Student Spotlight: Amy Liang ’17, ballerina to belly dancer

Liang serves as the current president of Dartmouth's Middle Eastern Dance Club.

by Haley Gordon | 4/11/17 1:00am


After spending four years packing schedules with advanced classes, extracurricular activities, volunteering and other application-boosting obligations, most undergraduate students enter college and begin to specialize, dropping wide-ranging affairs in order to hone pet passions. While many still participate in non-academic pursuits, the general trend is to pick a couple and stick to them for the duration of the collegiate career.

During her four years on campus, Amy Liang ’17 has decidedly bucked that trend, participating in the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble and the Argentine Tango club, serving as president of the Dartmouth Asian Dance Troupe, teaching lessons in K-pop style dance and traditional dance and serving as the current president of Dartmouth’s Middle Eastern Dance Club.

Liang began taking ballet classes when she was just 4 years old and continued into high school, advancing and taking technical classes. While her parents were both varsity volleyball athletes, Liang herself preferred dance and gymnastics.

“Growing up, having only been exposed to ballet, I’ve always wanted to try a lot of other dances,” Liang said.

A biomedical engineering major, Liang sought a way to keep dance in her life at Dartmouth amidst her academic workload and took advantage of the sheer proximity to dance groups and classes available to students on campus.

Her newest passion, belly dancing, is not as large a departure from ballet as one might think. Liang especially would like to combat the idea that belly dancing is inherently sexual and therefore has a negative connotation in the minds of many who have not actually attended a performance. In fact, Liang noted how “elegant” the form could be when performed by someone classically trained.

Madelyne Mayer ’20, a dancer who joined the Middle Eastern Dance Club her freshman fall, also had ballet training before she joined. Mayer said that Liang’s existing skillset was a great asset to the small group, which now has a total of five members.

“She’s particularly good at undulation,” Mayer said. “[Liang is] really strong, and she’s also flexible – perfect qualities to bring to belly dancing.”

Liang was particularly attracted to the diversity of styles Geisel School of Medicine student Mu A, an instructor and one of the founding members of the group, includes in the pieces.

“It’s not just pure belly dancing,” Liang said. “We incorporate different elements of other dance styles. We did a piece that had elements of flamenco, which was really cool.”

Liang’s open-minded approach differs from her more traditional ballet background.

“I don’t think she’s limited to one style,” Jean Fang ’20, another member of the Middle Eastern Dance Club, said of Liang. “I think she’s a very good leader and has a lot of passion for dance.”

Formed in the spring of 2016, the Middle Eastern Dance Club is a relatively new group to campus, so members have had to work very hard to promote the organization and its events, Liang said. Fang and Mayer said Liang has stepped up to shoulder the workload, drawing upon her past leadership experience.

“She does most of the club work,” Fang said. “She’s a very talented dancer [and] very hardworking.”

Already, Liang’s initiative and dedication are making an impact. Last weekend, the Middle Eastern Dance Club hosted its first performance event. Liang drafted and presented the group’s funding proposal to the Council on Student Organizations.

Once the funding and the Bentley location were secured, Liang and the club invited professional groups to join the event.

“It’s really nice to see how much we’ve progressed,” Liang said. “Watching our first performance compared to our most recent one, it makes us really happy to see that we’ve come so far.”

Outside of dance, Liang is currently working on developing her biomedical engineering honors thesis and works as the undergraduate advisor to the Sustainable Living Center.

Liang also makes it a point to attend performances from a range of dance groups on campus in her free time. Liang has plans for the Middle Eastern Dance Club to perform more on campus and off.

“We’re hoping to go to Cairo this summer to learn from the masters,” Liang said. “We’re trying to get COSO funding. Mu always says that you really have to learn from the masters to be a true belly dancer.”

Liang also said the group would like to perform in Cairo and even compete.

“There are so many things I like about performing,” Liang said. “I like being able to share this artistic expression with the audience. Every dance is a story, and it’s so fun to be able to share that with an audience. I like being a part of this group because it’s like you’re sharing something with a group, instead of like a monologue by yourself.”

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