Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
Arms stretched out, hands twisting.
The six girls, some with their hair twirled around in a ballet dancer’s bun, gathered in tight formation, chugging along the dance floor. They were a car. A truck. A bus.
They barreled forward, zigzagging through the other eight or so ensembles who also were dancing to their own drummer, though no music piped through the laptop that earlier in the day pumped out a Brazilian samba. In the silence of the dance studios in Grand Canyon University’s Saguaro Hall, where the only sounds were the harmonic “beep-beep-beep” of that ensemble, a giggle and the rhythmic sticky patter of bare feet landing on the spring floor, more than 40 dancers converged on Monday to test their improvisational skills on the first day of the weeklong GCU Summer Dance Intensive.
University dance instructor Marlene Strang gingerly weaved through the little groups of dancers, telling them to move a part of the body in a way they haven’t really moved before and giving them leave to add sound to their improvisational performances.
At the end of this flurry of dance activity, she asked what stood out to the students during the hourlong session.
“I liked when you let sound become part of it,” said Ali Adelis of Laveen, Ariz., the intensive’s only male dance student.
Another dancer observed how, when one group started to putter around like a car, that led to them trying to emulate a plane and other modes of transportation.
“So one little idea became this whole piece,” Strang said, adding how improvised movements “came together so beautifully it could have been choreographed, but it just happened.”
This is the sixth year for the summer camp (here’s a video from 2017), in which dancers from not just Arizona but California, Wisconsin and several other states immerse themselves in dance for five days, spending about seven hours each day in everything from ballet to jazz, contemporary, hip hop, world dance and improvisation, to name a few. They stay overnight in the campus residence halls so they can start their day of dance early the next morning under the helm of a half dozen instructors and a guest artist.
The Intensive also is part of the department’s “visibility campaign,” Keita said. The department wants the dance community to know what the University offers and hopes that some of the participants – they range from ages 14 to 24 – might choose GCU for their dance education.
GCU dance education major and hospitality management minor Tyler Curry, a camper last year, serves as one of the dance intensive’s four counselors. What he thinks attracts the students – there was a waiting list this year, he said – is that the classes are offered in two levels, advanced and beginning. Also, students not only get to immerse themselves in what they love – dance, in a variety of forms taught by a variety of teachers. They get the college experience, too.
“The counselors are in there with them in the dorms,” he said. “If the campers have any questions, they can ask us.”
Seventeen-year-old Zoe Hunter is in her third Summer Dance Intensive. She’ll be attending GCU as a freshman in the fall, double majoring in dance and psychology with a minor in theatre.
“I really enjoyed the first two years,” said Hunter, adding that what she loves about this immersive summer camp is, “It’s really diverse and there’s a lot going on. … I’m primarily a ballet dancer, but I enjoyed taking all the different styles.”
Hunter was one of the students in the advanced class, which spent part of the afternoon learning a Brazilian contemporary dance from GCU instructor Alicia-Lynn Nascimento Castro. The students sat on the dance floor, lined up, legs forward, then they twisted onto their bellies before pushing up and twisting again.
“Our feet in contemporary class, they want to stay on the ground,” Castro said as she demonstrated a dance move called the cloche. “Your feet have a function: Look at my feet.”
She watches the move repeated by one student: “No,” she says when the move isn’t right, then “no” two or three times more after that before her eyes light up, she points and says, “Now THAT!” when the student has perfected the move.
Sierra Leek, 16, found out about the GCU Summer Dance Intensive from her mom, and like Hunter, picked the camp because of all the different styles. She said her favorite so far has been contemporary. There aren’t as many rules, she said.
Brittany White, who has been dancing since she was 2 years old, came all the way from Wisconsin and is using the weeklong summer camp as a way to get to know GCU’s dance instructors before she starts classes at the University in the fall.
“I love meeting all the teachers,” she said. “I’m getting a feel for them, and the school.”
Adelis has taken dance for a year and is just starting to explore dance.
“So far my favorite has been contemporary and floor work. You’re not limited to technique. You just get to express,” he said, as the improvisation class was wrapping up and students readied themselves to dash into the first big rain of the summer and head to dinner in the Student Union.
Although he is the only male dancer in the camp and although the dance days are long, he said he wouldn’t hesitate to sign up again: “I’m glad I did it, because this is amazing.”
The Summer Dance Intensive will culminate with a free informal performance from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday in Thunderground.
You can reach GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 602-639-7901.