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Annual Artist Series Honors Diversity in Dance Six accomplished artists will give virtual master classes for the Washington and Lee community this academic year, covering a wide range of dance styles, from hip-hop to K-pop.

The Department of Theater, Dance and Film Studies at Washington and Lee University has announced a guest artist series in dance for 2020-21 that will feature virtual master classes taught by choreographers, dancers and educators of color.

The series, which is free and open to the entire university community, will include lessons on a variety of dance styles, including jazz dance, hip-hop/street dance, K-Pop, West African dance technique, and the Dunham technique created by Katherine Dunham, who is considered the mother of Black dance. The kickoff event is a virtual class with dancer-choreographer Lauren Putty White on Saturday, Sept. 26 from noon to 1:30 p.m. To request a Zoom link, please email Melissa Gualtieri at mgualtieri@wlu.edu.

Jenefer Davies, professor of dance and theater and artistic director of the W&L Repertory Dance Company, said the dance series each year is planned to complement the experiences and expand the horizons of the current group of dance students. Davies created the master class series prior to going on sabbatical this year. In her absence, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Celeste Lanuza is directing the dance company.

“Students come to college with a very specific experience and history, and their view of the world is shaped by that,” Davies said. “I think it’s part of our job as educators to encourage them to look beyond what they’ve experienced during the first 18 years of their life. For some students that means taking a classical ballet class, and for others that means taking a class in Dunham technique.

“One of the things I love about the department at W&L is that we are so small that we can be nimble and flexible,” she said, “so from year to year, as students come through the program, I am able to flex based on what they have not yet experienced and fill in those gaps to create our own little dance ecology.”

Lauren Putty White has toured internationally with companies including Ballet X, Grace Dance Theatre and Bryn Mawr College. She also has choreographed for a number of companies and schools, taught dance and done guest artist residencies. In 2012, she and her musician husband founded Putty Dance Project, a collaborative company that produces socially conscious, critically acclaimed works. The title of her class at W&L is “The Influence of the Black Arts Movement on Free Jazz-Inspired Movement.”

Next up in the series is dance educator, choreographer, dancer and producer Kim Elliott, who uses her passion for hip-hop and street dance culture as a tool to inspire others and integrate underground and concert dance. She has taught dance at a number of higher education institutions, choreographed at multiple high-profile venues, and was the 2015 recipient of the Outstanding Dance Educator Award from the New York State Dance Education Association. She currently teaches full time at The Beacon School in New York City and is the artistic director and choreographer of Kim Elliott Dance. She will discuss the history and cultural relevance of hip-hop and street dance during her virtual visit at W&L.

The final guest artist of Fall Term will be Vivian Kim, who will present a program on “K-Pop and the Performance of Blackness.” Kim is a choreographer and dancer based in Colorado whose creative research aims to dismantle perceptions of East Asian and Asian American women in Eastern and Western culture. She currently teaches at the Denver School of the Arts and Red Rocks Community College. She is also active in several dance companies and is co-founder of KisKosity Dance Collective, a contemporary and street dance fusion company in Boulder, Colorado.

Davies said the department has confirmed three master classes for Winter Term. Those guest artists and their areas of focus for the classes are Mya Djanju (West African Dance Technique), Keith Saunders (dance and social change) and Kehinde Ishangi (Dunham technique). Dates for their appearances are still being confirmed.

Ideally, all six of these master classes would be delivered in person on the Washington and Lee University campus, but because of COVID-19, the classes will be virtual. Davies said planning a virtual series allowed her to invite artists who otherwise might not have time to interrupt their performance schedules for a trip to Lexington.

“If I had to find a silver lining to the horrors of COVID-19, it is that we as educators have so much more access to artists nationally and internationally than we ever have before,” Davies said. “For the artist, it is an opportunity to find more creative ways to share their art forms.”

Davies hopes that everyone interested in dance will tune in for the classes, and that exposure to a wide range of different artists and styles will inspire dance students as they learn and explore.

“The dancers that come through W&L’s program at some point create their own work, and I love seeing how our guest artists influence their future artist eye,” she said. “That’s ultimately what it’s all about: who they are when they graduate and what they give back to the world.”

For more information about the 2020-21 Dance Master Class Series, visit the series webpage.