It began with a simple question: what will it take to bring dance to Troy University and make it a competitive major in the South?
That question, asked a decade ago by TROY Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr., led to the transformation of the Department of Speech and Theatre into the Department of Theatre and Dance, which in turn led to the first dance show ever produced by the University in February 2009.
What started as a group of six elite dancers has transformed into that viable, competitive major Hawkins envisioned, one continues to produce professional dancers and high-quality shows.
The department recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of that first show by producing “Together We,” a performance that combined current students with alumni dancers, including some from the group known as the “Original Six.”
Reflecting back a decade, that Original Six group recalls the hard work and struggle to build the foundation of what has become TROY’s dance program.
“I remember it was a struggle for a little while,” said Sydnii Todd, a 2012 graduate who was one of the Original Six. “When you only have six people, you have no real budget, nothing to speak of, so you’re building everything from the ground up and trying to trail blaze for everyone else. What I really remember is being here with all my friends, getting in the studio, working hard and trying to figure out where our path was.”
The journey to that first show was riddled with long days and plenty of sweat.
“I think it was very tumultuous,” said Christina Green Hicks, a 2012 graduate. “We worked really hard and didn’t know exactly what we were building at that time. I don’t think we realized how much we were affecting the department until a couple years later.”
Despite the hardships, the dancers had a sense of confidence from the start.
“I remember from day one we tried to hand pick best of the best, and I remember saying that this is going to be one of the strongest dance programs in the United States,” said Adrienne Hicks, who became one of the first two dance graduates in 2011. “We just knew how much we cared about it, how much passion we all had for it, and we knew if we were going to start something, why on earth wouldn’t we start something that was going to be the best?”
Their coordinator shared that certainty.
“The one memory that sticks out the most is that all of us knew beyond any doubt what we wanted the program to become,” said Deborah Hicks, TROY’s Coordinator of Dance. “We were united in the conviction that we had begun with six of the best dancers in Alabama and we were working to lay the foundation for excellence. They understood the work and sacrifice we would have to put in. That understanding was a given as was the actual work and sacrifice.”
That work is still being appreciated today, as current students learn about how much they owe to the Original Six.
“They went through a lot of struggles and hardships, stuck through it, and if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have what we do today,” said Erin Smith, a junior dance major from Huntsville. “They paved the path for us to walk on. It’s just incredible to be with them, be around them and see how much they love us because we are fulfilling something they started.”
Smith credits the dance program’s atmosphere as being among the key attractions for students coming in.
“From the very beginning when I came for my first Day of Dance class, during their spring show, I felt an immediate sense of family, that they genuinely cared about what you were doing, how you were doing in your classes and that you were going to excel,” she said. “They were not just looking at your year that you were about to start, they were looking ahead the next four years at where you could potentially be, how far you could go and how they could help you grow.”
For those who built that foundation, students like Smith are living proof that their hard work paid off.
“It’s really cool to come back now to see these girls in the program who do the same dances I did when I was younger, to see how they transform it and make it better than we did,” said Todd, who currently works as a social media manager and dance teacher in Birmingham.
As the dancers prepared for “Together We,” the alumni became even more impressed with the students who have followed them.
“I have so much pride in what they’ve been accomplishing the past 10 years,” said Christina Green Hicks, who recently became director of Patti Rutland Jazz, a Dothan-based nonprofit dance organization. “It’s mindboggling what they’ve been able to do, the sheer number of people interested in the program, and the quality of the productions is out of this world.”
There’s a sense of pride in the Original Six — pride in the work they did, and pride in the work the Department of Theatre and Dance continues to do.
“It’s incredible,” said Adrienne Hicks, a professional dancer who has worked extensively in New York. “I’ve been blessed with an incredible professional career, but this program is hands-down the thing I’m most proud of in my life.”