Melee Dance: fostering confidence, community

Of the many clubs and organizations at Lawrence that took a hit during the 2020 lockdown, one of the most affected was the Melee Dance Troupe, which dissolved completely. For students like senior Carol Weng, this was a major loss of community. Weng says she “wanted to find friends with similar interests, to encourage everyone to be confident with their body to express themselves through dance.” This hope led to her founding the current Melee Dance Studio. 

The new iteration of Melee meets weekly for dance practices, usually within the genres of K-pop or Chinese cultural dances, and puts on an annual dance show. Melee dancers also often participate in campus-wide productions like Cabaret, which Weng appreciates as an opportunity to spread her Chinese culture through dance. 

Weng had always wanted to promote confidence and community with Melee. Vice-president Dani Boehm, a junior, describes Melee Dance Studio as the only place she feels comfortable with her body and movements, even more so than with other dance opportunities on campus.  

“I am not shy to express myself in whatever way I want, under whatever circumstances are best for me,” Boehm explains. “There aren’t a lot of classrooms where you can find that kind of freedom.” 

The supportive strength of a dance community is another standout of the Melee experience. Both Weng and Boehm cite group accomplishments as one of their favorite aspects of the club, often with new friends they never would have met if not for Melee. Since many of their dances are done in partners and groups, Boehm says that dancing together helps her strengthen her social bonds and develop her confidence.  

“Getting everyone together and conquering a hard dance is an extremely rewarding experience,” she says. 

Melee has been steadily growing in the past few years since its inception. In 2022, they collaborated with other cultural clubs on campus to put on the Spring Dance Show as an opportunity to connect an even larger community of people through dance.  

“We had a lot more audience members than we expected,” Weng remembers fondly, “and there were many people who knew our club and wanted to join.” Though it started as a group of five, Weng shares that Melee has now grown to include 64 members.  

As for Boehm, who is a double STEM major, last year’s Spring Dance Show was a precious chance to show off her accomplishments outside of a laboratory setting.  

“It was the first experience I had on campus where I felt immense support from people who care about me,” she explains, noting that there is a special connection between people who have worked so hard and so closely for a common passion, especially one outside of her academic focus. 

Weng’s main goal since she founded Melee has been to create “a safe space for students with a similar interest in dance to find friends and have the courage to perform confidently,” in her own words. Even as the group grows and continues to strive for those ideals, Weng’s next steps are to include even more genres of dance from cultures beyond Korean and Chinese and to increase the club’s focus on body positivity through movement. 

While Weng plans to graduate in 2024, Boehm has hopes for her future time with Melee beyond this academic year. 

“I feel like people are really shy about dancing, even to their favorite songs,” Boehm explains. “I hope that we can continue to grow and encourage more people to come dance.”  

Melee aims to share that experience of dancing without shyness, welcoming everyone to join regardless of previous dance experience.