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May 20, 2004

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Ohio University's dance program extends well beyond performance
By Susan Green

Dance is not about happy girls in leotards. According to Mickie Geller, dance students are engaged in one of the highest forms of active learning.

Geller, professor of dance at Ohio University, should know. She teaches Dance 480, which is equivalent to a thesis course in other disciplines. The class focuses on what it takes to produce a tour, from costumes, sound, lighting design and performing to managing the backstage crew. In the end, students defend their work through an oral presentation to the entire dance faculty.

"Dancers get a realistic taste of what it takes to produce their work," Geller says. "But it's also writing intensive. Students write about their ideas, draft news releases announcing performances and submit a written evaluation of the process."

Watch video of Meghann

The Spring Dance Tour is a big part of the senior experience. Students, like Meghann Slaven, choreograph either solo or group performances and take care of all aspects of the tour. This year's tour included stops at the Paramount Arts center in Ashland, Ky; Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio; and Fort Hayes Metropolitan Educational Center in Columbus, Ohio.

"It's a good experience," Slaven says. "Getting up early in the morning, riding on the bus, arriving at your destination, dancing in an unfamiliar venue and then getting back on the bus to head back to class is more of a real-life experience."

That real-life experience is an integral part of the School of Dance's philosophy. One of Ohio University's most highly ranked programs, the school is consistently ranked among the top 10 in the nation. The curriculum emphasizes the realization of individual artistic potential through the integration of creative, physical and intellectual process.

Performance opportunities, both on and off campus, give students ample production experience. Cross-campus collaboration is also encouraged and students often work with others from music, theater and video production.

"Everything we do has the same intellectual rigor as any other department on campus," Geller says.

Today's dancers not only need to understand contemporary choreography, but they also need to strengthen the intellectual skills essential to critical thinking and creative problem solving.

One part of the critical-thinking process is the log students are required to keep throughout the Tour. Through this chronicle, they look critically at their work, noting differences in performances based on the changing venues and work out problems before their next performance.

Writing about dance isn't a problem for Slaven. Originally, she was accepted into the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism, but during her freshman year became involved with dance and decided on a double major in dance and journalism.

"I've been dancing since age 5 and couldn't give it up," she says.

For her senior performance, Slaven choreographed a solo. "For my piece, I'm using excerpts from a book that I read," she says. "I wrote down passages that I liked and created movement based on those phrases. Since I'm a journalist, I tend be inspired by words when I choreograph for myself.

"If it evokes a certain feeling, for instance something somber, I write down how I feel and it helps to create movement."

Choreography is about creating movement yourself, Slaven says, "There might be meaning in the movement or it might just feel good to your body. Performing what someone else has created is more about learning technique."

Although Slaven is often inspired by words and emotions, not all modern dance springs from feelings.

"The building blocks of dance are an investigation of space, time and rhythm," Geller says. "Dance doesn't always tell a story. You can respond on many different levels." For some dancers, the response isn't emotional, it's how the body responds to the space they're in, "It just is what it is. And that's enough," she says.

In addition to teaching dance, Slaven is interested in writing for Dance magazine and thought a degree in journalism would be a good way to enter the field.

"I'd like to write feature articles about dance," she says. "But I'd also be interested in writing as a critic." She thinks her dance experience gives her a bit of an edge over other arts writers.

"I have a press internship with American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., this summer," Slaven says. "And I also get to take dance classes every day. I'm pretty excited about it. For dance and journalism, it's a big step in the right direction."

Susan Green is a writer for University Communications and Marketing


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