Bold Moves
Spotlight on Abby Marchesseault
Story by Katie Dravenstott
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While dance has always been a passion for Abigail Marchesseault, the newly graduated SMU alumna has come to appreciate the communal aspects of the art form. Growing up in Herndon, Va., Marchesseault started dancing at the age of five, training in a variety of styles including ballet, modern, jazz and musical theatre. In high school she spent her summers in workshops with renowned dance companies such as Paul Taylor and Alvin Ailey. These experiences led her to SMU, where she was a Meadows Scholar while she earned her B.F.A. in dance along with a B.S. in applied physiology and sport management. Yet while balancing the physical and mental demands of her double major, Marchesseault was also committed to taking dance out of the classroom and into the local community through her role as president of the dance service organization MOVE (Meadows Organization for Visual Entertainment).

Formed in 2011 by dance student Alex P. Nowlin (B.A. Advertising ’14), MOVE was originally focused on cultivating a healthy dance community at SMU in regard to the relationships between students and faculty and dance majors and non-majors. When Marchesseault joined MOVE a year later the organization was just beginning to extend into the larger community, a challenge Marchesseault was more than ready to accept.

“Dance doesn’t just belong on the concert stage. My dancing is a gift and I feel I have a personal responsibility to share it with others.”

“Over the years we expanded our understanding of our dance community to include the whole Dallas area, and, most recently, the international scene,” she says. “Now, MOVE primarily focuses on finding ways to use dance to serve that larger community.” She notes that this past year MOVE hosted a number of student-taught classes; organized a trip to Panama to teach dance and volunteer at several orphanages; performed at SMU’s Relay for Life and Diversity Week; and collaborated with the All Stars Project of Dallas to host a dance clinic and assist in a talent show for underprivileged students. The group’s trip to Panama heightened Marchesseault’s understanding of dance as a means of communication and also strengthened her commitment to MOVE and
its outreach programs. “The experience showed me that dance doesn’t just belong on the concert stage. My dancing is a gift and I feel I have a personal responsibility to share it with others,” she says.

When not working on ways to expand MOVE’s agenda, Marchesseault could often be found in the dance studio fine-tuning her piece for the Meadows annual Sharp Show or working with visiting guest artists and faculty members on upcoming projects. She says her experience with local choreographer and SMU alum Joshua L. Peugh (’06), the founder and artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, was particularly memorable. “It was my first time being part of the creative process where the dancers and choreographer collaborated together, and it gave me more insight into how a piece is shaped and what a dancer’s role can be to different degrees,” she says.

Marchesseault’s strong initiative served her well over her four years at SMU Meadows. “The faculty here is amazing. The opportunities that you get are incredible, but it’s really about what you choose to take out of the program,” she says. “No one forces you to take anything here, but if you really want to achieve anything then you’ve got to go after it.” For Marchesseault this meant stepping outside her comfort zone and taking classes in yoga, Graham technique and dance history. By doing this, Marchesseault widened her perspective and gained the confidence to try new things, including a class called Science on the Stage. “It combined my two favorite loves: exploring how science is portrayed in art and how art uses science in a performance.”

Marchesseault believes her Meadows experiences will greatly help her as she begins auditioning for a place in a professional company. She’s excited to know that the SMU dance division’s wide-reaching network includes alumni working at her number one choice, the Paul Taylor Dance Company. “I just love his voice as a choreographer and that suits my artistic sensibilities as well,” she says. “His perspective on the world and how he mixes humor, tragedy and happiness all in one piece is just brilliant.” Marchesseault’s long-term goal is to combine her love of dance and kids into a career as a physical therapist. No matter where the road takes her, Marchesseault is confident her time at SMU has prepared her well. “I am definitely not the same person or dancer I was four years ago. I am more well-rounded, more conscientious and grateful for every opportunity I have had.”