Challenging expectations through dance (and frozen peas): Las Vegas Academy’s original dance drama is an “extravaganza of abstraction”

Jeneane Gallo Huggins’ “Expectations” explores the expectations we place upon ourselves and our world. (Photo by Deanna Rilling)

Expectations. We all have them. Sometimes they’re fulfilled; often they’re dashed. This month, they’re being danced.

In her original dance drama Expectations, choreographer Jeneane Gallo Huggins explores the assumptions we place upon ourselves and the world around us.

Huggins has staged 15 years of dance dramas at the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts. Her work merges contemporary music selections with her original writings, classic poetry and modern dance.

“I have a big background in theatre and in dance, so I wanted to incorporate the two,” says Huggins, whose training includes the renowned Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, Jacob’s Pillow and Yale University. She also danced professionally in a modern company, as well as for Siegfried and Roy’s show. “I think it’s interesting to be able to explain the dances a little bit more with language, and I find that it’s nice for the actors and the dancers to explore both venues.”

In all her shows, Huggins focuses on themes — from basic wants and desires to modern society and gender struggles — which the performers and audience can relate to. For Expectations, Huggins drew inspiration from the current economic situation.

“I find that — especially now where people can’t retire — expectations of their lives and loves and passions have (been) changed so much by the economy,” says Huggins. “My own expectations of myself have changed.”

Expectations is “based on a much larger theme that can be viewed in a very general way, but also a very specific way to each person,” says Paulina Lagudi, 17, a member of the ensemble and senior dance major at LVA. “Ms. Huggins was kind of aiming toward our current situation in the world — the economy, the expectations people had for it, the expectations people have in their everyday lives.”

“This is, I think, a very tangible theme, and I don’t think it would alienate people,” says Huggins, who works on each production for about a year, choreographing and writing original poetry, which is sometimes used in lieu of music. For Expectations, she also incorporated poetic words from Elizabeth Barrett Browning and T.S. Eliot.

Huggins says she has expectations of her audiences, too: They don’t merely show up, watch the show from the dark theater and go home. She insists that the performers break the “fourth wall” to connect with the audience, which may be startling for some.

“Every dancer has been told … our main focus is to use a lot of eye contact,” says Lagudi. “It’s about really drawing in the audience, making them a part of the show. … It’s going to kind of take them aback a little bit, I think. They’re going to be a little bit shocked, but they’ll walk away with a really great feeling that they’ve been exposed to something like this.”

For students, the Expectations experience won’t end when the last cue is called. Years later, many former cast members still return to support Huggins and LVA and keep in touch regularly.

“(Huggins) was the first person that I found to be inspirational,” says LVA graduate Erin Hegarty. “She taught me a lot about passion and being dedicated to following what I thought was right, to trust my instincts.”

Jeanine Tegano, who teaches high school dance for CCSD, cites former instructor Huggins as a great inspiration to her life. “Her integrated process of using theatre and dance has shaped the way I go about sharing dance with my students,” she says. “She’s a great model in terms of taking risks as an artist and teacher.”

“She definitely opened our eyes to seeing art and people in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise,” says Barbie Brooks, a former LVA student whom Huggins invited to teach at the magnet high school. “Saturday night, I had a dream that I saw her and she said, ‘Why aren’t you dancing more?’” Brooks says, laughing. “I’ve been dancing, but my resolution is to dance more next year because I had a dream about her!”

“I was always a little wary of (Huggins’) experimental nature,” says LVA theatre graduate Baron Vaughn. In college, he says, he ended up leaning towards more experimental theatre — a la Huggins — and now has great respect for her non-linear work. “I was never in her shows, because I was working on other productions, but I always wanted to be,” says Vaughn, now a professional actor and comedian.

“Being her student, taking her classes and being a part of her productions opened my eyes to the rest of the world,” says LVA graduate Jennifer DeMarre Jermaine, now a communications director for the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. “We did a piece in ’96 or ’97 that was themed around women in Afghanistan living under the Taliban, and that in itself really opened my eyes.”

The impact of Expectations is already being felt by at least one student. “This show has affected me greatly as a person, even more than as a dancer,” says Lagudi. “Yes, it’s great to have expectations and goals, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that important to beat yourself up because I didn’t get this role or I didn’t make it into this school…. At the end of the day, it’s about living your life the best way you can.”

Expectations runs December 10 through the 19 at the Las Vegas Academy Black Box Theatre. “I think that you will be pleasantly entertained,” says Huggins, who has incorporated unexpected things — including ladders and frozen peas — into the show. “It promises to be an extravaganza of abstraction.”

(Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly and at

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