Palo Alto High School's Social Activism Publication

Madelyn Castro

Power en pointe

Local student choreographs senior dance about gun violence

April 19, 2023

In Luna Dance Studio, students ranging from 11 to 18 sit in chairs in a semicircle facing the mirror in eerie silence, a ring of dim red lighting above them. Then, a haunting, distorted version of “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong is piped in.

And I think to myself
What a wonderful worldA gunshot goes off.

The students begin moving in unison, sliding their chairs in front of them and hiding behind them, sobbing and
cradling each other. Allie Tachner, a senior at Gunn High School, rises to stand on her chair, directing the other students to form a barricade, going through the motions young students have been taught in school many times. Then, the students form a circle, and collapse together onto the wood floor. An audio begins — a mashup of news anchors, repeating variations of the same thing: a report to the nation of another school shooting.

Throughout, Tachner is the focal point, performing her senior piece, an emotional and provocative dance about gun violence in America. Tachner is choreographing it at Luna Dance Studio with the help of her instructors, Nadeen Soliman and Serena Rodriguez, and will perform at the studio’s recital on April 29 and 30 at Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center.

Tickets are sold out.

The dance piece, depicting a classroom disrupted by a shooting and students creating a barricade, was inspire by seeing shootings in the news, Tachner said.

“After the shooting in the elementary school over the summer, right before summer hit, I went out of the country for a while and I found myself thinking about it all the time,” she said. “What I wanted to do to become an advocate for change.”

To drive her message home, Tachner included other students in her dance, instead of creating a solo piece, which is typical for seniors. In January, there were back-to-back mass shootings in California, both killing several people near the Bay Area. This streak of shootings added to Tachner’s passion for her work, she said.

“I mean, it [the shootings] makes me angry,” Tachner said. “And I think it made me feel like having this idea for the dance and including all these people in it was the right way to do it.”

Soliman has had an instrumental role in her dance, Tachner said. Soliman said although the dance concerns a heavy topic, Tachner was the right person to take it on.

“It’s important to serve really any topics that my dancers feel passionate about and help in any way to bring that vision to life,” Soliman said.

Tachner, as part of Luna Dance Studio, has participated in several pieces related to social activism in the past, covering topics like mental health and suicide awareness. Tachner said that dance is a valuable method of activism. “It’s not only self-expression, for the dancers themselves and feeling like they’re doing something,” she said. “But it’s to spread a message.”

Soliman said dances about topics such as this need to be handled delicately.

“With a topic as heavy as this, the most difficult aspect is making sure that dancers and families feel comfortable with the dance and its message,” Soliman said.

“We didn’t want the ending of it to seem sad and to make everybody sad, but what I said to that was: I’m done having hope — I want change instead.”

— Allie Tachner

Tachner said Soliman told her about dropping her child off at elementary school and seeing other parents dropping their kids off in tears. This led her to consider giving the dance piece a more hopeful feeling, but she eventually rejected that idea.

“We didn’t want the ending of it to seem sad and to make everybody sad, but what I said to that was: I’m done having hope — I want change instead,” she said.

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