Steam Heat Dance Company expands horizons of musical theatre


Photo courtesy of Elyse Yun and Justin Barbin

Steam Heat poses during its 2022 spring show.Steam Heat is a musical theatre dance group looking to expand the genre’s meaning.

Jamie Kim , Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

Communication senior and Steam Heat Dance Company President Elyse Yun said she arrived at Northwestern excited to get involved with musical theatre on campus. Performing extensively in musical theatre in high school and loving to dance, she thought Steam Heat would be right up her alley. 

Steam Heat is a musical theatre dance group that expands the genre by incorporating many different styles of dance and music. 

Yun said musical theater is defined by storytelling -– the narratives performers convey inform their song choices and choreography.

Steam Heat hosts its holiday cabaret in Fall Quarter, inviting other campus singing and dance groups to perform. This past fall, Freshman Fifteen, The Undertones and Extreme Measures were among the groups that performed. 

Steam Heat also has an annual spring show. Both the Fall Cabaret and the spring show often include live performances from a jazz band. 

All Steam Heat’s pieces are student choreographed. When Yun choreographs, she said she expands beyond the basic choreography and focuses on the dancers’ emotions while performing. 

“Having intention behind every piece of choreography that you’re executing is what makes the difference between just going through movements and actually feeling something through the art,” Yun said. 

Weinberg sophomore and Steam Heat Treasurer Leila Stoll trained in a variety of dance styles growing up, including contemporary, jazz and tap. She was drawn to Steam Heat because of the range of genres the group explores. 

While Stoll said she doesn’t have a musical theatre background, she said Steam Heat is special to her because of the diversity of dances performed. 

“I’ve been welcomed into the world of theatre and musical theatre while being able to continue dancing, which is really cool,” Stoll said. 

She said choreographing is a valuable creative outlet for her and particularly enjoys contemporary dance. While her dances are very technical, she aims to make the process stress-free and fun when teaching choreography. 

Communication sophomore and Steam Heat Marketing Director Coco Gonzalez said she has been trying to incorporate more cultural music as a choreographer as well as the contemporary, hip-hop and street-style dances currently seen on Broadway. 

Gonzalez’s father is from Puerto Rico. She has spent a lot of time dancing there with her family, she said, which has helped her gain knowledge about salsa and street-style Hispanic movement. 

She is choreographing a trio for the upcoming spring show to “Break My Heart Again” by FINNEAS. The piece is performed in the dark with lit phones. Gonzalez experimented with the piece’s lighting by dancing in her room in the dark, using only her phone as a light source. She said her piece was inspired by the pandemic and that it reflects a time during which social connection was only possible virtually. 

“It is kind of a homage to … trying to find connection through the screen and feeling lost,” Gonzalez said. “You’re in the dark, and the only thing that is lighting you is the screen that’s in front of you.”

Despite the disruptions to school life that came with the COVID-19 pandemic during her freshman year, Yun said Steam Heat provided a community that was consistently there for her. 

While the dancers were unable to meet in person, they filmed dances individually and created video compilations. They rehearsed for their spring show over Zoom and filmed the show in person. 

Gonzalez said she loves Steam Heat’s collaborative environment and experimentation with the potential of musical theatre. 

The dancers said they love creating art with each other and exploring what types of movements can be included in telling a story. 

“It is so empowering to be in a space where the boundaries of what musical theatre is aren’t confined to tradition,” Gonzalez said.

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