Dancing with the Community

Dancing with the Community

By Stephanie Wise
Outreach and Engagement Communications Intern

The Department of Dance at Ohio State recognizes that it has a responsibility to expand public understanding and appreciation of dance, which takes on many different forms of expression - whether that be creatively, culturally, or educationally. Dori Jenks, former external relations coordinator for the Department of Dance, confirmed just this. "We are a performance based art form, so there is the sharing of work. That too is the sharing of culture and also education and enriching peoples' lives," she said.

Engaging Central Ohio

The department and its faculty and staff strive to have their students enhance their own area of study while being reminded that dance is meant to be shared with others in numerous capacities. Jenks spoke about how important that community involvement and exchange is. "I think that it is embedded in our department and our program and, quite honestly, our art form because it is collaborative by its very nature," Jenks said. The department's seniors participate in a senior project where they are encouraged to engage with the community in a conversation through words and movement. Partnerships include Columbus, Upper Arlington, and Hilliard City Schools, charter schools, and the Franklin County Community Based Correctional Facility.

These projects are exemplified by 2014 BFA graduates Tyisha Nedd and Theresa Niermeyer. Nedd spent a year with the Franklin County Community Based Correctional Facility, where she was able to bring the arts and creativity to women there. Niermeyer carried out her project at the high school branch of Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center where she taught diverse dance as a means of promoting the concept of global citizenship.

"It's not just a one-stop shop. This is a medium that can change your life. Here, let us share that together and learn together. So I think that idea is really the underpinning of the kind of community partnerships and projects that we get involved in with our students," Jenks said.

Gabby Stefura, a 2007 BFA graduate from the Department of Dance is paying it forward in her work as a dance teacher at Fort Hayes High School. She spoke about how impactful the connection between Fort Hayes and Ohio State is. "The impact of those upper level kids that get to be with students that are dancers at the collegiate level is huge...they get to see kids not that much older than them doing something cool that they like," Stefura said. Even her beginning and intermediate dance students get to view Ohio State performances from the audience, which Stefura feels has been eye-opening to them and allows them to cultivate an early appreciation for the art form.

International Connections

The Department of Dance has also developed collaborations that expand its reach beyond Columbus. Last year, an ensemble of dancers was partnered with a cultural tour in a sister learning institute in China. The dancers presented nine performances in seven different cities. "Teaching and working in schools, performing in the community - there's this completely international reach for that kind of collaboration and learning from each other in cultural exchange," Jenks said.

This year over spring break, an ensemble of dancers traveled to Brazil in a similar capacity. Susan Hadley, professor and chair of Dance, took 11 students on the trip, which allowed for performances and instruction by Ohio State dance students, as well as an exchange between American and Brazilian culture. Dancers that were selected went through classes on Brazilian culture and history, ensuring that when they arrived in the country they had already invested time developing an appreciation for the location they would call home and perform in for the week.

Asha Whitfield, a 2016 BFA graduate and member of the ensemble that traveled to Brazil, highlighted that contrary to dance in the United States, the Brazilians they performed for interacted with the dance from beginning to end - fully taking in the performances. "Whenever we finished a show, our way of interacting with the audiences usually ended with a spontaneous dance party. The realization that these people dance together as part of what they do in life was comforting and invigorating. Dance is not a separate event or even something only certain people can do, but instead something everyone does together," said Whitfield.

With the experience being so impactful, Whitfield said the lessons she learned will continue with her. "By having an open mind, I was able to accept the differences I noticed within myself and how that related to the people around me. Because of this love for the people, I wanted to experience movement from their perspective and learn their values. Coming back home, I want to incorporate this newfound awareness and insight into what I decide to do with my dance career."