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Megan Bascom, the new adjunct dance pro­fessor, dances with her fellow graduate stu­dents at the Uni­versity of Michigan. Courtesy | Kirk Don­aldson

Mem­ories of the day Megan Bascom decided she wanted to be a dancer flashed back in an instant.

 She was wearing a forest green leotard and black jazz pants. She stood in a wide-leg ham­string stretch. Soft ’90s elec­tronic music played in the back­ground, and it was in that moment Bascom knew that she would pursue dance for life. 

 “I remember when I realized that I could choose dance as a path, a career, thinking, ‘I am the hap­piest right now, I want this everyday,’” Bascom said. “I realized you can do with your life what you want. You just have to figure out how.” 

That moment was more than 20 years ago. After starting her own dance company, Megan Bascom & Dancers, in New York City, and com­pleting her MFA in dance from the Uni­versity of Michigan, Bascom is now the newest adjunct dance pro­fessor in Hillsdale’s Department of Theatre and Dance. 

Begin­nings

 She’s a Floridian, born and raised. Fishing, camping, beach trips, and scraping knees were her regular activ­ities on the weekend growing up.  

“I remember the feel of the Florida sun on my skin and being able to run out in the grass. At any age, the out­doors were always acces­sible,” Bascom said. “And, I was always an ath­letic child.”

As a little girl, Bascom was kind, deter­mined, and com­pet­itive. She started off twirling batons on Wednesday after­noons — and getting the occa­sional black eye, Bascom recalled. After envying her friend who went to dance classes on the weekend, Bascom joined her local dance studio.

 “I was like, ‘Wait a second, you can dance without a stick in your hand?’ Bascom said, laughing. “I was learning that dance could simply be per­for­mative and didn’t have to include com­pe­ti­tions, which were starting to stress me out because I had to win. I clearly had a lot of drive, even as a kid.” ​

“I don’t know why but it took me almost a year to have the courage to ask my parents to take me to dance class,” she con­tinued. “I was about nine when I started dancing.”

 The start of dance classes meant the end of baton-twirling com­pe­ti­tions, and the beginning of what would even­tually become a career as a pro­fes­sional dancer.  From per­forming at arts fes­tivals to retirement homes, to hos­pitals, Bascom’s first mem­ories as a dancer include per­forming in front of little kids plugged into ven­ti­lators. Instead of medals and acco­lades, it was these moments of giving to others that pushed Bascom to follow her passion pro­fes­sionally. 

 “I was too young to realize that those kids are probably not with us now,” she said. “And yet, those sorts of per­for­mative expe­ri­ences really started to give me more of a sense of the joy that dance can bring people, and how vis­ceral the dance-watching expe­rience can be.”

 New York City lights

 With her parents as her biggest cheer­leaders, Bascom headed to New York City in 2003. She had a one-way ticket, three suit­cases, and $500 in her bank account. 

“I even missed my flight that morning,” Bascom said.

 She crashed on her friends’ couch for two weeks, and when her time was up she moved into the cheapest apartment she could find. She sold iPods for a living in the flagship Apple store to pay the bills and even ran into some of the biggest names in New York City’s phone book.

 “Calvin Klein once told me I had beau­tiful eyes when he came in to buy an iPod,” she said.

 Stevie Wonder and the Bush twins were among the other stars who stopped into the shop. 

The long days at Apple were tem­porary, Bascom told herself. For nine seasons, she danced for Brooklyn-based dance company, white road Dance Media company, and took studio classes around the city, all while con­tinuing to seek addi­tional per­for­mance oppor­tu­nities. She even became a cer­tified Pilates instructor.

 The balance was hard to find, though, she said. Should she ditch work to go to an audition? It was a question Bascom asked herself everyday. Some­times, she said, she wonders whether she made the right choice.

 “Some­times I think, ‘Should I have gambled?’ Should I have said, ‘I’m going to just not go to that job today, but I am going to go to that audition.’ But I didn’t, instead, I always tried to find bosses who under­stood the arts. And soon found ways to be my own boss and solve that problem!” she said.

 When she couldn’t find work as a dancer, Bascom began to create it for herself — and for other dancers. In 2009, Megan Bascom & Dancers was born. Modern dance would be the company’s spe­cialty, and her dream was to assemble a core com­munity of dancers.

