Autobiography of a Dance Educator 

McMaster Dance Special Event (Part 1)

I grabbed this report/review of a 2002 dance competition event I produced at McMaster University (from a McMaster Dance website archived page), just as Hip-Hop Dance was beginning to gain great strength in university settings. Two years later (2004) my Uni Hip Hop Co won O.U.C.H. (Ontario Universities Competition for Hip-Hop) which held its inaugural event in 2003. Later in the decade McMaster won O.U.C.H. four times back to back with the student led group innovating new styles and stories each year. Taisha Lewis, I recall was in each of the 4 years’ dances and Jeff Appiah-Bediako was in 3 years. Mac always had strong male dance leaders, complemented by a balance of charismatic and powerful female dancers, and I also believe our mix of ethnicities showed our openness to nurturing dancers of high ability regardless of skin colour or racial background. I mention this, in part, because some of the schools of the time had a predominance of white female dancers, and though, perhaps elite in terms of ballet/lyrical/ contemporary training and with slick hip hop presentations, they just did not have the street cred necessary to win. Back to this McMaster competition!! It was great to have Diana Uribe (Director of Be Discovered), and Taylor K of Kiss 92 FM as part of the judging team. I had worked with Diana before, and Taylor K – real name Krista Taylor, was one of my talented dance students in a Kinesiology (back then – Phys Ed) course early in my career. I especially remember Jordan Setacci as being a big hit with his style. Later that year he joined our McMaster Urban (Hip Hop) team as a guest, as we were always open to adding community dancers. He later went on to be a recording artist. I bumped into Jordan many years later (maybe 12 years later, as he called out my name) in the lobby of a show at the Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival.

McMaster Urban Dance Competition Review

On Saturday, February 2, 2002, the Centre for Dance made dance history right here on campus. The first annual McMaster Dance Competition was a day long event that featured over 100 competitors from all over Southern Ontario and included several workshops and demonstrations by some of the hottest urban dance talent around. In the break dance department, the all female crew Shebang! made a special appearance and also conducted a break dance workshop. Male break counterparts the Styllordz also put on a workshop and demonstration with live entertainment provided by Sony recording artist Kaz. The Centre for Dance’s own talent was also exhibited with the McMaster Urban Dance Company showcasing some of their work and members Jessica Lungrin and Michelle Odle leading hip hop workshops. 

Competitors entered one of four categories featuring urban dance’s two strongest styles, hip hop and break. Winners of the day were as follows:

 

  1. Hip Hop Small Group

1st place = Jordan Setacci “Pop Life”

2nd place = Szwec School of Dance “2000 Breakdown”

3rd place = McMaster Dance Club “It Takes Two”

Best Dancer = Jordan Setacci

Best Dancer Runner-up = Elizabeth Ho Sing (McMaster Dance Club)

 

  1. Hip Hop Large Group

1st place = Rhythm Plus Dance Co. “2 Bad”

2nd place = Hennessey “H2O”

3rd place = U-neeq Dance Troup “2 Hype”

Best Dancer = Camille Spence (Hennessey)

Best Dancer Runner-up = Michelle Daniel (U-neeq, Dance Troupe)

 

  1. Break Solo Freestyle

1st place = Flip Flop

2nd place = Treble

3rd place = Hops

 

  1. Hip Hop Solo Freestyle

1st place = Mario Grisafi

2nd place = Jordan Setacci

3rd place = Michelle Daniel

Our stellar judging panel also reflected some of dance’s top talent and diversity. Much thanks goes out to those judges, sponsors and supporting individuals for their tremendous efforts in making the McMaster Urban Dance Competition a dream come true: Kaz, Troy Feldman, Heather Finn, Jenn Goodwin, Carloz Paz, Diana Uribe (Be Discovered), Shebang! (Female breakcrew), Michelle Odle, Taylor K (Kiss 92 FM), Robert and Beverley Tang (Dancescape Corporation), Ray Gamble, Dance & Sport Boutique and ArtsBeat.

