Letting Dance Happen


Dance can happen where you least expect it — in a city crowd or even an antique mall. Happendance, mid-Michigan’s only non-profit professional dance company, happened unexpectedly, too. In 1976, Michigan State University graduate student Diane Newman and fellow classmates needed something to do on their summer break. So they decided to give live performances three days a week on the grounds of MSU. “We did everything to prepare for the performances — from mowing the lawn to choreographing and directing,” explained Newman, Happendance co-founder and executive director. And something happened — they attracted crowds of about 100 people. That was the genesis of the name Happendance. “We danced and the audience just ‘happened’ to follow,” Newman said. Through the years, they let dance “happen” in makeshift studios. They started out at the Lansing Ice Rink, moved to a studio in DeWitt, then to Lansing’s YMCA. In 1995, the studio settled into its current location at the corner of Hagadorn and Jolly Road in Okemos on the second floor of what was then an antique mall. “It was one huge space,” Newman said. Along the way, Happendance attracted many dancers — professional, aspiring and recreational. Newman and a handful of instructors teach kids as young as 3 years old and adults up to their 80s. Newman calls one group of seniors “ageless dancers.” “Dance is their therapy,” she reflected. “These women are very supportive and encouraging of each other.” Newman also teaches students at the other end of the age spectrum. “I love it when that light first ignites and they’ve grasped a dance step and then a whole routine.” Happendance often steps out of its studios to offer programs at community events. When Lansing celebrated its Sesquicentennial in 2009, about 50 men and women aged 8 to 80 erupted on the city streets into a seemingly “spontaneous” dance. The dancers blended into the crowd and at a precisely timed point, they danced in unison for a 6-minute performance. In reality, Happendance had organized the dance well ahead of time. Today, Happendance’s community performances are still going strong. Each summer, Happendance partners with Lansing Community College to present new and contemporary works in its Community Dance Project. The hour-long concerts are produced by seasoned and novice choreographers that take to the stage to explain their artistic vision. Newman’s love for dance and teaching haven’t wavered since she “happened to dance” on the open air stage of the MSU grounds. For a complete list of classes and other Happendance events, visit www.happendance.org.

Tags: east lansing, Happendance, nonprofit

Ann Cool

Ann Cool, MPS, is a freelance writer who lives in Mason with her husband Bob.

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