 The beginning was incredible, said Bascom, but a lot of work. At first, it was just Bascom and a couple of her pro­fes­sional peers dancing together. But friends kept telling friends, who kept telling friends. The company went from two dancers up to 18 in one of her projects, with 5 – 8 dance artists working for the company in a typical season. 

 “I had a group of acquain­tances who were putting on a showcase, and they needed one more chore­o­g­rapher. They knew I was making work so they invited me to show it,” Bascom said. “It was the first time my work was seen in NYC, and by about 300 people. This event pro­vided the momentum that made things start to happen.” 

 Thomas Ciccone was one of the dancers who joined the company. At the beginning of 2016, Ciccone jumped into the world of modern dance after dancing at night-clubs and focusing on Cabaret and Bur­lesque dancing. Bascom was Ciccone’s encourager and chal­lenger. 

Megan Bascom and Thomas Ciccone perform a duet. Courtesy | Jim Laf­ferty

 “She’s a beau­tiful mover, and she always has a sur­prise factor of doing things,” said Ciccone, who is still a pro­fes­sional dancer. “There would be times in rehearsals when she would demon­strate the effort that she was looking for and some­times I would be so wowed, and I’d say, ‘Wait, I have to do that?’”

 “At the same time, Megan wanted every­thing to be organic. She didn’t want any­thing to be forced,” Ciccone con­tinued. “If some­thing was not working, she would say, ‘Let’s move on to the next thing.’”

The company danced all over the city. Megan Bascom & Dancers joined come­dians, live musi­cians, and poets at loft parties. They traveled around the country, including to the his­toric Dance Complex in Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts, an arts building which has stood since 1884. And they con­tinued to foster com­munity through public dance events. 

Through all of this, Bascom was dealing with a long-term rela­tionship coming to a close. When it was time to move on, Bascom moved back from Southern Con­necticut to the heart of New York City and fully immersed herself in work with her company.

“I lived pretty simply in a really small space, worse than dorm life for a year and a half. It was rough,” she said. “But I was with my dance company all the time and my New York City Pilates clients were lovely.”

 She met her husband, Giuseppe Hammer, in 2014. After he won a coffee basket at one of her company fundraisers, she delivered it to the 20th floor of his office building, and their friendship began.  

 “One night, he was walking me back to my car and we both agreed, ‘We should go on a date,’” she said. “And then he called me and he said, ‘This is a date.’ And then I yelled to my roommate, ‘I’ve got to find a dress.’”

 He was the partner who would support Bascom in all her endeavors; from watching shows all over New York with her, to inte­grating his entre­pre­neurial ideas to help her company succeed. And it was evident to everyone. 

“He was bringing support to her at a time when she needed that the most, and being an example of a partner who cares, loves you, and pro­vides that support to your artistry,” Ciccone said. “He was the partner you wished you had.”

The journey to Hillsdale

 It was an accident that took Bascom out of the city in 2014.

 In the Bronx, Bascom sud­denly found her car slammed in between two vehicles. The wreck totaled her car, and she was imme­di­ately rushed to the hos­pital. 

 “There were a lot of sounds that night,” she said.

 So many sounds, she said, that a severe, undi­ag­nosed con­cussion resulted in her nearly five-year recovery from the 2014 accident.

 “It shifted my men­tality about the city,” Bascom said. “I thought, ‘OK, I’m in pain, it’s hard to keep up the pace in New York. I think I need a shift.’”

 Graduate school sud­denly became one of the most viable options. When Bascom learned that the Uni­versity of Michigan offered full-ride schol­ar­ships to stu­dents pur­suing a Master of Fine Arts in dance, she applied. 

She was one of the four recip­ients who received the schol­arship.

“I thought, ‘wow, this is really hap­pening. This means they rec­ognize that I’ve accom­plished enough to deserve this,’” she said. “But then I realized, ‘I’m leaving New York.’ That was the moment this big decision hit me and I knew things were going to change.” 

In 2017, Bascom began graduate school and could finally inte­grate her interest in kines­thetic awareness with empathy. This rela­tionship became the focus of her research. How the two work together ulti­mately affects how humans relate to one another, Bascom said. 

