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Meredith Holt, Published December 12 2013

Rethinking dance: New company aims to broaden definition

FARGO - Haylee Thompson was dancing before she could tie her shoes.

Growing up in Willmar, Minn., the lifelong dancer thought of her dance studio as her second home.

“It’s not just dance, it’s a way of living,” the 24-year-old Fargo woman says.

In her childhood dance studio, Thompson learned who she was and what she wanted to do with her life.

“Sometimes you can’t put things into words, and so doing that through dance I think was what helped me get through different parts of my life,” she says.

Now the program director for Red River Dance & Performing Company, Thompson is helping others find themselves through dance.

In partnership with Red River, she created Rethink Dance Company in January to provide an outlet for dancers who’ve graduated from high school and college but want to say in Fargo-Moorhead.

“There aren’t many opportunities for dancers to continue their passion after graduation unless they become professionals or live in a bigger city,” she says.

Thompson and Annika Nynas, her best friend and a fellow dancer, for a while had been talking about the gap for dancers who don’t go professional or teach.

“You can dance all through high school, possibly college, then there’s this big drop-off,” says Nynas, also 24. “We saw that as a problem, and this could be a solution for it.”

Rethink’s members are mostly women in their 20s, but diversity is welcome as the company grows and develops.

The more people she reaches with dance, the better, Thompson says.

“It’s something that you’re just so passionate about that you want to share with everyone,” she says.

Thompson also wants to broaden the definition of dance, to “rethink” it, as the name suggests.

“I am all about imperfection when it comes to dancing. I like contemporary and modern dance styles, storytelling and encouraging people to be themselves,” she says.

Although Nynas is no longer a full member due to an injury and a new job, she helps guide Thompson in her goals with Rethink, one of which is to get people to see dance as an art form.

“When you ask them what art is, they’re going to say painting or sculpting, but not everyone thinks of dance right away,” Nynas says.

During auditions, instead of asking dancers to learn her choreography, Thompson asks them to create their own.

Most recently, she gave would-be members 20 to 25 minutes to choreograph a combination using “Iron” by neo-folk musician Woodkid.

“It didn’t matter to me if they came up with an 8-count or an entire dance. What was important was seeing them take the challenge of making something up on their own, dancing in front of strangers, and committing 100 percent to what they were doing in each moment, whether or not they liked the final product,” she says.

That free expression allows her to spot potential. Rethink’s tagline for the season, “Unlock Your Potential,” speaks to Thompson’s philosophy.

“I believe that there is an ‘extra’ something that everyone has inside, but it just needs to be unlocked. It’s hard to explain, but there are just some performers that you cannot keep your eyes off of, without even really knowing why,” she says.

She thinks it’s their ability to let go and put their heart and soul into the dance, allowing them to connect emotionally with the audience.

Thompson admires Mia Michaels of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” for her ability to help audiences see dance as art with her storytelling style.

“With dance, you’re creating a story, and I like for it to all be unique and personal to each individual,” she says.

Thompson’s taken classes from the Emmy-winning choreographer at dance conventions like JUMP and hopes to organize one of her own to raise money for a performance.

Thompson’s goal for 2014 is to hold a live performance featuring a local musician that incorporates technology, which would allow more people to be involved without stepping foot on stage.

The group meets weekly (or as often as their schedules allow) at Red River Dance & Performing Company in Fargo or Trollwood Performing Arts School in Moorhead.

Eventually, Thompson would like Rethink to have its own dance studio, preferably downtown.

“I see a lot of cool things happening downtown, and ideally, that’s where I’d like this sort of company to be,” she says.

Business profile

What: Rethink Dance Company

Founder: Haylee Thompson

Where: Red River Dance & Performing Company, 2921 Fiechtner Drive S., Fargo

Contact: haylee@redriverdance.com or (701) 280-0004

Online: www.facebook.com/rethinkdancecompany

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590