Georgia Southern University’s Arts Marketing Manager Lauren M. Holmen (’13) is also a professional dancer and choreographer who has been performing since she could walk. Today, her multiple roles overlap and are deeply threaded throughout Savannah’s thriving arts scene.
At present, she’s a pro dancer in the inaugural “Dancing with the Bananas” competition, hosted by the Savannah Bananas baseball team, and heads to Round 3 of the competition this week.
Q: Tell us about you: Where are you from and how long have you been involved in the arts?
A: I’m from Savannah. My dad, grandfather and great-grandfather are from Savannah.
I started dancing when I was three years old, and did ballet. I did jazz and tap when I was a bit older, and then I moved into Irish dance. It was so much fun, but I loved ballet. That was always my focus, my heart, everything I did. I started working more with Savannah Ballet and dancing solely with them. When I got to high school, I went to Savannah Arts Academy and decided to do theater instead of dance. I got so busy with theater, I kind of let my dance training go. But I started back in college and danced all the way through college.
Q: Tell us about college, and how you got back into dancing.
A: I was friends with a guy at Georgia Southern, and he invited me a couple of times to visit. I always had a really good time and started looking at public relations programs, and the Georgia Southern program was the one that stood out to me. So I went, and it was the best decision I’ve made.
I earned a bachelor’s in general studies with an emphasis in public relations, communication arts and marketing. I liked general studies. I liked that I got to do the marketing aspect, as well as public relations and communication arts because all those are similar. There’s still different nuances to them, but I think it helped me shape things.
I was on the Southern Explosion Dance Team. It’s like NBA-style cheerleading for basketball games. They compete at nationals every year for the University. For competition, we did a jazz approach or sometimes a more modern approach. It’s just really fun. I did that for three years. I was captain my senior year.
Q: Tell us about your role as Arts Marketing Manager for Georgia Southern.
A: I have a really unique role with the University. I assist the Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art, the Fred and Dinah Gretsch School of Music and the Theatre program to create and execute marketing and social media campaigns, exhibitions, concerts and productions. I additionally work with the Georgia Southern and Savannah communities to host events in the Fine Arts Auditorium.
Q: Why is it important to you to work in arts administration?
A: The arts are such an important part of everyday life. Being able to bring that to the public is very rewarding. I use the skills I learned in college and apply them to my passion to create a space for artists to be able to express themselves and bring amazing experiences to the community. I think that’s really special.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
A: I love seeing our students grow as they gain confidence in their performances and exhibitions. There is also nothing like the feeling of a full auditorium seconds before a performance starts.
Q: What do you like best about participating in Savannah’s community arts scene?
A: I love the sense of community the arts scene in Savannah has. Everyone in this town wants to produce great art and assist each other in bringing quality art to Savannah.
Q: How did you reboot your choreography and dance career?
A: After college, a friend of mine called me and said, ‘I’m doing a show, and I want you to come choreograph.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t do that anymore.’ He said, ‘Come choreograph. It’s going to be fun.’ And so I did and I’ve been choreographing for that company, the Bay Street Theatre, for almost 10 years. Because I was choreographing, they got me back on stage in a sneaky way. I started performing again because of choreographing with them. And then I kind of pivoted in my career back toward the arts and realized I could work in the administration side of arts, which I didn’t even know was possible. So that was a cool transition. That led me to my current role.
Q: What kind of performances do you do now?
A: Currently I do theater performances. Most recently, I did ‘Hair.’ I’ve done ‘Rocky Horror Live’ several times. That’s fun. I also choreographed for a feature film, ‘Lone Star Bull.’
I choreograph the musicals on the Armstrong Campus, too. I choreographed ‘The Addams Family’ musical and ‘The Great American Trailer Park Musical’ last year.
Q: How do you approach choreographing a show?
A: I do research. I look at a lot of YouTube videos to see what other theater companies are doing. Also, what other competition-style videos are, as well as random offshoots of somebody doing songs and seeing what they’re doing and taking inspiration from that. But I kind of have my own style that I like to sneak in there. That’s just a combination of my experience.
I consider myself a choreographer for non-dancers, because they don’t necessarily go the traditional counts in terms of the way they look at things, and I try to come up with words that will help somebody with that. For example, for ‘Great American Trailer Park,’ they were having issues with pas de bourrées and I said, ‘sing a song.’ You can go ‘one, two, three pas de bourrée,’ or say whatever you want. They just started shouting random words. Whatever works in your head, that’s the beat. It’s how I teach it.
Q: You’re a board member of the Savannah Ballet Theatre and currently a pro dancer in the inaugural ‘Dancing with the Bananas’ competition, hosted by the Savannah Bananas. How did those two worlds collide and what has that experience been like?
A: I was contacted by the Savannah Ballet Theatre, which is contracted with the Savannah Bananas to help with ‘Dancing with the Bananas.’ Immediately I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ I was so excited, and then immediate panic hit.
The other women who are performing are contracted ballerinas for the Savannah Ballet. So coming back into this realm is really scary, but fun.
We’re doing a dance competition within the game where dancers are partnered with a baseball player and each couple performs between innings. So they are playing baseball, coming to dance with us and then going back to the field. Then the fans have a chance to vote in the stands. The next day, they post the videos on their YouTube channel and the public votes. We had a week to put together a minute-and-a-half of choreography and teach it. I chose a different version of ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz.’ It’s a little jazzy musical theater number, which is really cute. I got my partner, Bryson Bloomer, a jacket with tails to wear over his uniform.
He thinks it’s really fun and it was really cool to watch him get it. There’s a part of the choreography that he was struggling with and to just watch him be very determined to figure it out was really, really cool. By the end of the rehearsal he had it.
This is all on us to really tell a story. Especially with such passionate fans. The music’s got to be right. It has to be fun. There has to be an element of silly in there. It can’t be a serious pas de deux.
This is the biggest audience I’ve ever performed in. It’s a great experience, and not something I ever thought I would do.
My friends and family have been so supportive of this entire thing, which is so very lovely. I find that with Savannah, people are just so supportive.