KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A prestigious award could help a Western Michigan University dance student choreograph a path to success after graduation.
Hayley Midea won the coveted Maggie Allesee Choreography Award on Saturday, Oct. 12, during a showcase at the Michigan Dance Festival. Her original piece, "Dear Larry," moved judges in both its precision and power.
"I always tend to draw from personal experience, or just from what I know," says Midea, a senior dance major who created the piece to take a stand against sexual assault.
Her cousin Taylor Helber is among the survivors of disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar. Midea recorded her testimony from Nassar's trial and set it to music, choreographing a moving piece about her cousin's courage.
"It is so intense, but it's something that makes an impact," Midea says. To be able to share her story and not allow things like this just slip away, so (the victims) are heard and it doesn't happen in the future is important."
Choreography isn't something Midea, a Wixom native, has always been comfortable with.
"I've really grown as a person at WMU, in ways I never thought possible" says Midea. "Choreography scared me so much when I got here, and now as a senior I just won the state competition for choreography."
Midea had company at the Michigan Dance Festival. Seyong Kim, assistant professor of dance at WMU, was also a finalist for the award for his piece, "Wingless Angels."
A Winning Program
This is the second year in a row that a WMU student has won the Maggie Allesee Choreography Award. Alyssa Brutlag, who graduated in April, took home the top prize in 2018 for her piece "Do Us Part," which explored the conflict between religious law and committed relationships.
"The biggest thing it did for me is give me credibility as a young choreographer who just graduated from college," says Brutlag, who traveled the country over the summer for a number of choreography jobs before creating a home base in Seattle. "People are taking me more seriously. It really can take years to build a network of people and to be getting gigs as often as I was lucky to have this summer."
Her love of dance ignited into passion when she had the chance to take a deep dive into the art form at WMU.
"I've always wanted to be a choreographer. I didn't know I was going to be able to do it as soon as I am, which is a dream come true, and it's only because of Western that I'm able to do that."
A Solid Foundation
Dance majors at WMU get diverse training in a number of disciplines, creating a strong foundation for their future endeavors.
"I came here because of the dance program, because WMU has jazz, modern and ballet," says Midea. "The trifocal program was a big pull for me."
Brutlag says the results are evident now that she's competing for jobs.
"When you're out (of school), you can see where your training was either lacking or where you were lucky to have something above other schools," she says. "I found that I am a very malleable dancer, and I am able and comfortable to do any kind of style that I'm asked; I'm prepared for anything."
But it's more than just technical training.
"I don't think any other program is like our program," says Midea. "The professors just care so much about us as people and our careers as dancers, but also who we become morally and ethically. They care about our well-being."
Both Midea and Brutlag describe the Department of Dance as a second family.
"I left with a community. I feel that with the alumni before me, and I feel that with the freshmen that I haven't even met yet," says Brutlag, who was able to make professional connections in Seattle with the help of her former professors. "It's so necessary in the world and in the arts right now, and I'm so thankful. I think that's the biggest takeaway from the program for me."
The community has been huge for Midea, whose grandfather passed away just two days before the Maggie Allesee competition.
"I received so much support from everyone in the program—the professors, students, everyone—in one of my saddest times and also two days later in one of the highest points of my dance career in college. It just shows how much they care about you."
Her grandfather's experience with Parkinson's disease is also the inspiration for her next project. Senior Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates choreograph pieces for their colleagues to perform. Midea's will focus on the progression of her grandfather's Parkinson's disease and the role reversal in dependence he experienced.
"I knew I needed to do this as a tribute to him," says Midea. "It's something that will push me creatively, and I think it's definitely something he'll be a part of spiritually."
While it will be an emotional journey, she looks forward to seeing the project come together and watching her classmates perform it in April.
"I trust all of the dancers in the program; they're family to me."
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.