“What’s your major?” is often the first question college students are asked upon meeting someone.
It says a lot about who someone is. Like it or not, it places people into certain identities, as that person focuses on what he or she is supposedly most passionate about.
But Hannah Hebl, senior liberal studies student, did not wish to be placed into any one identity, or major.
So she created her own major entirely of her own design — “performance and the body.”
Hebl said this major is her way of combining the disciplines of theater, music and dance, as well as kinesiology and psychology. In the future, she hopes to help people perform, but is also interested in postural deficiencies and, in general, helping people with their bodies.
Like other conflicted, confused college students, Hebl said it took her awhile to choose this route, beginning her collegiate career at the San Francisco Art Institute.
“That was a really interesting time for me, I was 18 in a huge city as compared to where I went to high school, a boarding school of a thousand students in New Hampshire,” Hebl said.
In San Francisco she studied mixed genre art, with emphasis on performing and video, but Hebl said Eau Claire’s notorious music scene brought her back to where she grew up.
Hebl said two fellow musicians told her about the liberal studies major and she realized it best fit her interests.
“In life we’re often asked to kind of narrow ourselves with keywords like ‘dancer’ or ‘musician,’ like there’s only time to be one thing,” Hebl said. “But I’ve been blessed with training in multiple areas, music and dance, and my dad’s a doctor so medicine and the curiosity of the human body has been a huge part of my life.”
Hebl said this path is a good choice for people who are more indecisive and are interested in doing many different things, not one major in particular “suiting their fancy.”
“A lot of people don’t think little Eau Claire has the capacity to design your own degree, but it’s an option,” Hebl said.
Since there is no dance major at Eau Claire, Julie Fox, associate director of dance, said it is common for dance minors to choose the liberal studies major.
“We work in between majors in our field and … Students are combining movement studies with their aesthetic study in dance,” Fox said.
“It’s one thing we really strive for … We encourage students to find unique ways to combine them.”
However, Fox said Hebl’s creation of this major is “unique” to others’.
“Hannah wanted to explore the body and performance, and this is really her design and her making, and she figured out how to do it,” Fox said. “I think it (works) because she has a number of interests but they all come down to that body awareness and knowledge.”
Not limited by the idea of focusing on just one of her passions within her major, Hebl is involved with both the university’s dance program, as well as Eau Claire’s music scene in her band Hemma.
Hebl said people are often shocked to hear about what she’s studying and that she’s also in a band. Hebl said this is because people often do not realize how connected every discipline of study is.
“They all inform each other in really nice ways. That’s what I love about liberal studies because you get a richness that interdisciplinary studies allows you to see,” Hebl said. “The drama in sociology, the science in theater, just the cross pollination of ideas is really important because that lends itself to maybe understanding other cultures, understanding the complexity of life and that things aren’t so black and white.”
Hebl applies her interdisciplinary studies to all her performances, including this weekend at the student dance concert, “The Dance Exchange.”
Hebl said her performance, which closed the recital, was inspired by her summer at a three-week dance intensive at the State University of New York with 100 other college-aged dancers like her.
“It was like a summer dance camp and it really switched on a lot of lights for me,” Hebl said. “People have so many idiosyncrasies, which is what kind of tipped off my idea for my dance work — the idea that our technological devices have pulled us out of our bodies.”
Usually, Hebl said she finds a piece she loves and from there, the choreography flows out a “gut place.”
“There’s not too much logic involved … It’s fun to just ride that wave I guess,” Hebl said. “I realized that I’m just not in as much mental control and this core, gut place is really our engine.”
From this experience, Hebl said she and other Eau Claire dance students were able to receive feedback from local professionals, which is important to their futures.
Overall, Julie Fox said Hebl has profoundly impacted the dance program in many ways.
“She has definitely made an impact just by example in the way she thinks about movement and the way she creates work,” Fox said. “She’s a higher level thinker, who thinks of dance in a different way that I know students recognize and see.”