Most college seniors spend the last portion of their school careers trying to find a job in the workforce or trying to survive the remainder of college. Students hope and pray that their hectic schedules and internships pay off in the future—that way they might be one step closer to following their dreams. For most, dreams take time to come true. Winnie Berger, Fordham College Lincoln Center (FCLC ‘14) was the exception. She only needed one year.
As a senior in the Fordham/Ailey BFA program, Berger took part in an independent senior study thesis, in which she created a 30-minute dance performance dedicated to her younger sister with autism. This piece, titled “Inside Chunks’ Head,” motivated Berger to take her career as a dancer one step further. She decided to start her own dance company.
“The show was really worthwhile. It felt really important … like the biggest and best thing I have ever done,” Berger explained. For a while, Berger did nothing to pursue this thought—she was solely focused on graduation. After commencement, Berger was still haunted by this idea. “I got some of my friends together and we just started to dance,” Berger said. This was the early stage of Mook Dance Company.
Together, the girls moved from project to project, rehearsing whenever and wherever they could. Finally, Berger decided that it should be made official. Until this point, Berger had paid out of pocket for all of her company’s dance expenses. Funds were waning, and Berger needed more help to lift her company off of the ground. In the summer of 2014, Berger started a Kickstarter campaign where she was able to raise enough money to officially begin Mook Dance Company.
Now, Mook Dance Company is run through donations received via Paypal from Mook’s website or from tax-deductible donations through Fractured Atlas. The company is an unofficial non-profit institution— it creates no revenue. In the future, Berger hopes to make Mook Dance Company an official non-profit organization—a task that is both difficult and time consuming. “A 501(c)3 [the official non-profit government designation] is really hard to get. It’s something that, right now, I just don’t have the time or money for,” Berger said.
For now, Berger is still using donations to pay for her small company of dancers. Berger’s company consists of 11 dancers, 10 of which are either Fordham and Ailey alumni or current Fordham and Ailey dancers. Berger takes on the role of artistic director—choreographing all of the pieces and choosing the music and costumes for each piece.
Although Berger choreographs everything initially, she says that she is still open to suggestions from the other company members. “I like input. My dancers are so smart and talented, they oftentimes have good ideas. It is still a dialogue—not just me yelling at them all of the time, which was another reason why I wanted to start my own company,” Berger said.
“I like input. My dancers are so smart and talented, they oftentimes have good ideas. It is still a dialogue—not just me yelling at them all of the time, which was another reason why I wanted to start my own company,” Berger said.
As an artistic director, Berger respects her dancers and values their opinions—something not all choreographers do. Berger explained that “some choreographers are not very nice. They do not treat their dancers as an artist or a person—they just want a lot out of you.” Berger created Mook Dance Company to be a productive and fun environment, where collaboration is encouraged, not opposed.
When asked if she plans to expand her company, Berger expressed her conflicted feelings. “For now, I will stick to my core. It is really expensive,” Berger replied. “Maybe one day I will be able to expand, but for now it is hard enough to work around 11 people’s schedules.”
Mook Dance Company aims to create pieces that relate to their audience and leave them feeling refreshed. “For me, dancing is like therapy,” Berger stated, “Every piece I create is about something I felt, thought or experienced. I want the audience to feel related and understand our pieces.” Berger aims to manifest thoughts that everyone has and put them into dance, essentially “touching on human experiences and creating a dialogue with the audience,” as she phrased it.
Mook Dance Company will be hosting its own gala and fundraiser on Friday, Jan. 15 at the Williamsburg Movement and Arts Center. For more details regarding the event and Mook Dance Company, visit www.mookdancecompany.com.