Bill T. Jones brings new rigor to dance instruction at UW

Nov 10, 2011

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University of Wyoming dance students are getting a unique opportunity this semester.  They are being trained by members of the world renowned Bill T. Jones dance company to perform four challenging works for an event called Continuous Momentum, which will be performed November 15th through the 19th at UW.  It will also tour the state in December.  The University is using funds from the excellence in education endowment to bring the trainers and Bill T. Jones himself to teach the students.  It is viewed as an extraordinary educational experience for the students.  Wyoming Public radio’s Bob Beck reports.

Let’s be clear.  In case you are not a fan of modern dance, The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company is among the best in the world.   And for students to simply perform that work would be challenging.  But to be trained by both Bill T. Jones and representatives of his company takes this to a new level.   Marsha Knight has taught dance at U-W for 28 years and says this has given Wyoming students an experience like no other.  Especially when Jones critiqued them face to face.

KNIGHT: “He’s challenging he makes students sit up and talk about what they think and he gets in their face a wee bit and I think it has been a comprehensive experience unlike we’ve been able to have before.”

Catherine Cabeen trains dancers for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dance company.  She is a well regarded dancer in her own right, with her own dance company.  Her job is to get the students to think differently about their bodies and to toss aside preconceived notions about how dance should be performed.  On this day she is putting the students through a number of paces that have them focus on moving while connecting to each other’s bodies. They lean against their partners and push and it leads many of them to end up in a ball on the floor.   Cabeen knows she is introducing new concepts to the students…but she’s been impressed with their willingness to work hard.

CABEEN: “The students here are incredible hungry, they’re very open.  I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a group of students who have ever worked harder for me in such a short amount of time.”

And she is making them work.  Cabeen watches the students go through an exercise where they have to catch a partner who is falling and then run and slide on their stomachs.  It requires them to spend a tremendous amount of energy, but she says they have to learn to fight through it. 

First year dancer Dan Higgins is excited to be chosen for this performance, but he says the work required is challenging. 

HIGGINS:  “It’s difficult, it’s not easy.  And especially being one of the few guys here, it’s pretty demanding.  But it’s definitely worth it.” 

Niki Craft has been ballet dancing most of her life, but shares Higgins sentiments.

 CRAFT: “It’s a completely different style of dancing.  Q-Has it been hard? A-Yep.  It’s been a challenge, definitely.  It’s something that we are not used to, it’s definitely something out of a lot of our comfort zones.  And they expect a lot from us.”

But the students will put in the work, because there is something at the end of the rainbow.  That’s involves making this a career.  Junior Sutton Anker is hopeful that this will help.

ANKER:  “I have pushed myself in a way I have not before, I am just excited about the possibilities.”

And Laramie Senior Anna Billings says she can already tell that the dancers are getting better.  She will be forever grateful for this experience.

BILLINGS:  “They’ve brought all their experiences from their entire career in life and are implementing it to us, and for us to have this opportunity in Wyoming is amazing.”

Back in her office, Dance Professor Marsha Knight smiles and says Billings is right.

KNIGHT: “Switches go on with these types of encounters, you bang up against something and you are not the same after that.  I think that can be said about this engagement we had.”

The public can judge for themselves, the performance of Continuous momentum, the works of Bill T. Jones will be performed November 15th through the 18th on campus.