Patrick H. Quinn ’10 talks about dance using colloquial descriptions not typically associated with the art. “Dance looks so fucking beautiful when you see it,” he says. “Especially to people who have never danced before and are maybe watching for the first time. It looks like the most gorgeous, graceful thing, with legs floating up to ears. It looks phenomenal.”
This inclusive view of dance characterizes Quinn’s attitude about the art to which he devotes much of his time as a choreographer and performer. Unlike most dancers, Quinn did not practice the form until he arrived at Harvard. An actor during high school, he went to the final hours of Common Casting his freshman year. There, he happened upon “American Grace,” the Harvard Ballet Company’s 2006 dance showcase that was auditioning through Casting. It was during this production that Quinn discovered the beauty of the art that would come to define his four years at Harvard.
“Backstage, I watched all the dancing and I was like, ‘This is so cool!’ I didn’t know people danced like that. I came back the next semester and enrolled in every dance class Harvard offered regardless of prerequisites, and that was it,” Quinn says.
Quinn admits to feeling out of place initially in some of these courses. “I had to walk into classes with people who had been dancing for 14 years and stand in the back and basically feel like an asshole because they all knew what they were doing and I didn’t,” he says. “It sucked. But it’s just that I have no shame, so I did it anyway. Now I can stand in the middle of the class and be somewhat mediocre.”
While he is quick to be self-deprecating, Quinn has more than made up for his lack of initial experience. He has choreographed 11 dances in his years at Harvard, served as the co-director of the Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company (HRMDC) this past year, and taught dance at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School—all this among other activities, such as directing “Cabaret” his freshman year and helping to tech various productions. Although the Computer Science concentrator plans to work at Microsoft after graduation, Quinn will attend classes at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School, eventually using his savings to start his own dance company.
Quinn’s success largely stems from his bold, fearless attitude—when told that freshmen generally do not direct shows, he says his reply was, “Oh, that sucks. I’m going to prove you wrong”—but also from natural talent. “Though Patrick doesn’t have the extensive dance training that I and many of his other dancers have,” says Marin J. D. Orlosky ’07, a dance associate at the Office for the Arts at Harvard, “he has a unique gift for embodying dance styles—and sometimes even specific choreography—after only watching a dance a few times.”
Nowhere is this gift more evident than in his most recent piece in the HRMDC’s spring show, “In Transit,” which is titled “March 20, 1995.” Inspired by the sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway system on that date, the dance is the culmination of Quinn’s choreography work so far. “One night I sat bolt upright in my bed and watched the dance in incredible detail in my head and I was like, ‘This is what I want onstage,’” he says. “And now, onstage, it looks exactly how it looks in my head. That’s all I want to do. I did it once with this piece, and I can do it again, and that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
—Staff writer Ali R. Leskowitz can be reached at email@example.com.