Transcript: KU students and Lawrence residents learn to cha-cha

Elise Reuter: This is Elise Reuter, with MAD Dance KU. At KU’s ballroom dance club, instructor Christie Curtis teaches a new style of dance each Wednesday. Last week, she taught club members both young and old how to do the cha-cha, a syncopated dance originating in Cuba.

Christie Curtis: It’s a very festival type dance– not as festival as the Samba, that has a lot of shaking going on with the Samba. It’s just more of a very syncopated kind of dance with a lot of fast backward moves.

Reuter: The cha-cha is actually just a slower variation of the Mambo, that is danced in triple-time, with an added shuffle of the feet.This sound is where the name of the dance comes from.

Curtis: Now Mambo is, just like that, but now we’re just adding in the “bum bum bum.” It’s just basically learning the steps; I always put the hip movement in later, I mean there is a lot of hip movement in it.

Reuter: Advisor Kirk McClure explains the ballroom dance club’s goals, since there are so many other dance clubs on campus.

Kirk McClure: Ours is meant to be a way for people with or without a partner to just come and have a good time. And Christie has been teaching dance for the longest time, and she just has a knack for teaching. She’ll turn around and do the guys’ part and then she’ll turn around and do the girls’ part.


Ballroom Dance Club works through funding cuts


by Elise Reuter

“One- two- three- four, and one- two- three- four…”

Upstairs in the Kansas Ballroom, Christie Curtis counts out the rhythm to a cha-cha. A group of students and adults follow behind her, trying to keep in step as she demonstrates more advanced moves. This is Curtis’ seventh year teaching for the Ballroom Dance Club, and the first year she has done so without pay.

“We’re kind of in limbo right now,” said Curtis. “We’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do next semester.”

The club took a hit to funding this year, after Student Senate passed a new rule stating that student groups cannot charge a fee and receive Senate funding. In previous years, the club relied on both these $35 fees and Senate funding to be able to pay for teaching and rent out a ballroom. Now the club is drawing out a new plan for next year.

“Economically, we would be better off if it was just free,” said Steve Curtis, another ballroom dance instructor who hopes that by cutting the student fee, they will be eligible for the needed funding from Senate again. He also thinks this will draw more students to the club, which has suffered from a dip in attendance since its creators graduated.

“The whole idea when it was first started is it was organized by students, and then over the years the students haven’t replenished themselves as they probably could have,” added Steve Curtis. “So then we went in and kind of took over; now we have a few more.”

At the club’s beginnings, about 50 students would dance every week. This year, that number has dwindled down to between 15 and 20 students.

“They were enthusiastic dancers and they built it up into quite the club,” said Kirk McClure, the club advisor. “Unfortunately, they all graduated. So that’s why we have the whole attendance problem.” 

A group of Lawrence “regulars” also attend; some of them have been ballroom dancing with the club for five or six years. The club is drawing out plans to recruit as much as possible to make up for the gap in attendance.

Unlike many other ballroom dancing clubs on campus like KU DanceSport, the Ballroom Dance Club is directed at beginners, so students need not have any prior experience to come and dance. For students who catch on quickly, Christie will mix in a few advanced steps, with some twists and turns to keep them on their toes.

“If they get the basics and are comfortable with them, then we go on to adding an intermediate step, and we call it an add-on,” added Christie Curtis.

Video transcript

Senior and club president Betsey Klee just started ballroom dancing last year, and now she keeps up with some of the more experience dancers of the group. After transferring to KU to finish off her degree, she picked up the club on a whim, and has stuck with it ever since.

““I had done a lot of swing dancing in high school, and danced up until I graduated,” said Klee. “After we lost funding for the semester, Christie’s been wonderful and just been doing lessons for free.”

Considering the costs of regular ballroom dance classes, this is a bit of a sacrifice. For independent teachers like Christie, the cost of a lesson runs anywhere between $50 to upwards of $200. This is in part because ballroom dancing takes so long to learn, with most certified instructors requiring competitions wins, many years of teaching, and passing a series of exams, according to an article by the Herald-Tribune. Add in overhead costs, including studio space, and it becomes quite the production. Christie manages to work through these costs by hosting her classes at an in-home studio.

“I teach at the Lawrence Arts Center with my dad, and I teach private lessons out of a studio in my home,” said Christie Curtis.

For the club, practice locations has also become a question. In previous years they were able to rent out the Camelot Ballroom downtown for $200, with a live band for musical accompaniment. Unfortunately, the ballroom was replaced by Fuzzy’s tacos, leaving the only remaining ballrooms downtown with rental prices upwards of $500. Right now, they are holding club meetings in the Kansas room of the Union—one of the few rooms with a dance floor.

This upcoming Wednesday, they are holding practice in the Union, and then dancing downtown as part of their annual Christmas celebration.

“We’re trying to upgrade, and get it to where more students will come, get them excited about it again,” said Christie Curtis.

