A prestigious grant helps the UH dance program expand
its reach off-campus
By Kristin Buchanan
Daily Cougar Staff
"Give me some sass, girls!" Dressed in a baggy T-shirt and pants, guest
choreographer Nicholas Leichter gave compliments and corrections to
students in his three-week class as dancers undulated to the primitive
rhythm of the drum.
Lorrie Novosad/The Daily Cougar
Contemporary choreographer Nicholas Leichter, front and
center, is able to teach a three-week dance workshop at UH due to the National
College Choreography Initiative Award.
Leichter's teaching incorporated metaphors and kinesthetic theory into
his class. Instead of standing in front of the students, Leichter walked
occasionally went into improvisational movement while the chorus of
bodies stretched to the soft hypnotic beat.
Even though Leichter's style is contemporary, there is an organic, definitely
rudimentary quality to the movement.
"Dance is the oldest form of self-expression. Gesture has always been
there … Even at the nightclub, who we are gets lived out," Leichter said.
Leichter, a nationally known dance artist who infuses modern dance with
hip-hop and African dance, was brought to UH courtesy of the National
College Choreography Initiative Award.
Dance/USA, a national service organization for non-profit professional
dance, collaborated with the National Endowment for the Arts to award 51
college dance organizations, one from each state as well as the District
of Columbia, with $10,000 each as part of the first annual NCCI award.
This award bridges the gap between the academic and professional dance
worlds by allowing colleges and universities to bring in professional
choreographers to re-stage previous works or create new works at the
university. The choreographers also have an opportunity to share dance
"Through this initiative, professional artists are able to share their
contributions to the American canon of choreography and their styles of
works, thereby guiding the next generation of dance artists in their
pre-professional development," Dance/USA Executive Director Andrea Snyder
UH's Dance Division of the School of Theatre was chosen above other
schools in Texas, and is one of four schools chosen nationally to be
The award-winning project started at the beginning of Fall 2000 when
Karen Stokes, director of the School of Theatre's Dance Division, received
proposal from Associate Dean Steve Mintz to start a distance education
course on dance.
"My first response was, 'No way -- not possible!' But after re-thinking
the suggestion, I realized it was possible if we thought about breaking
classroom mold and creating a class that was specifically designed
for distance education. I think this is the first distance education class
choreography," Stokes said.
The timing seemed almost perfect. Stokes started planning last December.
After working all summer on the project, she came up with a winning
The Spring/Summer 2002 class catalogue now offers a new distance education
course under Dance -- Choreography in Action.
"What separates this from other distance education courses," Stokes
said, "is that this cannot be taught as well in the classroom."
Choreography in Action will be offered this spring on KUHT. This course
is the kickoff for the Center for Choreography, formed last year to train
students in choreography and help choreographers exchange creative
The course has three components: lectures about 20th century choreography,
interviews with local and national artists and compositional tools.
The lectures will include footage of well-known artists such as Mark
Morris, Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown.
The excerpts will provide teachers and students with greater dance resources,
and will be available after the course is done. The Dance Division of the
School of Theatre plans to house tape copies in the library at that
In the interviews, students will be able to hear about the artists'
works from the actual choreographers, rather than from outside sources
such as theater
Leichter, whose residency continues through Saturday, will be among
the first interviewed for the new video database project. Leichter himself
avid proponent of dance in the school curriculum.
"I would like to see dance starting more in the schools, when they're
really young. The younger, the more tolerating and accepting they are for
and the arts. It has to become a part of the schools," Leichter said.
Students and faculty alike are excited to have Leichter at UH.
"The most challenging aspect of Leichter's class was being comfortable
enough to let go and actually just dance instead of thinking about it.
being free … to breathe with the movement," said Semelle Ramsey, a
sophomore majoring in theatre with emphasis on dance.
With his role in the video database, Leichter and many other dance artists
will have the opportunity to reach a vast audience with their work.
"To me, dance means being able to communicate all the ideas that I'm
really passionate about but I can't express through any other form," Leichter
"It's about releasing that inner voice."
In the third component of Choreography in Action, students will be able
to learn about craft issues. As an attempt to demystify the choreography
process, this component will include footage from studio classes.
Since its beginning in 1965, the NEA has contributed $242 million nationwide
to the world of dance.
Another recipient of the NCCI award, The University of Idaho in Moscow,
invited choreographer Bill Evans to create a site-specific piece incorporating
university dancers and non-dancers from the community. Performances
will be held in May 2002.
The New World School of the Arts in Miami will have an artist from the
Merce Cunningham Dance Company re-stage Cunningham's Inlets 2.
For further details about the NCCI or other participating colleges and
artists, contact Suzanne Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 955-8325.