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Mercyhurst joins coast-to-coast water dance

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Haylie Kromer

Mercyhurst University dancers will join a national “movement choir” on Saturday, April 16, when dancers from coast to coast perform simultaneously to draw attention to pressing issues regarding water in the United States.

National Water Dance is a collaborative of dancers and educators who hope their event will inform and inspire both participants and audience members to take responsibility for conserving and protecting the water they use and enjoy.

The Erie event aims to bring together scientific research and the performing arts to raise awareness of issues like water quality and preservation. Coordinator Solveig Santillano, an associate professor of dance at Mercyhurst, hopes entire families will come to watch the 4 p.m. dance performance at Dobbins Landing, and then follow the dancers to the Erie Maritime Museum and Blasco Library to learn more about water quality issues through a variety of activities.

Santillano says that the Erie committee has titled its event “The Ripple Effect” to emphasize that the artists are aiming to create a ripple effect throughout Erie by educating the community on water issues and suggesting specific steps that community members can take to improve local water quality.

National Water Dance Erie will begin promptly at 4 p.m. EST with a dance performance on Dobbins Landing at the foot of State Street. Across the country, dozens of groups of dancers will perform at that time near water, at lakes, bays, oceans, rivers, on bridges, next to streams or in fountains, and will explore the issues that most affect their own locations. The choreography at each site will be unique and site-specific, but each dance will begin and end with a common gesture phrase. All the dance events will be livestreamed.

After the Erie performance, dancers and audience will process along the waterfront toward the Erie Maritime Museum and Blasco Library, where educational presentations on water quality issues, additional artistic performances, children’s activities and more are planned. Even a group of Mercyhurst dancers who are spending spring semester in Ireland will take part by sending a film of their performance from Dungarvan.

The Water Dance concept grew out of a 2011 event in Florida in which dancers, musicians and visual artists gathered at eight locations to bring attention to the power and fragility of Florida’s waterways.

The event went national in 2014, drawing more than 1,200 dancers from 80 institutions in 26 states. The Mercyhurst Dance Department took part in 2014 by performing on Presque Isle’s Beach 6, but they’re increasing the scope of the event dramatically for this year’s third edition of Water Dance.

Santillano is coordinating Water Dance Erie with help from student members of the National Honor Society for Dance Arts at Mercyhurst with student leaders Haylie Kromer and Marta Timmerman. They have also partnered with many academic departments at Mercyhurst, as well as with other local artists and organizations.

Among the Mercyhurst departments participating are:

  • Chemistry, which obtained a grant from Erie Arts & Culture to fund the program. Amy Parente, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry will present her research into contaminants found in Presque Isle Bay.

  • Public Health. Students will share research and information regarding the importance of preserving our waterways.

  • Graphic Design. Students of Jodi Staniunas Hopper, art department chair, and Pete Stadtmueller, graphic design program director, are creating advocacy posters and infographs about water issues.

  • English. Jeff Roessner, Ph.D., professor of English, has encouraged his students to write poetry exploring water issues.

  • Music. Nathan Hess, DMA, department chair, is mentoring students who’ll take part, including saxophonist Kevin Timko who’ll accompany the procession from Dobbins Landing; flute soloist Kayleigh Ferguson; vocalist Shelby Mayberry; and the jazz combo Delaware Gap.

In addition, Jane Blystone, Ph.D., of the education department involved the NW PA Council of Teachers of English to stage a student poetry competition; and Keiko Miller, assistant professor of world languages, will demonstrate calligraphy. Mercyhurst music therapist Craig Stevens and Amanda Karnes of Harborcreek Youth Services are also involved.

Dancers and choreographers from other local studios and companies will also be part of Water Dance Erie, including Angela Difiore, Dafmark Dance Theatre; Charlotte Twitchell, Erie Contemporary Dance Company; Lani Weissbach, Shen & Bones Performance Group; and Sovereign Ballet.

Santillano credits the staffs of the Blasco Library, Erie Maritime Museum and Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority, in addition to the generous support of Erie Arts & Culture.

For more information, contact Solveig Santillano at