When COVID-19 cancelled the Dance Ensemble concert, professor Jin Hanley repurposed students’ rehearsal time for virtual masterclasses with illustrious dance professionals.
Hanley leveraged her connections and those of Ensemble co-teacher Jacqueline Lopez to give students an opportunity to dialogue with renowned professionals. Zoom guest speakers included: Randall Flinn, artistic director of Ad Deum Dance Company in Houston; Larry Keigwin, artistic director of Keigwin and Company in New York; Jon Lehrer, artistic director of Jon Lehrer Dance Company in New York; Yuriko Kajiya, principal dancer of Houston Ballet in Houston; Daniel Lewis, former dancer and artistic director of José Limón Dance Company, assistant to the director of dance at The Julliard School and founding dean of New World School of the Arts; Caleb Mitchell, ballet professor at Florida State University and former principal dancer with Houston Ballet; Rhonda Henriksen, former dancer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Dr. Kathleen Davenport, a medical doctor with a fellowship in sports, performing arts and dance medicine.
Kajiya, a national star in Japan, was a guest in the pointe and partnering class. Before joining Houston Ballet, she worked her way up from apprentice to soloist with American Ballet Theatre. Victor Trevino, a choreographer for PBA, was part of her inspiration for becoming a dancer, Hanley said.
Lewis is the “godfather of the dance world,” Hanley said. While most students only read about him in textbooks, PBA students related to him by name. Bailey Ferguson, a sophomore, credited him for shifting her perspective on her dance career.
“Something you said that really stays in my mind is to take every opportunity you can,” Ferguson wrote to him in a thank you note. “Sometimes I feel so narrow-minded on what my goals are that I may miss another path I needed to follow. That statement really opened my eyes, and I plan to live by that from now on.”
Flinn, the first guest speaker, was a visiting scholar and choreographer at PBA in February. He reminded students that dance is not just movement – it is a beautiful creation of the Lord, said Victoria Holmes, a rising senior majoring in dance pedagogy.
“He reassured us that arts in general are powerful tools that the Lord can use to minister to our generation,” Holmes said. “They’re looking for truth and looking for beauty.”
Holmes and Winston Jean-Joseph ’20 said they were also inspired by Henriksen, who exuded confidence in her identity in Christ. Henriksen retired from professional dance after 10 years to start a family. She later became director of dance ministry for Willow Creek Church and founded her own dance company.
It was obvious that in every stage of life, she was grateful, Jean-Joseph said.
“We make parts of our life climactic,” Jean-Joseph said. “Because she was secure in her identity in Christ, she was always in the right spot at the right time. She was always in the perfect season.”
It was refreshing to hear her encouragement to be true to yourself, Jean-Joseph said.
“Quite often in the dance world, we hear that you have to fit the mold,” Jean-Joseph said. “She shared that it’s OK to be secure in who God has made you to be.”
Mitchell, the ballet professor, was scheduled to present “Post-Neoclassical Exploration: Ballet” at the University’s Interdisciplinary Research Conference in March. The conference was canceled and later moved to a digital format, but Mitchell carried on with his presentation via Zoom.
“All of these events might be cancelled, but we as artists are not canceled,” Hanley said.