International Jazz Dance Residency with Natasha Powell

Published: January 25, 2021 | Author: Danielle Lydia Sheather | Category: Arts

SUU students participated in virtual dance classes with Holla Jazz Artistic Director, Natasha Powell. Photo by Danielle Lydia SheatherIn the Fall of 2019, SUU Dance faculty made a myriad of changes to the dance curriculum. The most exciting of which was the addition of required jazz dance training equitable to the training of ballet and modern dance. Southern Utah University is now the first institution of higher education in Utah that offers this equitable study in jazz dance.

The new jazz dance requirements were kicked-off during a time where faculty were learning to adapt to instructional changes created by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of inspiration included an international virtual Jazz dance residency with Holla Jazz Artistic Director Natasha Powell. A native of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Powell began Holla Jazz in 2016. She has appeared in the HBO Series The L Word, Center Stage 2, and the Nickelodeon film Spectacular and has received grant awards from the Canada Council for the Arts. Her company explores how the roots of jazz dance, hip hop, and house intersect.

Natasha Powell, Holla Jazz Artistic Director. Photo by Kendra EpikSUU students in advanced jazz courses virtually interacted with Powell for a week with the final class learning the repertoire from Powell’s Floor’d (2018) inspired by her opportunity to study the roots of jazz dance in New York City where she read Jookin': The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture, by Katrina Hazzard-Gordon. Of the book, she states, “What it highlights is the various environments and circumstances with which dance from African American communities sort of grew, blossomed, and crystallized as they were enslaved from the African continent into North America. It goes into the enslavement trade, it talks about the dancing in plantation fields, juke joints, house parties, nightclubs, ballrooms, and backyard parties. It talks about all of these different spaces with which these dances came to life.” She continues, “That really stood out to me because as a practitioner of social dance, hip-hop, and house dances, I was really intrigued by the similarities of how dance in these spaces grew. For example, the idea of circular movement and dancing in a circle, someone goes in one at a time to exchange energy and share movement. Those practices still exist in night clubs today. So I was really moved by how this book articulated and shared the lineage of the trajectory of how these dances have blossomed over time.” 

Students learned a variety of Black social dances where the groove and the bounce were explored. They also studied various jazz dance vernacular including the Charleston, Falling Off the Log, Tacky Annie, knee slaps, and the Mess Around. Freshman dance major, Eli Davis, said, “Powell’s focus on always having a bounce at the base of movement has strengthened my ability to ground myself in my dance practice as well as everyday life. Because of this, I’ve been paying closer attention to the push and pull of the earth. The feeling of gravity pulling your body at all times turns into a dance between your own body and the earth.” 

Emilio Noriega, Junior Dance Major, pointed out, "Even though I have studied in these other forms, hip hop, breaking, and house - where they have their own unique bounce to the music - this was different. It had its own bounce that was more in the hips that I am not used to. But I am so glad that there is someone out there advocating for it!" 

A favorite memory from Assistant Professor Danielle Lydia Sheather happened when Powell noticed two of freshman dancer majors, Cassidy Wilde and Esme Folk, experimenting with these social dances as a shared experience improvising with one another. Powell stated, “We have to remember that these are social dances that originated in social spaces and gatherings, so they weren’t doing them because they had learned them in school and they decided to practice it there. These dances were cultivated in that social space, so that moment that you two had in the middle is so special and so crucial to learning and embracing what the style and what this culture is about.” 

Alondra Cardova-Miralli posing in the tilt. Photo by Asher SwanDarcie Miles, Sophomore Dance Major, noted, "I am thankful to have participated in the Holla Jazz Dance residency and to experience such a raw and authentic form of jazz dance. Professionally, it was eye opening to see that companies like Holla Jazz exist where there is so much life and energy."

So while students and faculty alike danced masked in socially distanced 9 by 9 foot squares, and the residency took place virtually, we are all delighted to have had Natasha Powell in for our first international jazz dance residency. We owe you a debt of gratitude! Thank you for your time, energy, and expertise!

About the College of Performing and Visual Arts

The College of Performing and Visual Arts (CPVA) at Southern Utah University comprises 26 academic programs including liberal arts (BA/BS) and professional (BFA, BM, BMEd) degrees in art, design, dance, music and theatre. It includes graduate programs in the fields of arts administration (MFA, MA), music education (MME), and music technology (MM). More than 60 full-time faculty and staff are engaged in teaching and mentoring nearly 800 majors in the College. CPVA presents over 100 performances, lectures, presentations, and exhibitions each year and is affiliated with the Southern Utah Museum of Art (SUMA), Utah Shakespeare Festival, and the Center for Shakespeare Studies. Southern Utah University is an accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD), National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD), and the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). For more information about the College of Performing and Visual Arts, visit www.suu.edu/pva.

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