MADLinks: Musicals, visionary ballets and goodbyes

In South Florida, the new Outré Theatre Company presented their first showing of The Wild Party, a musical based on the 1926 poem by Joseph Moncure March.

Another new work premiered last weekend: Choreographer Trey McIntyre’s “Ways of Seeing” incorporated cameras recording the audience’s reaction to the ballet, and projected their image on-stage, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Renee Robinson is preparing for her final performance with the Alvin-Ailey Dance Theater. Robinson plans to retire after this year, making her the one remaining member of the company originally chosen by Alvin Ailey before his death in 1989.


MADLinks: Sugar plum fairies, fast-paced performances and gifts aplenty

With the holidays coming at full speed, several companies are preparing their own renditions of the Nutcracker, which will open at the end of November. The Boston Ballet is revamping their version, combining fresh new choreography and music with costumes styled using the silhouettes and soft colors of the early 1800’s, according to the Phoenix.

Also with the holiday rush of performances comes a new show by Brian Brooks Moving Company. The New York-based troupe’s performance was characterized by   a relentless high energy with plenty of props. You can read the Washington Post’s full review here.

Trying to prepare Christmas gifts ahead of time? You can make homemade hot/cold packs for friends (or yourself, if needed) using these simple instructions by DanceAdvantage. The only required materials are a little bit of fabric, rice and basic sewing abilities.

KU Dance Marathon reaches record levels of fundraising for 2012

Photo by Matt Steele
Students cheer during one of the performances at Dance Marathon, which was held in the ballroom at the Student Union this year

by Elise Reuter

In an emotional moment, Jordan and Bailey Larkin cut hospital bands off of the wrists of hundreds of students at the end of this year’s KU Dance Marathon. Jordan, 16, wants to be a geneticist. His 14-year-old brother, Bailey, wants to be an orchestra teacher. Since birth, both have fought Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome, genetically inherited disease that affects the bone marrow and the pancreas. It can be difficult to find treatment, as the disease is rare, affecting 1 in 500,000 births.

“Their blood cells don’t work to fight off infection, so when they get something like a cold it just snowballs, and can turn into a life-threatening situation. They go to the hospital a lot for antibiotics and treatment to keep them from getting too bad,” said their mom, Nancy Carson.

On average, the boys have four to six hospital stays each year. They go to the University of Kansas Medical Center for most of their treatments, where they work with five to six different specialists in tandem with each other.

“I think they’ve saved their lives and made the quality of life better too, because they’re sick a lot,” Carson said.

Jordan and Bailey aren’t the only ones who rely on KU Med for treatments they couldn’t find elsewhere. At Dance Marathon alone, 19 other children were present who all are part of KU Pediatrics, a branch of the Children’s Miracle Network. This year, KUDM raised $61,000 for KU Pediatrics, setting a record for the event compared with the previous four years at KU.

“The fact that we were able to grow the event in terms of dancers and fundraising in one year is huge,” said KUDM Executive Director Megan Watson.
In previous years, KU Pediatrics used the money to create “KU Kids Healing Place,” a palliative care service for terminally-ill children. They also used it to buy an echocardiogram.

“They are able to treat more heart diseases because they have the equipment to do so,” Watson said.

Photo by Wade Billings
Students attached colorful notes to a wall, as a reminder of what they stood for at Dance Marathon. Over the course of the event, participants remained on their feet for a total of 12 hours.

The event also had a record high for the number of students attending, with 540 showing up to dance for the 12-hour marathon. The atmosphere was a giant party for the kids, with students playing rounds of ping-pong, sharing pizza and running races with the “Miracle Children” in between speeches, where parents and children explained their walks with a life-threatening disease.

“Turns out there are two boys from my hometown who have a disease, and they became one of the miracle families that Dance Marathon supports, so I went out there to support them and their family,” said Mike Marcus, a sophomore from Shawnee, Kan. “When you get to know the kids for who they are, you don’t see the disease and you don’t see the pain that they’re going through, but when they’re up on that stage and that’s what they’re talking about, it just pulls a string with you.”

The emotional takeaway is just as strong for the miracle families, who make strong connections with each other and some of the students at the event. In fact, 10 kids returned this year, many of whom had befriended KU students and looked forward to meeting with them again.

“It’s an overwhelming experience to see all of these students who are giving up an entire weekend, day and night to do this, just with such caring attitudes to give back for kids that they don’t even know and to raise so much money for such a great cause,” said Carson. “You get to see some families come together and hear everybody’s stories, all with different paths. Some people have had an illness and they’re over it. Some people have a chronic illness like my boys that’s ongoing— it’s inspirational to hear.”

Click here for more photos of the event.