Mem­ories from New York City came back when researching, Bascom said, smiling. When chore­o­graphing the dance for 18 dancers back in New York, she focused on the poignant tran­si­tions people make in life. 

“When you leave some­where, what gets left behind? What does it feel like to be uprooted and have to tran­sition?” Bascom said. “We did a lot of movement and part­nering that lifted people just barely off the ground and explored what feelings that sen­sation invokes.” 

Like many of her endeavors, Bascom’s research was rewarded. 

In 2018, she received the Meta Weiser EXCEL­erator Grant through the School of Music, Theatre and Dance for this research in con­junction with the entre­pre­neurial work she was doing to design ways for her company to bring this research to medical stu­dents at the Uni­versity of Michigan. 

Through her research, medical stu­dents could become more aware of their body lan­guage when inter­acting with their patients — and in turn, develop more empathy toward them. 

Fol­lowing her grad­u­ation from the two-year program in 2019, she remained at Uni­versity of Michigan as an inter­mittent lec­turer. She con­tinues to teach there now. 

Megan Bascom teaches a dance class at the Uni­versity of Michigan. Courtesy | Scott Shaw

Shea Carp­toner-Broderic, a student of Bascom’s while she was com­pleting her MFA, danced in two of Bascom’s works. Though Bascom was her instructor and pro­fessor, she was also a friend.

“When I came to college I felt a little bit lost and everyone came from a dif­ferent back­ground than I did,” said Carp­toner-Broderic. “When Megan came, we had such similar minds and we have similar interests in movement and anatomy and I felt really val­i­dated dancing. I think that really helped me be con­fident in what I wanted to do.”

 Bascom was always unapolo­get­i­cally herself — a non-con­formist, Carp­toner-Broderic said. If she didn’t like some­thing, she wouldn’t do it. And if she really enjoyed some­thing, she did it shame­lessly.

Though Carp­toner-Broderic didn’t finish her senior year in person, Bascom left her with a lasting memory from their final class together. 

 “The end com­bi­nation we did was super high energy,” she said. “The last com­bi­nation we were throwing our­selves in the air, and even though we were going across the floor in sep­arate groups, we were all on the same wave­length.”

 “There was this com­munity feeling which I think Megan is really good at cre­ating,” she con­tinued. “She’s really good at making everyone feel com­fortable in her classroom and making everyone feel like we can take risks.”

 Now also teaching at Hillsdale, Bascom comes pre­pared after playing almost every role pos­sible: a per­former, an artistic director, a student, and a pro­fessor.

 Unlike most schools, Bascom described, Hillsdale wel­comes stu­dents from all dif­ferent levels of dance, some­thing not cel­e­brated at most schools.

 “Plenty of schools can make dancing an incredibly intim­i­dating pathway, but some schools make it more approachable,” Bascom said. “We offer a minor to stu­dents who really love dance, and I think that’s what’s been most sat­is­fying about my expe­rience here.”

Her teaching style is refreshing, said senior Kailey Andrews. Instead of just teaching a dance, Bascom teaches her stu­dents the history behind each one. She cares for stu­dents’ pain, and incor­po­rates daily stretches to alle­viate it. And rather than discard human contact all together, Andrews said Bascom has found ways to create human con­nection in all her chore­og­raphy. 

“Her usual style of chore­og­raphy is very contact based, and focuses on how bodies can work together in a space,” said Andrews. “Chore­o­graphing in a pan­demic is hard and I admire how she’s cre­atively adapted that. She’s figured out a way how we can interact on stage without ever coming in contact together.”

 Though Bascom has inte­grated a new type of modern dance with the con­tem­porary dance already taught at Hillsdale, she says she still wants her dancers to find their own style.

 “I don’t want them to dance like me,” Bascom said. “I want them to find a better sense of their bodies as expressive dancers, and I think that’s most important.”

When Bascom fin­ishes the chore­og­raphy, she passes the baton, said Andrews. 

“Once she chore­o­graphs, she always gives the movement to the dancers. She says, ‘It’s no longer mine. It’s yours.’ And I can’t imagine a more beau­tiful way for someone to pass it on.”