Dance Department presents at national conference
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
One of the passions of the students and educators in the Grand Canyon University Dance Department is to share their love of dance and the knowledge that comes with it with a new generation of dancers.
Passion is at the core of the program and was the message behind Dance Director Susannah Keita and senior dance education students Justine Bach and Carissa Eubank’s presentation at the recent 21st annual National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) Conference in Miami. The conference also was where Bach made her debut as a newly elected NDEO board member.
NDEO is a nonprofit dedicated to dance education and provides resources and support for dance artists, educators and administrators. This year’s conference theme was to highlight choreography, choice-making and communication.
Keita, Bach and Eubank showcased the GCU Dance Department’s efforts in providing dance education for students in the community through programs such as the annual Elementary Dance Tour.
“Our presentation was about, ‘Well, if you’re in college, then you can do something exactly like us and reach your immediate community and raise visibility of dance, expose new audiences, especially youth, to dance.’ Share a lesson that ties into their curriculum and all that great stuff,” Keita said. “Plus, it just gives them inspiration to attend college, especially if they see someone that looks like them in our cast, to picture themselves going to college.”
Keita said the conference was an opportunity to compare methods with other artists and dance programs, some of which even helped inspire her throughout the development of GCU’s dance program. She hoped the presentation would encourage other college educators to consider creating a touring production they can bring their own local K-12 schools.
To share the students’ perspective of the Elementary Dance Tour program, Keita selected Bach and Eubank to accompany her.
“Justine and Carissa helped me every step of the way with this proposal,” Keita said. “They were cast members, so they know intimately what it’s like to be in this and how it benefited them, and they talk a little bit about the benefits that they received in working with the elementary dance tour because they created a collaborative piece.”
Keita’s elementary dance tour initiative allows freshman and transfer students the opportunity to create a stage presentation and perform it for elementary school students. At the end of the presentation, dance students interact with students by dancing with the students.
“Justine and Carissa really took advantage; they had a lot to share about how beneficial it was for them,” Keita said.
Bach, who also was recently elected to sit on the NDEO advisory board, was able to not only attend her first conference as a student but as a board member. She was selected to become a board member after previously serving as the vice president of the Student Dance Education Organization, GCU’s branch of NDEO, and being referred to the national role by Keita.
“I’m just very grateful that Susannah thought of me, that I’m a part of a department where my director knows me so well that she knows that this is something I’d be excited and passionate about, and I’m excited to share it with underclassmen that this is something that they could also do, too,” Bach said. “This is something that I don’t have any special qualification for except I really care about dance, and so for other juniors, freshmen and sophomores, like you could totally be a part of the NDEO board and start working on those things right now. You don’t have to wait until you have your MFA, you can care now.”
Bach and Eubank met other artists and built connections with industry professionals at the conference, as well.
“It was exciting to see different ways to incorporate other subjects into dance but also maintaining the integrity of dance and what you have in your classroom,” Eubank said. “It was a really exciting experience, and Susannah knows so many people, so it was good getting introduced to those people and talking to them about what I’m passionate about and what they’re passionate about and just sharing our love of dance.”
For Bach, it was also a step in the right direction toward her dream of bringing dance education back to her home state of Idaho.
“I am really passionate about getting into the field and teaching dance as an art and as an entire content area,” Bach said. “I think that sometimes people think that dance is just a support for other things, but it has its own very unique history. It has its own language. There’s so much to learn about dance, and I think one of the biggest issues that we have now in our classes is, how are we going to fit all this content into a 50-minute class?
“I’m excited to start sharing that with people and with young people because I feel like that’s something I really missed out on in my dance education as a young person and that I could have known all these things so much sooner.”
She was able to meet others with very similar goals and gain insight into how to make that impact on a state level.
“It made me really hopeful about this, because I was really overwhelmed with what I was going to have to do to get into a school,” she said. “Dance is appreciated in Idaho, but I think I’ll have to advocate for the cerebral part of it and the history and the thinking. … I mean, every girl is in dance class, so making sure there is something that is accessible for everyone — that’s why I think it should be in schools.”
Over the years, Keita has doubled the number of students she has been able to bring to present at the conference, and she hopes to continue that momentum.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]