Dance program makes big splash at conference

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

There are few dance departments that can say that they’ve had a piece successfully entered into the American College Dance Association’s (ACDA) West Region gala every year, and even fewer that can say that the work they showcased was 100 percent student choreographed. It is an achievement that showcases the pure artistic talent that is housed within Grand Canyon University’s dance program.

Members of GCU's Dance Department traveled to San Jose State University to participate in the ACDA Conference.

“We’re the only dance program in Arizona that can say that we’ve taken 100 percent student work and that every time we’ve adjudicated we’ve made the gala,” said Kevin Godfrey-Chevalier, a member of the Dance Department’s faculty. “I think we’re really creating artists here in our dance program, not just people who regurgitate the steps that we come up with or people who know specific skills. We’re trying to create free and independent thinkers and people who will approach art in really unique ways.”

ACDA West is a four-day dance conference in which colleges bring choreography to be adjudicated by world-renowned artists. Students perform their work at the concerts each night, and adjudicators select certain pieces to be showcased in a gala on the final night of the conference.

For this year’s ACDA West Region conference, students from the Dance Department traveled to San Jose State University to showcase three pieces selected by the faculty from the past year. Two were picked for the formal concert, and one was chosen for an informal concert.

Rehearsal for Madison Knutson's piece "The Sun Will Rise, and We Will Too."

Senior Madison Knutson, whose piece "The Sun Will Rise, and We Will Too" was to be a part of the Gala concert had no idea that her piece would be selected. Only three pieces of student choreography were selected along with seven pieces choreographed by faculty.

“I was actually in class (one of the classes at the conference) with a bunch of my GCU dance friends,” Knutson said. “We were learning this choreography and I have a friend who gets his notifications on his Apple watch, and so he got the notification that my piece got into the gala and he told me during class.

“It was very exciting. We kind of like freaked out in the middle of this class and no one knew why we were freaking out.”

The duet by Hannah Croft (center) duet was one for two GCU pieces that were showcased at the ACDA. Madeline Bosse (left) and Isiah Johnson performed the choreography.

During the weeks leading up to the conference, Isiah Johnson helped rehearse Knutson’s piece for the event since she was in California student teaching at the time. He also danced in GCU’s other formal entry -- "Sans Toi," choreographed by Hannah Croft.

“I was very closely connected to both dances that were performing in the formal concert,” Johnson said.

This was his second year at the conference, which meant a second chance to meet other dancers and create friendships.

“I met so many new people that I call friends now, and we stay in contact and like I’ve hung out with them this year, so next year I really would like to go,” Johnson said. “I’m doing everything that I can to keep creating dances and being involved in dances that have the potential to go to ACDA just because it’s something really important to me and in my dance career. I feel like that’s something that’s really formative before I leave college.”

For the informal concert, students are given the opportunity to showcase their work and receive feedback from adjudicators.

Guillermo Flores and Rylie Pryately's piece, "It Slipped My Mind," was showcased in the informal concert.

“We opened the show for the informal showing and the audience really reacted well to it, like some would laugh and other people would just really enjoy what the piece presented,” said Guillermo Flores, who alongside Rylie Pryately choreographed a piece called "It Slipped My Mind." “At the end of the informal showing, the choreographers got to go on stage and the audience asked some questions, and that was a really good feeling because people could ask us about our choreographic process and where we are in the piece, like if we’re finishing it or if it’s still growing. It just felt really good to get our work out there and be appreciated for our work.”

Outside of the concerts and performances, the students experienced a range of dance forms and styles by taking three to four classes a day taught by instructors from the different universities participating in the conference. Johnson said it was his favorite part of the trip.

“It’s just cool to get a different perspective from somebody else that you don’t normally take class from,” Johnson said.

It was the seventh straight year the Dance Department has gone to the ACDA gala. 

“I think it’s a testament to the strength of our program, which is still under 10 years old,” said Susannah Keita, Director of Dance. “Students can apply what they’ve learned here and try their luck in major cities like New York where all this great dance is happening, or they can also start viable dance programming in their own hometowns and create those opportunities themselves. I’m really proud of what they’re doing in the world.”

Dances for the conference are selected through biannual student choreography adjudications run by Dance Department faculty panels. Students must attend Works-In-Progress Showing (WIPS) in order to be eligible for adjudication events.

The department’s next concert, "Pop! Goes the Dance Department," will features students performing faculty work. It is scheduled for April 12-14 at Ethington Theatre. For more information on the show, visit the Ethington Theatre event page.

Pieces adjudicated for the conference:


  • Sans Toi: choreography by Hannah Croft, performed by Isiah Johnson and Madeline Bosse
  • The Sun Will Rise, and We Will Too: choreography by Madison Knutson, performed by Abigail Neighbors, Amanda Keller, Chesney Thompson, Ellie Sheldon and Hannah Craft


  • It Slipped My Mind: choreography by Guillermo Flores and Rylie Pryately, performed by Alexandra Roth, Alyssa Quiett, Carissa Eubank, Ellie Sheldon, Julia Geringer, Madeline Bosse and Melissa Morales

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]


Related content:

GCU Today: Slideshow: Spring Student Spotlight Dance Concert

GCU Today: Slideshow: Winter Dance Concert


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