Mustang Consulting in New York

Jade is a junior dance major with a minor in psychology and is from Jacksonville, Florida. This summer, she is working with 11 other SMU dance and CCPA students, along with Dr. Maria Dixon, on a mustangconsulting project to help revitalize the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s touring company. Other Mustang Consultants will be adding their entries to this blog throughout the summer.

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This week has been a whirlwind

An update from mustangconsulting team member Sarah
(Sarah is a junior with a dance and CCPA double major.)

This week has been a whirlwind. Between finishing data collection and the start of the Dance Theatre of Harlem Summer Dance Intensive, our team has had its hands full.

Dance Theatre of Harlem Summer Dance Intensive
On Monday, anxious and bright-eyed, we arrived at Dance Theatre of Harlem for our first day of the summer dance intensive. The morning began with an orientation. Arthur Mitchell, the Artistic Director and Founder of DTH, enthusiastically addressed the room full of inquisitive parents and eager bun-heads. He is a charismatic and inspiring teacher, to say the least. After listening to him speak for 15 minutes, I learned more about dance and personal presentation than I often do after a grueling day of classes.

Mr. Mitchell set a tone for the intensive by explaining that being a dancer means adopting an attitude of poise and confidence. He explained this attitude as an “awareness of self.” He had us practice his point by facilitating an exercise in which he asked every student to boldly proclaim his/her name and hometown. “Speak up and sit tall in your chair!” he roared to a student who slumped shyly in his chair. “Say ‘I Am’ with authority!” Mr. Mitchell continued by insisting we approach our daily lives with this attitude, both in the classroom and merely walking down the street. “Dance is theatre. We are performers. If you do not present yourself with authority, how can you expect people to buy a ticket to watch you apologizing for yourself onstage?” Mr. Mitchell’s words of wisdom have remained etched in my mind through the week as I practice in dance class and as I self-correct my posture while sitting on the subway.

After arriving back at the dorms, Jessica, Jade and I spent the afternoon preparing our dance attire in accordance with the DTH dress code.
Because DTH predominately consists of black dancers, they require flesh-tone tights and shoes, breaking the ballet tradition of pink accoutrements. In one afternoon, Jessica’s bedroom floor transformed into a visual cacophony of brown and beige tights, spray cans, pointe shoes, ribbons, elastic, scissors, needles and thread! After I finished sewing, I proudly pranced around the room in my brand-new pointe shoes, seeking a critique from Jade and Jessica on my sewing job. They laughed as I exploited the nearby wall as a barre, practicing tends and relevs while awaiting their response.

Last Friday we had the unique opportunity to take a dance class taught by the legendary DTH prima ballerina, Virginia Johnson. I especially enjoyed taking Ms. Johnson’s class because she focused on the importance of developing artistry along with technique. “I want you to focus on your eyes this class,” she said, “Your eye focus communicates to the audience. Where are you looking? What are you communicating?” I found her insights a refreshing reminder, because I often become bogged down in class, focusing on my technique more than aspects of my performance.

DTH has made a huge impact on our dancing in only one week! With two weeks of the intensive remaining, I eagerly anticipate the continued opportunity for technical, artistic, and personal growth.

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