Augmenting Dance Education at UA

Guest Blogger: Christy Bolingbroke, Executive & Artistic Director of NCCAkron

UA students and Akron community members taking a movement journaling class with choreographer Sara Juli (Lewiston, ME).
UA students and Akron community members taking a movement journaling class with choreographer Sara Juli (Lewiston, ME).
Image Description: A group of about a dozen people, all in casual clothing, pose for a photograph and smile. The back row of people stand against a ballet barre mounted to the wall; the second row of people kneel in front of them; and two people lie on the ground in front, head-to-head on their sides, reaching their hands out towards one another. The NCCAkron logo (a squared-off C with a dot at the center and line extending outwards) repeats on the wall behind them. 

Beyond affording an academic environment for artists to explore, the National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron (NCCAkron) partners with The University of Akron to enhance the student experience and embrace dance as an area of study.  UA’s School of Dance, Theatre, and Arts Administration shares part of its own origin story with Ohio Ballet.  Most dance programs across the country were founded by white men and women (mostly women) before the civil rights movement.  So the field of dance education is primed for a major overhaul.  Acknowledging the region’s aesthetic roots, NCCAkron has been curating from a place of absence – working to expand the definition of dance to something broader than ballet or modern dance.  This has included but is not limited to Dancing Labs mining Native Intelligence in Contemporary Dance, examining the South Asian Experimental Dance Artist experience, and connecting Black male-identified choreographers in relatively isolated creative communities through BLKmenMOVES.

Operating beyond the finished product of performances, NCCAkron acknowledges that even as a fledgling 501(c)3 organization, we still carry the ‘legacy code’ of oppression, privilege and white supremacy.  But from our unique position operating from the cracks in the national and local cultural ecologies, we can also work much faster to effect new experiences and opportunities for students than our institutional partners laboring under thick bureaucratic systems. Upon my arrival in 2016, finding partners within the Dance Program was slow moving at first.  But opportunities abound to locate dance artists in other dialogues across campus too.  NCCAkron has paired up with colleagues in anthropology, arts administration, biomimicry, english, music, the Davis Gallery in Myers School of Art, and the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology.

Between visiting artists and co-hosting grant writing interns with national dance artists, we have cultivated an average of 16 interactive artist opportunities each academic year for UA students (available to the Akron public too).  Such activity is only increasing since initiating a programmatic partnership with DTAA in 2020 to realize Ideas in Motion, supporting choreographers that also have a teaching practice to augment the dance curriculum as well as do their choreographic research.  By bringing in a capsule series of eight to ten 21st Century Dance Practice artists every spring, today’s students get a survey experience with working artists from across the country while NCCAkron works with DTAA to disrupt the damaging modern/ballet binary in dance education.

Early on, NCCAkron realized we could be a space for dance audiences to ask questions too.  Partnering with Arts Administration graduate student Nakiasha Moore-Dunson (UA ‘19 and current Verb Ballets Company Manager) we developed a social experiment called Dance Club and in the past year translated it to a Virtual Dance Club.  

Virtual Dance Club along with other public programs like Dancing Conversations locating dance in other fields of study and Inside the Dancers’ Studio interviews demystifying the creative process for all will continue through 2021.

Following a national search, Christy Bolingbroke was named the first Executive & Artistic Director of the National Center for Choreography located at The University of Akron.  In this role, she provides both artistic and administrative leadership for NCCAkron, building upon her extensive experience in curatorial programs and external relations. Bolingbroke has a B.A. in Dance from the University of California, Los Angeles, is a graduate of the DeVos Institute for Arts Management Fellowships Program (previously at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC), Arts & Business Council of New York’s Arts Leadership Institute, and holds a Master’s Degree from the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance at Wesleyan University.