From high school gymnasiums to an open field, CU-Boulder dancers have engaged the far reaches of the state through CU Contemporary Dance Works, a graduate student touring company that brings lively dance experiences to Colorado communities that are often underserved in the arts.
Now in its 25th year, the University of Colorado Boulder company hosted community movement classes, school workshops and performances, lecture demonstrations, and a public performance as part of a weeklong residency in Delta County in May. The dancers offered insight into the art of dance, and student Michelle Bernier said participating in the tour was a fulfilling experience for the dancers and audiences alike.
“The residency was even more well-received than I could have imagined,” Bernier said. “Our time with students — from age 5 to 75, literally — was full of joy, laughter, exploration, and creative collaboration … I’m sure they’ll be dancing long after we’ve left. (The elementary students) all made a point of telling us that they not only took their dance ‘homework’ home to practice, but taught combinations and movements to friends, siblings, and parents.”
CU Contemporary Dance Works has evolved since its inception, but its mission remains constant, said Nada Diachenko, CU Contemporary Dance Works’ founder and advisor.
“When I first got here from New York after an extensive professional career, I was surprised to find there was very little dance outside of the Denver-Boulder area,” said Diachenko, professor of dance. “The mission (of CU Contemporary Dance Works) is to bring dance to the underserved areas of the state and to build awareness of dance as an art form, but it also provides additional outlets for the work of our MFA students.”
In the past, Dance Works has gone on multi-city tours as part of CU This Summer, frequently in coordination with the CU Presidents visits to Colorado communities. Now, Dance Works focuses on weeklong residencies in a select area during the month of May. The company returns to that area for a period of 3-5 years to build relationships and strengthen community partnerships
“The residency format allows us to go deeper into a community not just come and go,” Diachenko said. “We are able to engage in a stronger way and at a time when the local students are still in school.”
Diachenko is proud of CU Contemporary Dance Works, its evolution, and its accomplishments. The program has been selected by the CU-Boulder Outreach Committee for outreach award funding for each of its 25 years. Over that time, the graduate students have adopted increasing responsibilities in developing the tour, including planning, scheduling, choreography, and execution.
“This program is a win-win,” Diachenko said. “We get out into a community. The communities gained exposure to high quality dance performance and education, and it provides a learning experience for our graduate students. They are tremendous ambassadors for the Department of Theatre and Dance and CU.”
Student Amanda Benzin served as the assistant director for the tour this year and will be the director next year. She said the tour has been an incredible learning experience.
“It gave me the opportunity to apply leadership and organizational skills that I have been building throughout my education at CU-Boulder,” Benzin said. “I believe that we are forever both students and teachers in life. Working with the community in Paonia has invigorated my desire to constantly be growing as both a learner and as an educator.”
To learn more about dance outreach, visit: www.colorado.edu/theatredance/dance/outreach.