MADLinks: Improv tips, traditional Haitian dance and the aftermath of the hurricane

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, many performances in New York were relocated or put on hold. Irish company Fabulous Beast Dance Theater decided that the show must go on anyways. While their sets, costumes and props sat in a ship near Philadelphia, the company performed their show in New York, wearing sweatpants. The show, titled ‘Rian’, is a spirited mix of traditional music and contemporary dance, according to the New York Times.

The Compagnie de Danse Jean-René Delsoin escaped the rains in Haiti, while performing at Johnson County Community College on Saturday, Nov. 10. The group combined Haitian traditional dances with modern and jazz dance, according to the Kansas City Star. Choreographer and founder Jean-René Delsoin, after whom the group is named, also has training with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center.

Improvisation is a valuable skill, especially in light of these recent events. While improv classes are offered at KU and some other universities, the art of spontaneously creating movement can be difficult to master. DanceAdvantage shares 10 tips to help you break outside of the box.


MADLinks: Mixed media between dancers and visual artists

Captivated by the idea of the night sky, choreographer Cori Terry collaborated with glass artists to recreate the scene in her latest show, “How the Light Gets In.” According to Michigan Live, surreal glass sculptures will be hung from the ceiling while dancers will use large pieces of fabric to give the feeling of the stars and the planets.

On the other end of the spectrum, dancers worked with still, colorful backgrounds, the art of graphic designer Sol LeWitt. The dance company CoDa performed in the permanent exhibit where the prints were installed, balancing between copying the lines and shapes of the art and moving away from it.

The restoration of a historical ballet school in Cuba should be a cause for celebration. However, as ballet star Carlos Ascosta made plans to raise money to fix the building, controversy arose based on the building’s original construction under Fidel Castro.

Students and teachers share African Dance as a meeting of cultures

By Elise Reuter

Members of the KU African Student Association’s dance group practice a piece they have been choreographing for a fashion show on Nov. 30. They explain the process of putting a piece together, along with their individual contributions:

You can read the transcript here.


Nothing could stop Willie Lenoir from sharing his love for dance. It’s no surprise that the KU lecturer couldn’t stay off of his feet, after studying several types of dance, including a broad range of jazz styles, musical theater and Limon technique.

In particular, Lenoir plans to share his knowledge through a long-anticipated course in African Dance Theater. Lenoir last taught the course in 2001, before he was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and had surgery in both hips.

Now that he’s back, Lenoir hopes to educate KU students about African Dance, as the art form is underrepresented in Kansas. But he isn’t alone– a few student groups, including the African Student Association and the African Drum Ensemble, have stepped up to share the culture with as many students as possible. They all have a common goal: to share traditional dances from all parts of Africa.

“I take authentic African steps and do my choreography.,” said Lenoir. “I’ve been jumping all over putting steps together, you know, I do some steps from South Africa, and primarily from Western Africa, but I have shown them things from Ethiopia– from the Masai tribe which does a lot of jumping.”

Lenoir draws from several sources for his work, but his main focus is West-African dance, which is one of the more energetic forms. During classes, Lenoir gives his students up to five breaks, because the dancing is so rigorous.

One of the most strenuous forms he has taught students comes from Senegal, called “Sabar” after the drums that accompany the dance. While Sabar is traditionally a very feminine dance, many Senegalese men have taken the form and made it their own. Lenoir describes it as “arms and legs everyplace– it’s just incredible dance.”

Most people don’t realize how many American dances all share roots in West Africa. Hip-hop, jazz dance, swing dance all include African movement.  Drawing a comparison between the many tribal forms and Native American dances in the United States, Lenoir noted that the two are surprisingly similar:

“You see, a lot of the dances are based off of everyday activity, like picking fruit off of a tree or off of a bush, or a lot of animals like cranes, different types of birds, snakes, fish, elephants…. So, it’s sort of like Native American dance in that it’s cultural- it’s based on something,” said Lenoir. “There are certain steps that almost every culture uses, no matter what. And you wonder- how did that happen?”

Several KU students are also having these conversations, as they piece together dances with movements from across the globe. The African Student Association has a dance group that is preparing for an informal performance later this fall. During the choreography process, each student incorporated dances from their respective region or tribe– often the dances of their childhood. They also mixed in hip-hop moves and a little bit of Indian dance, which complemented the choreography.

“We focus more on the shoulder, but you can also add some hip movement. It’s hard to explain, you just kinda have to experiment with it,” said Ilham Abuenga, a senior at KU from Sudan. “You grow up learning it, so your body kinda moves in sync with it.”

Adut Anei-Yor, another student from Sudan, explained how her style of dance differed from Abuenga’s:

“It depends on the region, and I guess the tribe, because you can go to one country where one tribe does absolutely upper body and more hand motion, and my culture is more footwork.”

Right now, the dance group is focusing on reaching out to as many students as possible in order to share their culture through dance. They have a few more performances booked, including a festival in the spring. They are one of few outlets for African culture at the University, and in the Kansas City area in general.