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Dance Nation

Published October 26, 2023

Poster for Dance Nation.

NORTHAMPTON, MA – The Smith College Department of Theatre presents Dance Nation by Clare Barron in Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre on October 26, 27, 28 at 7:30 pm with a 2 PM show on October 28 directed by Daniel Elihu Kramer. The play depicts a team of young competitive dancers as they plot to take over the world. If their new routine is good enough, they’ll claw their way to the top at Nationals in Tampa Bay. Dance Nation is a play about ambition, growing up, and trying to survive adolescence with your dreams intact. Grounded in emotional truths, the play pushes past realism to depict the dancer’s inner lives. New York Magazine declared it “a brave, visceral, excitingly off-kilter barbaric yawp of a play. It’s angry and it’s sad. It’s brash and it’s funny. And it gets at something excruciatingly tender: the burden of modesty on young American women.”

Clare Barron is an award-winning playwright and performer from Wenatchee, Washington. She has written that she wrote Dance Nation, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, because she wanted to present a different picture of pre-teen girls onstage– one where trauma wasn’t the central narrative, where “being the best” was. “The girls in the play are dealing with all these questions of who’s the best, who deserves to be recognized, what to do when the system is unfair, how to be friends and compete at the same time, how to stand up for yourself when you’ve been trained not to,” she explains in an essay for the show’s opening at Playwright’s Horizon in 2018. The New York Times raved that Dance Nation “conjures the passionate ambivalence of early adolescence with such being-there sharpness and poignancy that you’re not sure whether to cringe, cry or roar with happiness.”

Director Daniel Elihu Kramer began teaching the play in his acting classes in 2019 where it was an immediate favorite. Kramer was impressed with how free and energized his students were working with the material. “Clare Barron understands that these girls' inner lives cannot be revealed exclusively through realism,” he notes “Sometimes we see them together in realistic conversation in a dressing room, sometimes we see them dancing, sometimes we see them speaking to us from their own futures, sometimes we see them growing fangs.” Throughout the play the characters grapple with how the world sees them, and how they see themselves—each trying to imagine, and make, their own identities and their own futures. 

The choreographer, Frankie Baron, was part of a competitive dance team growing up. She draws on that experience to create the dance sequences in Dance Nation. “It has been such a joy to work with this cast - their enthusiasm and openness to lean into each genre of dance has reminded me of the parts that I cherish from my competition days.” The 9-person cast is made up of students from Smith and Mt. Holyoke and one community member playing the Dance Teacher. Not all of the performers have dance experience which aligns with the play’s focus on the emotional aspects of being part of a highly competitive team whose motto is “Eat. Sleep. Dance. Win.” 

Dance Nation is a combination of reality and fantasy; both a dream and a nightmare. It switches from the ordinary to the surreal in a second, taking the audience on a ride through adolescence that is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. Faculty designers Ed Check (Set) and Lara Dubin (Lighting) have created both the physical locations and the inner worlds that the play inhabits. Rex Tans ’25 designed the costumes, Emma Scharf ’26 is the Sound Designer, and Sula Johnson ’26 is the Props Charge. 

Tickets are free for Smith Students by emailing Tickets are $5-10 online at Audiences should know that this play contains strong language and mature content that may be most appropriate for people ages 14 and up. For more information including a complete content warning contact