees. My second major is communication disorders. So for me, it was important to know I could do both if I came here.
B: Well, this was the only big state school I applied to. Because you had to audition to get into the dance department and I got in, I saw that as a sign to go. It's pretty selective; about 300 people audition and 15 get asked to come. Also, I wanted to go to a northeast school; I wanted the classic college experience with fall foliage.
Because LeeRoc Dance Project is a collaborative effort, how do you plan on continuing it after graduation? Especially in your separate cities?
B: We decided that we would keep the company going and just be a dual city company where we'd have a NY cast that we work with when Andria's in NY and have a Boston cast that we work with when I'm in Boston. The two of us have connections with a lot of different people which is how we got this whole collaboration to happen. We just knew people in the music dept. and I think that's true for the real world, too. Maybe less so because we're not all in the same community but we both know people. And when you're in the arts, it's not just your job, you live it and therefore, you meet other people within the arts.
A: And it's way smaller than you'd think. I also think people that we worked with on this show are going to work with us again.
How did you feel about your first performance?
A: Excellent! It was a big success. For a few weeks afterwards, Beth and I were having withdrawals and saying, "I don't want to do anything except this!"
B: It's weird because you give yourself a real life job and then it's over. And then you have to be a student again. So it's hard. We did have about three weeks of work to catch up with because when you're producing a show, you can't really do work.
A: We didn't sleep.
B: You can't because you're in charge. We were the choreographers, producers, everything.
A: We were the main source of communication.
B: We were also the maintenance which was interesting. We also moved and built a stage.
What was your favorite part of the whole process?
A: Gosh, I don't know, it was like a whirlwind. I think seeing it all come together, honestly.
B: We didn't have a venue and that's something we'd love for you to write about. Lack of space on campus for student use that doesn't have a million rules set to it. Because that's ridiculous. This campus is huge and there's enough space. Honestly, students were the ones who helped us out the most when it came to space. The faculty who are in charge of space venues who are on campus- horrendous. There were rules like you can't have a space on campus for more than one night in a row. As of February, there's really no actual performance venue on campus for students to use more than one night in a row which is really sad. So we made our own and we had to go through leaps and bounds to get it; after we graduate, we both are really going to be proactive, as alumnus, trying to help students find space on campus.
A: That was one of our major obstacles, I would say.
Did it count as a thesis?
B: It could've. They gave us a choice. They told us that it could count as our theses but we're doing our theses now. For some reason, we were like, "No, we just want to do this for us as two people who want to keep the LeeRoc dance project going." Now looking back on it, we really could've had this as our thesis.
A: Both our mothers were there, helping us through the chaos and they were like, "Why isn't this your thesis?" and going up to our professors and saying, "Make this their thesis!"
B: So now both of us are in the middle of writing our thesis papers for totally different topics and choreographing 10 minute dances that reflect our thesis. That will be in a show April 22nd, 23rd and 24th in Bowker Auditorium: Alive with Dance, senior thesis concert.
Since you're seniors, what is your favorite memory of UMass so far?
B: If in two months, I were to look back at college, it would have to be LeeRoc.
A: I don't think that most people will do in their lifetime what we did. Not to toot our own horns, but this was such a cool thing to do and it made us feel as if we could do anything. We could definitely put on a show in a trashcan after this. But college was amazing. Taking classes at all 5 colleges, performing at all 5 colleges, choreographing for three years.
B: Yeah, being part of a five college department is a big deal in our memories. We have performed at so many different venues which is amazing. Amazing for your resume, amazing as an experience, and also community building. The dance department is all about community because we are a tiny department that very few people know about and we are in the basement of a building that isn't even ours. So it's definitely a good time to know you have a family of about 40 people in the basement of Totman Gym.
A: Those people are good memories. They become family because you're together so often.
Any advice for incoming freshman?
B: Use UMass to its advantage. It has a lot of hidden gems. Faculty here are not going to spoon-feed you. You have to go and find out what you like, what makes you happy and get ready to put in some work to get it to happen but it'll be worth it. And UMass really can provide that but you have to do a lot of work.
A: The resources are here but you are the one who makes yourself happy with your 4 years here. You create your destiny, you get everything out of this school that you can.
B: In a way, you have to be your own faculty advisor on happiness. I would say, on LeeRoc, we had a faculty advisor who was amazing but he was like, "I'm going to let you guys be professionals with this. I'm not going to spoon-feed you. If you have a problem, you can't come running to me and I'll just give you the answer."
A: We would try sometimes.
B: Yeah, but he would make us figure it out like you have to do in the real world. During that time, it was annoying but looking back on it, we now know how to do a lot of stuff that we didn't before.
Are you planning on going to graduate school?
B: We both definitely want graduate degrees at some point in our lives.
A: I applied to a couple of graduate schools for speech pathology and I'm still waiting. The thing is I don't know if I want to go directly into grad school. At some point, yes, I want to do speech language pathology, I want to do movement therapy. But I don't know. Even if I get into schools, I'm not sure I want to go right away. I kind of want to experience life for a little bit. I'm kind of done with school, as bad as it sounds. How long have we been in school, 17 years, 15 years? I don't know. Which is scary to not be in school anymore. I want to travel.
B: But we have a grand plan. Which will hopefully also be a moneymaking plan. We are going to open a LeeRoc dance studio on a beach and it's going to be sustainable. It's going to have solar panels on the ceilings and wind turbines and all this stuff. But the basics of it is that we're going to have our own company that has two studios that they can rehearse in. We're also going to be teaching classes and we also want to get degrees in movement therapy. We both already have started teaching children with autism and we'd obviously like to expand who we'd like to use movement therapy for. We also want to provide physical therapy in our studio and speech pathology. And we're going to have a cafe!
A: With organic food!
B: So it is a grand plan. We want it to be a place that people can go, not just for hardcore dance, we're not going to whip everyone with a wet noodle and say, you all have to look exactly the same at the ballet bar. We'll have a company that will be our professional company and then people can come take classes as a way to get away from things and bring their kids if they need movement therapy or adults if they need movement therapy.
A: It'll be a family and friend environment.