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Wednesday, November 7,2001 Volume 67, Issue 55


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 around and
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 with the

"Through this initiative, professional artists are able to share their contributions to the American canon of choreography and their styles of creating new
works, thereby guiding the next generation of dance artists in their pre-professional development," Dance/USA Executive Director Andrea Snyder said.

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 a
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 the
classroom mold and creating a class that was specifically designed for distance education. I think this is the first distance education class nationally on
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 efforts.

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 time.

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 is an
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 dancing
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. It's about
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 said.
"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 or (202) 955-8325.

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