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Click here to see a YouTube video from DanceLifeTV.com all about Company d.

Leaping forward

Professor Moira Logan says there’s a dancer in us all. Two unique initiatives at the University of Memphis open doors for what might seem the most unlikely of performers.

By Sara Hoover

Among rows of dancers bending and stretching at the University of Memphis is a life lesson. The theatre and dance department is revealing a dancer that is not defined by mastery of the plié, but by heart. And these groups have more than enough.

Pam Hurley’s Jazz II class was transformed into a showcase for Luigi’s method, considered the first formal jazz dance technique. U of M students and Company d, a dance troupe of young adults with Down syndrome, warmed up and then each performed.

The idea for the pairing came from two U of M alumni: Hurley, adjunct professor of dance in the College of Communications and Fine Arts, and Darlene Winters, Company d’s artistic director and choreographer.

“Darlene and I have both studied with Luigi in New York,” says Hurley (MArch ’10). “We started talking about the opportunities here (in Memphis) and that I was teaching at the University. Since everyone does Luigi, it would be great for them to come together and share in the experience.”

Louis “Luigi” Faccuito developed his technique after a serious car accident in 1946 left him partially paralyzed, and he was told he’d never walk again, let alone dance. He taught himself not only to stand, but to move and dance. Considered the father of modern jazz dance, he went on to dance in many iconic silver screen musicals.

“Luigi’s technique is holistic. It’s about being kind to your body, learning to move through your body, listening to your heart and dancing with heart and soul as opposed to being purely technical because that makes a better dancer,” says Hurley. “If you’re dancing from your soul, from the heart, for the joy of moving, then people are excited to watch you and excited to dance with you. His technique is very, very special in that regard.”

Company d is a nonprofit organization in Memphis, founded in 2001. Dance members are 13 to 32 years old.

Dancers’ parents selected the name.

(Above left) U of M students and Company d dancers, a troupe of individuals with Down syndrome, perform together on campus. (Above right) Brittany   Carter, paired with senior Allie Roberts (rear), shows that anyone can dance, the theme of the mixed ability workshop. Photos by Lindsey Lissau.
(Above left) U of M students and Company d dancers, a troupe of individuals with Down syndrome, perform together on campus. (Above right) Brittany Carter, paired with senior Allie Roberts (rear), shows that anyone can dance, the theme of the mixed ability workshop. Photos by Lindsey Lissau.

“Parents looked for names that didn’t define us,” says Winters (BA ’75, MA ’78). “The d came from do, difficult, desire, diligent and dance. We’re always adding a d-word. I’ve explored that with (the dancers).”

This isn’t the first partnership between the U of M and Company d. In 2008, Winters brought her group to another of Hurley’s classes. Both women hope to continue the collaboration.

“We would love to see this continue because the dancers don’t get the opportunity to go to college, so this is big for them to come on campus and be with students,” says Winters.

Some U of M students worked with Company d in summer dance workshops.

“The fact that our students are able to go work with Company d and Darlene is a great opportunity,” says Hurley. “Company d is incredibly inspiring and they’re so professional. They set the bar high, which is exciting.”

So high, in fact, that they were invited to New York to celebrate Luigi’s 85th birthday and perform along with a select group of professional performers.

Company d is not the only special population that the theatre and dance department is working with. This past summer, a workshop to expand dance to include more people and accessibility was offered.

Dr. Moira Logan, associate dean in the College of Communication and Fine Arts, held a dance workshop as part of the Memphis in May Student Affairs Conference at the U of M. The interactive workshop was dance for all sizes, shapes and mixed ability, including people with limited mobility like those in wheelchairs.

Logan wanted to deconstruct the myth of who can dance and promote the idea of dance as an expressive art form rather than dance as therapy for special populations.

“Dance can be done by anyone,” she says. “I’ve never felt it should be restricted. There are people who are gifted dancers who maybe don’t fit any particular mold: people who don’t have the perfect body or people in wheelchairs or a variety of disabilities that we would normally think would keep you from dancing.”

Thirteen participants performed modern dance with improvisation techniques.

Brittany Carter, a professional studies major and wheelchair-bound student, found the workshop to be enlightening.

“I am very active in the field of people with disabilities and anything that can possibly give me or my community options, I’m willing to see. I believe I can do whatever I want as well as anybody else can. You’re not not able to do anything.”

Carter considers the workshop a door opener for people with disabilities and learned that “what you have, which may be very little, you can do a lot with.”

The workshop, a first-time offering, taught exactly what Logan hoped participants might learn: “Limitations are not necessarily limitations but open up possibilities.”

“I love this art form and access is important. There’s this dancer in us all. We all are born with the ability to move and even people who have tremendous disability have some ability to move,” says Logan.

Allie Roberts, a dance education major, witnessed that lesson first-hand.

“I hoped to get a new perspective or way of teaching and learning. I had never thought about dancing with someone in a wheelchair or with any sort of physical disability. It was just so beautiful to see that. We’re all so capable no matter the disability.”

Logan plans to continue to offer the workshop and possibly teach a special topics course that trains students on how to work with people with disabilities, which is a potential employment opportunity. This is an area Roberts is already exploring.

“I’m already thinking up ideas to create a class for the community for kids who have disabilities, even at schools. I’m planning on working in the school system, so that will be something very interesting and fun and enlightening.”

Logan hopes students with disabilities who might not usually consider a dance class will take one.

“Everybody can do something that’s interesting and moving and beautiful in its own way.”

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