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Dance student performs with Janelle Monae

Dance student performs with Janelle Monae

“A friend texted me at 4 in the morning asking if I wanted to do a gig with Janelle Monae, and I thought it was a dream,” said Dennette Bennett, a junior double major in dance and public relations. “I woke up and the text was still there, so I was like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ I sent her my Instagram, a headshot and my resume. Three days go by and I’m getting paranoid, so I ended up texting her and I was told I got the gig.”

Since the early age of 3, Bennett has felt a stronger connection with dance than any other artistic outlet. Currently she spends 17 hours a week on her future career and has mastered her interest in the techniques of modern and ballet. Recently, Bennett was able to exert her passion professionally through a thrilling, yet impressive gig – dancing for Janelle Monae during the popular music festivals Afropunk and Global Citizen.

“I like performing. I like someone else's vision to be put on me, so I can interpret it in my own way. I like being vulnerable enough so that the audience can feel like they're on stage with me,” Bennett said.

While attending the Hamilton School of Dance on Long Island, Bennett was attached to the exhilarating feeling dance provided. Bennett showcased her first plie and ultimately fell in love with the performing arts.

She recalled a memory from her first recital so vividly it almost seemed as if it occurred yesterday. “During my recital, my mom told me everyone was crying to get off the stage, but I was crying because the performance was over.” Essentially, this was a pivotal moment for Bennett, as she knew dance would become a strong aspect within her daily life. It was astonishingly clear – dance would be Bennett's soulmate.

At the age of seven, Bennett attended the DeVore Dance Center in Queens, where she concentrated on mastering her dance skills. In order to accomplish this, she indulged herself in a family of influential teachers, friends and mentors.

Carolyn DeVore, a performance art teacher at DeVore Dance Center, strongly implemented performance quality within Bennett. Bennett watched her talent blossom as she worked with DeVore to become a skilled dancer. DeVore quickly became a role model for Bennett, as she helped set a clear path for Bennett’s dance career.

The performance art scene strongly displays many different types of dance, such as contemporary, ballet, tap and hip-hop. Bennett was compelled by almost all of them as she began to find her range within the arts. “I started with hip-hop and tap. I was most consistent with ballet, but I did modern and African. I started doing contemporary when I came to Hofstra, because I was always interested in it.”

Although Bennett is drawn to most styles, she resonates with hip-hop tremendously because it has allowed her to incorporate her personal flare within the intricate movement, “I love hip-hop because I can put more of my sassier self into it. I am not a very extroverted person, so it's another [outlet] for me to the person I hope to be.”

While feeling free to express her core self through the inspiring moves of hip-hop, Bennett also hopes to move a wide range of audiences through contemporary dance. “It moved me while I watched other people do it, so when I got to Hofstra, I wanted to develop the technique to be on the same level field as I am with hip-hop,” Bennett said.

Bennett’s experience with Monae allowed her to experiment more with hip-hop and verified that dance is her calling. Soon after receiving confirmation that she would be performing with Monae, a choreographer contacted Bennett, which she explained to be a moment of glory. Bennett put her skills to the test the next day as she swayed her hips through Janelle Monáe’s songs during an exciting, but trying, eight-hour rehearsal.

Bennett performed at Afropunk, a music festival portrayed through black excellence with a groove of many different types of music, art, film and fashion located in Brooklyn, New York, the next day. Bennett was able to showcase her talent for Monáe twice, as she strutted her moves on stage during Global Citizen in late September.

The performance aspect of dance conclusively captures Bennett’s heart, “I hope to eventually move people with my dance. I like performing, because it feels like dance is the only place I don’t have to think. I think a lot in general, but on stage I can just do. The emotion comes [naturally] ... and it’s exciting sharing that with the audience.”

Before each performance, the only regime Bennett has designed for herself is a prayer. As she cried with her fellow dancers, two of whom are women she calls inspirations, and whom she danced with previously, Bennett felt as though she found her aspiration: “Being on stage gave me the confirmation that I am doing what I want to do. This is my purpose in life.”

For Bennett, the performance lifestyle captures a wave of emotion and naturality while on stage. The hectic atmosphere of Afropunk and Global Citizen made Bennett feel even more powerful as she showcased her love for dance to an engaging audience. This is who Bennett was born to be.

Dance certainly has its perks, but behind the scenes the art can become quite difficult. Bennett described dance as being mentally, emotionally and physically draining, and although she has dealt with the provoking thoughts of quitting the arts, she could never leave her soulmate’s side. “There were points where I wanted to quit. When I was younger, my social life was limited because I always had dance; but I’m happier with dance than I would ever be without it.”

Dance allows a sense of joy and fulfillment to grow in Bennett’s veins. She has learned a plethora of life lessons while being a dancer, one being her interest in self-growth. The difficulties of dance include constant criticism which Bennett describes as a melting pot for her self-reflection and confidence. “I learned how to take criticism really well, it made me take pride in being rational and self-reflective. It makes me think about how my actions are impacting someone else.”

Not only has dance created the strong-suited woman Bennett is today, but it also allowed her to focus deeply on the person she is becoming. Ultimately, the art has become an outlet for her to truly express her inner being, a side of herself the world does not often experience.

“In a perfect world I would love to pursue my dreams in New York and tour with major artists or get signed to a major talent agency,” Bennett said. “What’s for me will be for me.”

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