SUU Hosts International Choreographer for Jazz Dance Residency

Southern Utah University hosted a virtual residency with Natasha Powell, the artistic director and choreographer for Toronto-based dance company Holla Jazz.

An academic residency is a combination of elements of a workshop or conference and a university course. It’s common for a residency to last for a school year. Powell instructed her courses from Toronto via livestream.

Powell taught jazz dance for the residency over livestream for SUU’s advanced jazz dance students. The students practiced the routines with Powell from nine-foot squares taped on the floor of their classroom. The boundaries were intended to encourage social distancing.

Powell has appeared in the HBO series “The L Word,” “Center Stage 2,” and the Nickelodeon film “Spectacular.” She has also received grant awards from the Canada Council for the Arts. Her company explores how the roots of jazz dance, hip hop and house intersect.

Powell instructed students in a variety of Black social dances to explore groove and bounce.

Eli Davis, a freshman dance major, explained that Powell’s focus on having bounce at the base of movement has strengthened her ability to ground herself in dance practice and everyday life.

“Because of this, I’ve been paying closer attention to the push and pull of the earth,” Davis said. “The feeling of gravity pulling your body at all times turns into a dance between your own body and the earth.

Powell noticed two of the students experimenting with the new styles together, but from their individual tape squares. She noted that it’s important to remember  that these are social dances that originated in social spaces and gatherings.

“These dances were cultivated in that social space, so that moment that you two had in the middle is so special and so crucial to learning and embracing what the style and what this culture is about,” Powell  said.

In fall 2019, SUU dance faculty made substantial changes to the dance curriculum. The most radical change is the requirement for students to take as many jazz dance courses as ballet and modern styles. SUU is the first higher education institution that offers this kind of “equitable jazz training.”

Powell’s residency marked not only SUU’s increased fervor for jazz styles, but also marked the adoption of technology to overcome some risk of COVID-19. It also allowed Powell to conduct courses from Toronto with students in Cedar City. .

SUU’s Department of Theater, Dance and Arts Administration has a schedule of their upcoming events available on their website.

Story by Janzen Jorgensen
Photos by Kendra Epik and Danielle Lydia Sheather