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The Boston Globe

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Arts in New England

Mariah Steele: A dancer making use of social science tools

Mariah Steele.

Joel Benjamin

Mariah Steele.

HOW MANY modern dancers have their own professional company as well as a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Princeton? I’d venture to guess only one. And for Mariah Steele, the founder and director of Quicksilver Dance, these seemingly unconnected accomplishments are anything but. “It’s all about connecting things,” Steele says. “Because of being fully immersed in two different backgrounds, I see myself as being a bridge between the two.” Steele believes an interdisciplinary approach to art can result in work that is more relevant to everyday life.

Steele finds an especially intriguing overlap between dance and anthropology, both dealing in “metaphors, experience, and feeling.” Anthropology also explores how people make meaning, which is part of what Steele tries to convey in her dances. “I always look at the world wondering how people have been affected by their cultures, their backgrounds,” she says. “I’m just really curious about how people think and how that makes them do what they do.”   

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Steele, a 28-year-old resident of Cambridge, grew up in Scarsdale, New York. In high school, she extended her artistic passion into academic work by submitting original dances as final projects on the Crusades and Othello (she scored A’s on both).

After dancing with several companies in New York, Steele moved to Boston in 2008, where she went on to earn a master’s degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, with a concentration in nonprofit management and conflict resolution. That experience showed up during Steele’s five-week residency at the Boston Center for the Arts in fall 2012, in a workshop called Using Dance in Peacebuilding. Her academic background informed another workshop, The Physics of Dance, as well as a new piece, the evolution-inspired Epoch Tales, which she and Quicksilver dancers created for the residency.  

Now teaching dance at Endicott College in Beverly, Steele has in the past three years self-produced shows, continued her studies of dance from other countries, and given a monthlong cross-cultural choreography workshop in Bangladesh for young women from 13 Asian nations. “You learn through anthropology that there’s no one way of doing things,” she says, “and that’s also what art shows.”

In her performances, Steele tries to make her dances a conversation with the audience, aiming to create “dialogue and community” in an increasingly digital and distracted world. “We’re so geared to seeing fast and small, the visual equivalent of sound bites,” she says. “I hope watching a sustained dance opens people up to different ways of seeing and opens a space for contemplation.”

>In July, Quicksilver Dance will premiere a full-length work that explores the cultural rituals of Spain at Outside the Box 2013, an outdoor arts festival in Boston. Date and time will be announced at outsidetheboxboston.org.

Karen Campbell, a freelance writer, is dance critic for the Globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

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