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Collins Publications: Dancing Star

Last year I graduated from IU after four years of involvement in the Collins Living Learning Center. This unique living-learning center is the campus’s oldest, and has a strong, passionate, student-led community emphasizing diversity and individual creative expression.

This summer at the University Archives, I am working to help digitize portions of the Collins LLC collection. So far, this has involved preparing documents (publications, letters, newspaper clippings, etc.) for scanning which includes organizing files, removing paperclips, and redacting sensitive information. As a Collins member myself, I remember touring the archives as part of a class and being fascinated by old publications I know well, such as the Collins Columns, and finding editions made by students from well before I was born. Needless to say, working now firsthand in the archives is very interesting from a former Collinsite’s point of view, and has enlightened me to much of its rich history I was oblivious to. For instance, it’s fascinating to see meeting notes and email chains creating councils that some 40 years later I would hold a position on.

Collins is a home to students of all backgrounds and majors. It’s very nearly entirely student-run, from its publications to its many councils and organizations. Hence, every year the environment of the LLC takes on a different trajectory, and yet the thing that stands out to me the most as I delve through the archives is how distinct Collins has remained since its inception, and how familiar it seems 50 years ago compared to my experience in the past four years, despite its many changes.

One item in the collections that exemplifies this aspect of Collins is the Dancing Star publication. This literary, artistic, and musical journal is the center’s longest running annual publication. In 1976 the first volume was written on a typewriter and compiled by hand. In 2000, the Indiana Daily Student featured a full-page article celebrating the publication’s 25th anniversary and its ambitious evolution which included adding things like CDs containing music made by students. 18 years later, the 42nd volume won the prestigious Gutenberg award in the Great Lakes Graphic Association Print Competition. This, as it happens, was also the first Collins publication I saw as an incoming freshman to the LLC.

Black and white cartoon of a dog wearing an I-men's sweater and beanie with a spilled bottle in the foreground
“Portrait of a Dog as a College Student,” by Tom Schevtchhuk, Dancing Star, Spring 1979

Over its 46 issues, the Dancing Star has taken many forms: from a pocket-sized handbook to a multi-pocketed pamphlet scrawled with residents’ doodles, to a handmade accordion flipbook adorned with buttons and yarn. The journal itself is as much of an art form as the content it contains. And yet every year it holds the same charm that is evident since the very first volume.

The 26th edition of the Dancing Star was perhaps the most extravagant and ambition design. Unlike the usual bound-book form, it comes in a cardboard box set. Upon opening, you’re immediately confronted with a collectable packaged figurine of a fetus wearing a tiny red cape. This “Superhero” collectible is one of three further options including a “Ballerina,” “Soldier,” and “Karate Master” which are described as “clutchable, hordeable lovelies inside every copy of Dancing Star No. 26.” Underneath this insert, the reader finds a poster and 7 booklets hidden underneath, each of which could easily be considered their own publication. As with all Dancing Stars, the booklets are filled with poems, art, short stories, and other creative expressions made by members of the LLC.

The volume takes pride in having an “all-inclusive policy” – a staple of Collins’ publications. On a handout acting as a sort of user manual for the edition, editor Brian McMullen explains the importance of this. Too often, he says, do people “make a literary magazine that looks like a literary magazine,” as poets too often write “poems that sound like poems”. He says that the risk of accepting all submissions is necessary in making a unique journal that fully embodies the true expression of the center’s members, and creates an unaltered, memorable piece of art in the process. In this volume, you will not only find poems that don’t try to sound like poems, but a literary journal that doesn’t try to look like a literary journal.

6 thoughts on “Collins Publications: Dancing Star”

  1. I so love this and will be excited to check out the collection! I lived in Collins from 1979-1982 (and continued working in the dining hall for the 1982-83 year even though I lived off campus) and, as is true for many of us Collinsites, it was such an important place for me. I had poetry published in the Dancing Star, worked as a poetry editor for that fine publication, and set my hair on fire (ACCIDENTALLY I SWEAR) at a Dancing Star-sponsored poetry reading in the coffeehouse. So many great memories!

  2. Hi Anne! LLC 1980-83, glad to be part of Dancing Star. Best wishes to all Dancing Star, LLC, and IU folks.

  3. I helped compile the Collins Columns in the most primitive manner imaginable … literally cutting and pasting… and also contributed to dancing star (I think). This was 83-87. I’d love to see the old publications. Good times!

  4. I did the red cover with the flowers when I was taking a printmaking class. I think it was in 1998.

  5. I was part of the 2nd ‘class’ to live in the center and even then, there was an archives and I got a chance to lookover and see about ‘record series’, esp for the classes offered by IU faculty on site — remember ‘The Commotion about the Notion of Motion in the Ocean’?

  6. What a great post! As Residence Life Coordinator for Collins (or MRC-LLC as it was known then) from 1975 to 1979, I was privileged to witness and, when needed, assist in the creation and production of the original Dancing Star. I still have copies of those first publications. I remember when “A poem should not mean, but be … 25 cents” and was written for you on the spot. I remember that Dancing Star was there when my son lived at Collins at the end of the 1990’s. Several years ago, I shipped a box of Collins-related materials and snapshots of staff and students to the Collins office. I hope that any pertinent items are available to you for this archive. It is gratifying to know that Dancing Star persists and that it has meant so much to so many over the years.

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