From a precocious child who could never sit still to the energetic and effervescent teacher students have come to know and love, Kay Andersen has had a life-changing career as a dancer and educator. Now, after 22 years as a professor of dance at SUU, Andersen is saying goodbye to the faculty, staff and students of Cedar City.
Andersen is known for his outstanding ability to incorporate tap dancing into everything. With an intense and infectious dedication to his art, he has been an inspiration to students to never forget the joy of the dance and the base emotion that comes from movement.
Andersen began his dance studies as an avid tapper, and a story is told about a young Andersen found tap dancing on top of a cow on his family farm in Cache Valley. His debut as a professional dancer was with the American Folk Ballet in Logan and as a cast member of the Festival of the American West, which was written and directed by former SUU President Gerald R. Sharratt.
Andersen began his career in academia as a student at SUU when the founder of SUU’s dance department, Burch Mann, asked Andersen, then a professional dancer to come to SUU to teach and earn an undergraduate degree in Spanish. From there he continued his education, receiving a master of arts degree from New York University. When he found himself ready to make a professional change he reached out to the department where he got his start as a teacher and made the move back to Utah.
“When it came time to transition from professional dancing to teaching I knew there was not a better place suited for me than here at SUU, my alma mater,” said Andersen. “The opportunities for collaboration, especially with my dear friend and colleague Shauna Mendini, have been beyond anything I thought possible.”
Shauna Mendini, dean of the College of Performing and Visual Arts, commented, “Over 20 years ago, Kay was interviewed for a position at SUU from where he stood in a phone booth on the streets of New York City. Hiring Kay was the best decision I have made during my time at SUU. He is respected, appreciated and loved by students, faculty and staff. Kay will be deeply missed.”
Over the years, Andersen has received many honors and awards. In 2001 he was given the Professor of the Year award and in 2014 he was identified as a Distinguished Educator by SUU. In 2016, Andersen received the Utah Dance and Education Organization Lifetime Achievement Award.
Andersen has said that although he has received many awards throughout his career, for him, it is not about the recognition but about doing what you love, being passionate in your life and working hard; everything else is just icing on top.
Kay has kept strong ties to his love for tap by teaching classes and choreographing a tap number for many faculty dance concerts through the years. Now, in his final year, he has taken on the enormous task of choreographing the entire show of the classic tap dance musical “42nd Street.”
“42nd Street” is a classic 1980’s musical, which actually began as a movie in 1933 before being adapted for the stage. The story revolves around a young dancer who catches her big break doing what she loves.
The “42nd Street” movie was written and filmed during the Great Depression, and the feeling of hope and success that such stories portrayed were a vital part of recovery. People needed to see happy endings and, as his last show, Andersen is going out with a bang. He has choreographed an entire show, consisting of 15 different dance numbers that highlight and complement the score. “42nd Street” is the final theatrical and dance performance of the year and will showcase each department’s skills.
“We wanted to create opportunities for collaboration and to give more experience to students in the dance, theater and music departments both in performing and in working together across the arts,” said Andersen. “‘42nd Street’ gives theater people a chance to have more dance experience and for dancers to be able to participate more in theatrical performances, and so a musical like this will help bridge the programs. And I think that this show has really done what we wanted it to do, so I think it is really great.”
Andersen has played a pivotal role in the lives of both his students and colleagues since 1997. This show is the perfect production to end his teaching career with a chance to celebrate and showcase his extensive knowledge of tap.
“For me as a choreographer, this is definitely the most challenging [productions I’ve been a part of] just because of the magnitude, because of just how big of a show it is and that has been a huge challenge for me, but this will be one of my favorite [shows] I’ve done,” he said.“it has been such a joy to work with our Director Lisa Quoresimo. She has such a clear vision of what she wants the show to say, and has an amazing eye for detail. She has created the perfect working environment.”
Andersen says the relationships he has had with his students are going to be the thing he misses most about teaching at SUU. Set to retire after commencement, Andersen expects to find many more adventures. He will be able to take more time with his freelance choreography and teach workshops everywhere from Greece to Mexico to China, and he hopes he will be able to bring some of those workshops home to Cedar City as well.
“To see students from where they come in and the growth they experience from a freshman to a graduating senior is just beautiful,” Andersen said. “My time with them is just a small piece of their artistic life. I have loved seeing students come and go, feeling fortunate to be a tiny part of their creative paths. I have so enjoyed my relationships with them, even now as friends and alumni. This has been the greatest gift.”
Story by: Alexis J. Taylor
Photos Courtesy of Kay Andersen