It has taken some doing. When Whitcomb founded the dance department, the program was a tabula rasa—as was she. Whitcomb had a handful of students and only a few years’ experience, but she did have a vision: She conjured up a comprehensive curriculum, training versatile dancers who could specialize, but would also be able to “do everything,” Whitcomb explains. “I’m a professional modern dancer, but I always did a lot of dance forms. Ballet, certainly, but I also loved jazz, and hip-hop, when that came along.”
Deerfield’s emphasis on a well-rounded, balanced academic approach meshed well with Whitcomb’s own experience; after all, she points out, experimenting with ideas and activities is a Deerfield value. “Not only do I believe it’s important for dancers to be well rounded and versatile,” Whitcomb explains, “but I like the broad-minded curiosity that comes from being willing to step outside your comfort zone and try new things.”
“Deerfield students are really balanced,” agrees Lena Mazel ’13, who aspires to be a professional ballet dancer. “When I first came, I was into only ballet, but now I do everything.” Really? “Well, almost everything. My friends encourage me to do hip-hop, but I make a total fool of myself.” She’s laughing, but she knows this, too, is a gift. “I feel safe to make a fool of myself,” she continues. “You can take risks here.”
This may be partly why the dance program has expanded tenfold under Whitcomb’s direction. There are a few students like Lena, who’ve been dancing since preschool and seem headed for the stage, but there are also dozens of others who had never taken a single class before. In fact, there are around 50 students taking classes and another 50 in co-curriculars—with an equal gender balance in the lower levels. “Last year we had more boys than girls,” Whitcomb points out. “We’ve got the football players and the freshman girls, and they are as divergent representatives of our school population as you can imagine.” Clearly students have responded to the call to try new things.
Theater Director Catriona Hynds agrees: “Everyone benefits from taking a theater class,” says Hynds, now beginning her second year directing the program, “whether it be building up your confidence in public speaking or the ability to express your ideas or work in a group.”
Growing up in Scotland, there were precious few dramatic outlets in Hynds’ own schooling, but the few she had made a strong impression. “I knew at 15 that I wanted to direct because I loved being involved in the rare school play,” she says. She went on to win a much coveted Scottish Arts Council fellowship, and has taught literally around the world: Her resume includes the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, the National Theater of Iceland in Reykjavik, and the New Israeli Opera Company in Tel Aviv. Now Hynds revels in the stellar talents Deerfield offers up for her to work with; she has already directed Brighton Beach Memoirs, Medea, and The Dining Room, ambitious productions not often tackled in high school. “Some of the talent here is every bit as good as anything I witnessed at the college level,” she says. “My main priority has been to build off the hugely solid foundation that my predecessor had built over many years.”