More than an Illusion: A Short Look at UChicago Maya
You might know UChicago Maya from their sold out performances in the Logan Center or their annual participation in the glamorous student-run MODA fashion show, or perhaps you’ve seen the group’s stunning and colorful photographs in posters and flyers across campus and posted on their social media channels. However you might encounter them, once you’ve seen Maya, it’s impossible to look away.
UChicago Maya, named for the Hindi word meaning illusion, is a recognized student organization (RSO) on campus. Formed in 2009 as an East meets West fusion dance group, Maya was conceived as company focused primarily on combining traditional South Asian styles, particularly Bharatanatyam, with Western contemporary dance. For its group of 30 student dancers, Maya is more than just a dance troupe—it’s a community.
“UChicago Maya has been by far the most important and influential part of my experience at UChicago,” said Brianna Pinder, co-director of UChicagoMaya. “I’ve been able to explore and discover who I am as a dancer, choreographer, artist, and as a person, through my time dancing and choreographing for the group. I’ve learned so much from other members of Maya.”
Over its near decade since formation, Maya’s membership has evolved and, with it, Maya’s choreographic style.
“Maya’s membership is now mostly composed of dancers trained in Western contemporary styles,” Pinder explained.
Jocelyne Muñoz, who co-directs UChicagoMaya with Pinder, acknowledged this development but noted that it hasn’t changed the company’s primary mission.
“No matter what style,” said Muñoz. “The goals of UChicago Maya are to simply give a space to individuals who love to perform and want to explore their creativity in new ways with others.”
Maya’s members challenge both themselves and other dancers by creating exploratory and innovative work. Every year during the beginning of Winter Quarter, Maya presents an evening length themed showcase. This annual showcase is the company’s largest event, but Maya can be seen in performance year-round in support of other RSOs, hosting workshops and a showcase during the Spring Quarter, and competing in UChicago's annual dance competition “Where Fun Comes to Dance.”
UChicago Maya, of course, is about more than dance. Reflecting on what she’s learned from her role in the company, Muñoz said: “Not only have I grown as a dancer and leader through choreographing and directing, but through this all, I have simply learned the meaning of a community.”