Hobart and William Smith Colleges - Verbitsky ’21 Explores Dance Culture in Belgium
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Verbitsky ’21 Explores Dance Culture in Belgium

With a double major in international relations and dance theory and performance, Ruby Verbitsky ’21 developed a project that combines her two seemingly dissimilar majors while studying abroad in Brussels.

With support from a Student International Initiative Fund grant, Verbitsky analyzed the differences in European and American dance class and performance culture while studying in Belgium. “My background in research methods through my international relations major, and my eye, trained to evaluate dance as a dance major, gave me the resources to properly gather information to make an informed decision on the topic,” she says.

Knowing that dance in America often derives from European styles, Verbitsky was curious to explore differences and similarities between the two. To conduct her research, she took dance classes at a Brussels studio with Studio 51, and attended the Dutch Dance Festival in Maastricht, Netherlands, where she talked to dance company members following performances.

In the Studio 51 classrooms, she says, “I was able to observe dance classroom dynamics for a variety of ages. I noticed how contemporary styles of dance had developed relatively similar to those in America.” Her ballet and modern classes were taught in French, she says, but the movements were similar to what she’d experienced in American dance studios.

“Dance can make connections between people regardless of language,” she says. “It seems silly and cliché but the language of the body was all we needed to communicate.”

Another similarity she discovered between the dance cultures was the focus on body image over skill. “The ballet company that my professor danced with in Germany as a young professional focused on the girls’ weight over their abilities,” she explains. “My instructor talked to me about changing her career to teaching as a result of the unhealthy work culture.”

Verbitsky found comfort in the classes. “When I was homesick, it was awesome to make connections with people who shared an interest in something that did not have the barriers of spoken language,” she says.

While she was in Brussels, Verbitsky also traveled extensively, visiting nearly a dozen countries, and took classes at Vesalius College in human rights and international relations. She had an internship with the non-profit organization Make Mothers Matter, which advocates for gender equality in the European Union.

On campus, Verbitsky is a member of the Koshare Dance Collective, HWS DreamCatchers club to benefit hospice patients  and is a delegate in the Model African Union.