World Dance Master Classes Bring Diversity to CSU Dance

It continues to be increasingly important, for both students and faculty, that diversity is an element of coursework at CSU. For CSU Dance students, learning how other cultures express meaning through dance – including when, where, and why the dance exists – was a more readily available opportunity this semester.

With financial support from the College of Liberal Arts, the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance offered a widely-varied selection of World Dance master classes the last few months. With a funding request from Dan Goble, directo of the School, and led by dance faculty members Chung-Fu Chang and Amber Mazurana, the popular classes were organized around student schedules, but were free and open to the CSU campus and Fort Collins community members as well. Classes included Mexican Folklorica, Bollywood Indian Popular Dance, African Drumming and Dance from Ghana, and many more.

These thrilling hop-hip dancers put on an astonishing display of rhythm and precision while delivering a positive message. Possible as a part of the Fort Collins Lincoln Center outreach program, supported by the Lincoln Center Support League.

The School of Music, Theatre, and Dance at CSU also partnered with the Fort Collins Lincoln Center Dance Series to facilitate master classes with Illstyle Peace Productions (Hip-hop) and Complexions (Contemporary Ballet). For over a decade, the FC Lincoln Center has annually provided professional dance company master classes for free to the community, hosted in the CSU dance studios.

Additionally, CSU Dance partnered with RAMEvents to bring additional master classes and performances in Hip-hop this semester. This segment, called Xpression!, was organized and directed by CSU theatre major, Kent Washington.

CSU Dance Director Jane Slusarski-Harris and the dance faculty wanted the diversity represented on campus to be reflected through dance at the University Center for the Arts. “Even a little dose of it that can be injected into their schedule is important, and we are very thankful to Dean Withers, and his help in securing the funding,” said Mazurana.

Maputo Mensah lead a class on African Dance and Drums from Ghana.

In a message to Dr. Ben Withers, Slusarski-Harris expressed her thankfulness as well. “On behalf of the dance faculty, staff, and students…thank you…we have been so excited to bring guest teachers with diverse cultural expertise to the CSU Campus!”

Training and hands-on exposure to a multitude of world dance styles has been sparse at CSU. The dance major core curriculum includes dance history, but students primarily study modern and ballet genres. “We felt they needed to have more of an understanding and the opportunity to learn new styles,” said Professor Mazurana, who also teaches the Understanding Dance course that is popular with non-majors (see the story, A Gift Worth Exploring, in the March 2017 issue of The Green Room). “It’s very refreshing for our majors to get out of their box as artists and learn something completely new.”

The guest artist residency sessions were available to both dance majors and non-majors, including the Understanding Dance sections, which have always had a world view approach; students enjoying the dance elective come from across all majors, including veterinary science, engineering, journalism, and nutrition. “It’s a way for them to step into a new environment and creative space and learn something new about themselves,” educational elements Mazurana finds rewarding to provide and observe.

For Slusarski-Harris, increasing diversity in CSU course offerings has always been important and even more so in our global community. “I’ve always been interested and committed to it over the years,” she said. “If you can get a group together for an hour to learn about a culture through movement, music, dance, and storytelling, it can help us all to be more inclusive and understanding.”

The dance director is a proponent of learning through doing it, and the World Dance master classes provide a vital cultural intersect. “There should always be a component of world and cultural dance forms at CSU since dance is a universal language and every culture has a form. It’s such an exceptional way to understand the world, like learning another language,” said Slusarski-Harris.

Ranjani Vedanthan leads the CSU community in an Indian Dance Master Class focused on Bollywood style.

Additionally, the forms necessitate different types of physicality, awareness, and athleticism. “Each style requires you to carry your weight differently and has a different focus on body parts,” explained Mazurana, “like Bollywood, for instance, where the focus is on the eyes and hand placement, which may not have been included in their training so far.”

The historical value of the world dances also provides deeper understanding and appreciation for the contemporary forms, which all have their roots in cultural, historical, and religious dances, and Slusarski-Harris is compelled to provide these experiences to CSU students. “It can change someone’s world perspective to be exposed to it, to understand the seriousness, complexity, or sacred nature of a dance form, and when you can do it, you really get it.”

Mazurana’s dream is that non-dance majors will be inspired to seek out cultural dance classes in their community. “I hope we’ve allowed them to see ways they can experience movement without it having to be in the traditional way we think, like a dance school teaching standard techniques. It’s something they can seek out right here in Fort Collins, and I hope we’ve planted a seed.”

Holistically, CSU has a commitment to making diverse topics and knowledge available, both in and out of the classroom. The performing and visual arts are a perfect vehicle, and the faculty are readily available to embrace and explore the possibilities. CSU Dance hopes to continue the World Dance master classes, opening the UCA doors to the entire campus and city communities.

“When you see dance in the popular context, like Dancing with the Stars, all the ballroom dances come from social dances from around the world,” points out Slusarski-Harris. “Music and movement together is so powerful. And it’s so fun!”

Bharatanatyam Classical Indian Dance with Ranjani Vedanthan
Mexican Folklorica Dance with Sara Roybal
Ghanian African Drums and Dance with Maputo Mensah
Oriental Dance including Egyptian, Turkish, and Lebanese influences with Seemie Xavier
Bollywood Indian Popular Dance with Ranjani Vedanthan
Illstyle Peace Productions, Hip-hop
Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Xpression, Hip-hop