The American College Dance Festival Association (Part 1)

The American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA) was founded in 1971 as a way for colleges and universities in the USA to share creative work and compare programs. Colleges/Universities in each state wwere designated a region, such as Mid-Atlantic, New England, Mountain, South-West etc., ten in all, where they could perform. The first pilot festival for the national organization was in 1973. I became interested in this after taking my McMaster Dancers to the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics Artscene, where we performed 5 pieces at a Canadian universities dance festival. Whereas McMaster’s program was recreational, the event was well attended by Canadian universities with degree programs like Ryerson U, Simon Fraser U, U of Calgary. The Canadian professors came together declaring a wish to try and convene such an event every 4 years. I thought this was a long time to wait, and that hundreds of university dancers would never get a chance to attend such a great event, as each cycle of 4 years passed by. I talked with Martha Hill in Calgary about ACDFA and she encouraged me to take a look at it. Martha was a famed American dance educator, being the first dance director of the Juilliard School in NYC, a position she held for 35 years.

On my return to Hamilton from the Calgary Olympics, I began to research the ACDFA and its festivals. There was one being held in Alfred, New York State in early Spring 1988, so I drove down to view it with my dancer Kate Boutillier. We only attended one night but saw 12 adjudicated dances that were in competition to be chosen for a Gala later in the week. I got in touch with the organization and was told that my Canadian university could join and participate. I began to make plans to go to the 1989 event in Philadelphia. So, the next year, we entered two pieces in the adjudicated section and one in the informal section. The 8 dancers took many workshops over the 4 days. We did not make the Gala, but it was well worthwhile going, so that my dancers could see the skill/expressive level of American dance majors. As a side note, I should mention that we drove down to Philly, 11 hours in two Lincoln Town cars (the limo of the day!!), donated to our cause by Ford Motors of Oakville. My McMaster colleague Les Miller, knew the head of Rentals!! So excited to cross the border at Niagara Falls, I hit the gas followed by my student driver Lisa Eagleton in the second car. Within seemingly seconds, we heard the siren of a police/border control car!! Two tickets for speeding - just 200 metres into USA territory, or should I say 200 yards!!

Working at McMaster University (Part 1)

I worked at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario for 30 years from 1985 to 2015. They advertised for a Lecturer who could address Choreography as well as having a background in Special Populations. I had been choreographing Modern Dance for 6 years as well as training off and on, in Creative Dance and Improv since childhood. I had also been freelance teaching too, with special populations (sometimes termed disabled/handicapped) for seven years in England and Canada. The department was the School of Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics, later to separate out into the Department of Kinesiology, with Recreation and Athletics combining separately as a service department, rather than having a link to academia. As I was a qualified (elementary & secondary) teacher from St Paul’s College (University of Bristol), England, and had taught, choreographed and performed dance, I was a strong candidate for the job. I was told that Professor Rose Hill was retiring, and whereas her focus was lecturing, philosophy and aesthetics, they wanted to build up the recreational side of practical dance, where more students and community members could actually have a studio dance experience. I was told that the video I showed of me teaching a blind young male adult some dance exercises, was what moved the committee to select me.

Over the years I received promotions to Assistant Professor, then to Associate Professor, with the latter attained in 1994, when I was given Tenure. This goal took 10 years, whereas normally it is gained after 6 years. Why so long you ask??!! The reality is that I applied after 6 years and the academic committee responsible for my application, quite blatantly said that they did not really know how to assess a Dance Artist, and proceeded to extend my contract (untenured) for 2 more years. You won’t believe it, but after these 2 years, I applied again and was told the same thing by a new committee. This took me up to the 10-year mark. Thankfully after my third application, I was granted Tenure. As many in academia know, until you get tenure, you can’t really speak your mind fully about issues such as curriculum design, staffing, student issues, and politics in general, because if you are too much of a rebel or just ‘do not fit’ your department may not support your tenure application. Fortunately, my department always supported me, but the campus wide committees were the ones who kept extending my untenured contracts. Clearly, Tenure gives security and being untenured may create feelings of an insecure future, knowing that one’s opinions need to be carefully shared.

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