Pursuit of academic excellence at East Carolina University may lead students from silent study rooms to global classrooms or high tech laboratories.
But few conduct their class work as openly as the aspiring performers in the ECU School of Theatre and Dance, who learn the finer points of their craft with crowds of spectators looking on.
According to ECU contemporary dance professor John Dixon, that element of openness is critical to the learning process. “We are trying to activate the artist in our students, and the actual performance is key to that,” he said.
The public performance encourages students to “take what they are learning every day – these technical and performance-oriented practices – into a setting where they can communicate that to an audience,” Dixon said. “We practice this in class, but performing it is very different.”
Dixon, who is in his fourth year at ECU, said that ever since he started dancing as an undergraduate in college, he knew he wanted to teach. He danced professionally in New York and Seattle, and served as an assistant director of a company in Washington, D.C. before attending graduate school at the University of Washington.
Dixon said that every day he is reminded why he loves teaching.
“I think every teacher enjoys the moment when you are looking at your students, sharing your own research and they start to take on those questions and lines of inquiry themselves,” he said.
“You can see the light bulbs starting to go off. They are doing their own research and thinking about the world in new ways. It gets so exciting!”
Jazz professor Tommi Galaska said performing provides students with the experience they need.
“Performance skills are something that have to develop and if you aren’t given those opportunities, those skills won’t have the chance to grow,” Galaska said.
An ECU alumna, Galaska said her days as an undergraduate shaped her into the person and professor she is today.
“These are my roots, and I am very passionate about the ECU School of Theatre and Dance,” she said. “We are a family, and I love the history.”
Dance performance majors Eimile Davis, Christen Quattlebaum and Krystal Cole enjoyed performing during ECU’s presentation of Dance 2013 this winter. The annual program presents a wide variety of dances from ballet and modern to jazz and tap.
Davis, a senior, performed in four pieces. She said the most rewarding element of the experience was working with guest choreographers, which included Frank Chaves of River North Dance Chicago and John Magnus of the Portland Festival Ballet.
“They all have so much to offer,” Davis said. “Seeing the way they practice and choreograph and give us individual feedback helped us better ourselves as dancers.”
Davis also enjoyed performing a variety of dances. “Getting to work with so many different styles and learning for myself how to switch up from light and happy to a more intense and deeply grounded, earthy piece taught me how to change up my dynamic and mentally what state to put myself in,” said Davis.
Cole enjoyed performing in Dance 2013 as well, although the work was hard. “You have to dedicate a lot of your time, and the rehearsals can be long and tiring,” the ECU senior said. “During rehearsal time, we also went away for Christmas break, which meant we had to be responsible for staying in shape and exercising over the holidays.”
Cole’s experiences at ECU led to summer opportunities in the outdoor theatre production of “The Lost Colony” in Manteo, N.C. She said she was especially proud of how ECU was represented at that production.
“There were a handful of ECU people there, and the professionalism that we exhibited compared to other people was a lot higher,” she said.
“I remember looking at my friends from ECU at one point and realizing how well the university has taught us. We have really been taught how to be respectful, especially with being on time.”
Quattlebaum, a junior, said she learned in Dance 2013 to dance in a different style, “more restricted and kind of robotic.” She also learned about partnering with other dancers.
“Having been a part of this dance will help me out a lot in the future because there is a lot of partnering that goes on in jobs with professional dance companies,” Quattlebaum said.
East Carolina University’s School of Theatre and Dance is well known for providing its students with the quality training required to achieve success in their careers. Students with a passion for dance can earn a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance performance or dance education. Those with a love for the theatre can earn a BFA in theatre arts education or theatre arts, with a concentration in professional actor training, musical theatre, theatre design and production, stage management or theatre for youth.
Along with the fundamental classes, ECU strives to offer students additional opportunities that allow them to grow as artists. ECU/Loessin Playhouse performances such as “Crimes of the Heart,” “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Cabaret,” and the School of Theatre and Dance’s annual Dance showcase give students the real world experiences they need to ensure future success.
“Dance 2013” featured original choreography by ECU faculty and special guest artists. The line-up for this year’s show included “Grusin Suite” by guest choreographer Frank Chaves of River North Dance Chicago and the “Tango” by John Magnus, which melded the tango into ballet. Faculty choreographed dances included “Dancing for Degas” by Galina Panova; “MEGA/bits” by Patricia Weeks; “Consumption” by John Dixon; “Falling Together, Falling Apart” by Teal Darkenwald; “For My Husband, Rob” by Clarine Powell; and “Squeeze” by Tommi Galaska.