Longtime Friends Help GCU Become Destination for Talented Dancers
By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
For Nicole Mayes, it all began as she danced to the songs on the children’s TV show “Barney and Friends” and her mother decided dance classes might be a good idea.
For Chelsea Buss, a number of activities — tee ball, karate, swimming, gymnastics — didn’t take. But dance did, simply because she liked it the most.
The respective paths of the two Grand Canyon University freshmen crossed at a dance studio in Gilbert, where they took classes together and performed for seven years. They’re still a team, and they’ll be seen jointly in two pieces in “Twinge,” the Dance Department’s spring concert, on Friday and Saturday nights at Ethington Theatre.
“We were going to do our own thing,” Mayes says of their college plans, “but we auditioned together and both decided that we wanted to come here.
“Coming in, we were a little nervous. The program is relatively new. It was a little scary and a leap of faith.”
Susannah Keita, GCU’s director of dance, says Mayes and Buss represent the highly trained dancers that the third-year program is now attracting in greater numbers. But training alone isn’t enough, she adds.
“What sets them apart,” Keita says of Mayes and Buss, “is their work ethic and their willingness to adapt to the demands of new, unfamiliar styles. They consistently challenge themselves to perform better.”
Buss says both have been trained mostly in jazz contemporary, so modern dance is relatively new to them.
“Modern throws technique out, and you just move,” she says.
In their first year at GCU, they have learned from Keita, who is among few in the dance world certified to teach the Katherine Dunham technique, and artist-in-residence Janaea Rose Lyn, an accomplished instructor in the style pioneered by Isadora Duncan.
Lyn has set the Scherzo from Shubert’s Symphony No. 9 for this week’s concert, and she also will perform one of Duncan’s signature works, Brahms Waltz, Op. 39 #15 (“Petals”).
The historical aspect “has taken us back to the roots of it all,” Mayes says. “We’ve been able to see how dance has evolved…. With this program, the quality of the teaching is what I will get out of it.”
In “Twinge,” Mayes and Buss will dance together in “Hero,” a piece by guest artist Jess Gaynor, and in Sonja Mitrovic’s work “Hidden Language.” Mayes also will perform in “Dry Land” and “Traversing” by Jenny Showalter, a new adjunct faculty member, and Buss will dance in Keita’s “Say You Do.”
“This show is very diverse, with a lot of different styles,” Mayes says. “The talent we have is spread out across the show.”
Buss says the Ethington Dance Ensemble is becoming “a well-rounded company,” and even her non-dance friends are noticing.
“Sometimes they’ll ask, ‘Do you have any academic classes?’ Well, our dance classes are academic, too,” she says. “Then they’ll see us perform and say, ‘Wow! I have a lot of respect for what you do.’”
Show time for “Twinge” is at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Ethington Theatre. There also is a student matinee at 10:30 a.m. Friday. Call 639.8880 for tickets.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.