Native Americans keep tradition of dance alive


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She was the prima ballerina in George Balanchine’s original productions of Firebird, the Nutcracker and Swan Lake. The original Sugarplum Fairy, Maria Tallchief, died April 11 according to the New York Times. She was 88.

Not only was she a ballet legend, George Balanchine’s wife and founder of the Chicago City Ballet, but she was also Native American. Tallchief is one of five Native American prima ballerinas throughout history.

With hundreds of prima ballerinas throughout history, there are only five that are Native American. According to NewsOK, the five ballerinas are Maria Tallchief, her sister Marjorie, Yvonne Choteau, Rosella Hightower and Moscelyne Larkin.

Stephanie Fitzgerald, professor of Native American literature at the University of Kansas said that it is not a surprise there are so few Native American ballerinas. She said location and finances are key to having the opportunity for dance training.

“Living on a reservation, many families barely have money for food, let alone ballet lessons,” said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said that the Tallchiefs were of the Osage tribe and had access to oil, and therefore money. The family also moved to California from Oklahoma, so location was not a problem.

“Even if you do have access to lessons, not everyone has the talent to make it professionally,” said Fitzgerald.

Cynthia Crews, the ballet instructor at the Lawrence Arts Center, said that talent was no problem for the Tallchiefs and other Native American ballerinas.

Crews trained with Moscelyne Larkin at the Tulsa Ballet Theatre for many years.

“I always remember Larkin wearing this beautiful turquoise jewelry,” Crews said. “They were all very proud of their heritage.”

Crews had the opportunity to watch all five dancers together in the production of “Four Moons,” a ballet that celebrated Indian culture, in Oklahoma in 1967.

“It would have been an easy thing to sweep under the rug, but they always said they were from Oklahoma and they always said they were Native American,” Crews said.

Even today in Lawrence, Kan., Haskell Indian Nations University keeps the tradition of dance alive.

“Dance is a big part of our culture,” said Jessica Grundy, a junior at Haskell. She said the dancing mostly consists of traditional Native American dances, but other forms of dance have influence on the students’ lives as well.

“I know people who have taken ballet lessons, and I myself like hip hop, but collectively we do more powwows and stuff like that,” said Grundy.


Statistics from the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City show the population of students broken down according to ethnicity. Native Americans hold the lowest percentage.

Diversity Infographic


Celebrate National Tap Dance Day in Lawrence, Kan.


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This is a three-component story: written, audio and graphic to commemorate the tradition of tap dancing and look brightly towards the future.

Tap dancing has been engrained in American culture for hundreds of years. On Broadway, in musicals, in movies and on stage, tappers continue to stun audiences with their rhythm and beat. To honor this well-known form of dance, National Tap Dancing Day is May 25. Get your tap shoes on and get ready to celebrate.

Origin of tap dancing

“The history of tap is an ongoing struggle,” said Joan Stone, a history of dance professor at the University of Kansas. It has a similar history to jazz music and became a prominent art form when it entered Broadway and the movies in the 1920s.

“The old tappers picked up on each other’s rhythms and danced with a jazz band — not like today’s tappers who are all commercial,” said Stone. The old tap dancers were similar to jazz dancers, who danced to blues and jazz music.

Stone said that tap emerged in the 1800s and finally became public in the 1900s. Tap is a blend of many styles of dancing, including African barefoot dancing, Irish jig, clog and a few others, according to

Many dancers from different backgrounds, including Scottish, Irish, African and English met in cities and saw the other forms of dance. They were street forms and therefore borrowed from what they saw around them. “Tap is very rich, it’s not restricted like classical forms like ballet, so it was okay to borrow steps,” Stone said.

Well-known tappers from Lawrence and Kansas City

“Tap can talk. Tap does talk. And the great tappers make it talk,” said Stone.

Kansas City, Mo., and Lawrence, Kan., are home to a few famous tap dancers. Some of these dancers include:

Carnell Lyons
According to, Lyons tapped in Kansas City, Mo. He later taught tap dancing in Germany in the 1920s.

Leonard Reed
Reed grew up in Kansas City, Mo. In 1925, Reed tap danced for Silas B. Williams Show. He was also the co-creator of the Shim Sham. (Jazz Dance)

Whitman Sisters
The Whitman Sisters, Essie and May, are best known as impresarios of black performers. They grew up in Lawrence, Kan. Their father was a pastor at a Bishop of the Methodist Church in Lawrence and he taught them their first tap step, the “Double Shuffle,” but only for exercise. He later disapproved of their dancing and eventually disowned them from the family. They set up tours for black performers and often gave them their big break to Broadway. (Jazz Dance)

George Walker
He became famous for his duet of Walker and Williams. Along with Bert Williams, they were the first blacks to have a show on Broadway around 1898. Walker was also a neighbor of the Whitmans in Lawrence. He is most famous for the Cakewalk. (Jazz Dance)

Future of tap dancing

While tap has had its struggles in the past, dance teachers like Shannon Augubright remain hopeful that tap will remain an important part of dance curriculum.

“I hope it continues to be popular. Not only is it fun to teach and to dance, but it helps develop a dancer’s rhythm and sense of beat,” said Augubright, a dance teacher at The Dance Center in LaSalle, Ill.

Tap is not a required class at The Dance Center, like ballet is, but Augubright strongly encourages her students to take it.

Vicky Benac, a dance teacher in Peru, Ill., also encourages a tap curriculum. She said she sees a drop in the enrollment of her tap classes, but hopes that will change.

“Popular dance shows like So You Think You Can Dance have incorporated some tap into their show,” Benac said. Benac hopes that this will increase dancers’ curiosity in tap if they aren’t already tapping.

Missy Wujek is a professional dancer in New York City, says tap helped her form her love of dancing when she was little. Wujek, 26, dances with Beings Dance Company.

Wujek tapped a lot when she was younger, but since her move to New York from Illinois five years ago, she has stopped taking tap classes.

“I miss tap a lot, but it’s just not a big part of my job here in New York,” said Wujek. Her classes mostly focus on modern, lyrical and contemporary dancing.

“I will be celebrating National Tap Dancing day whether I’m in a class or not,” Wujek said. “It was my favorite when I was little and I still enjoy watching others perform it.”

Book Sources: Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance by Marshall and Jean Stearns.


Listen to this audio of Hannah Fahler, a tap student at Dance Gallery in Lawrence, Kan., about her experience with tap dancing.


HAYLEY JOZWIAK: Hannah Fahler, a student at Dance Gallery in Lawrence, Kan., talks about her experience with tap dancing.

HANNAH FAHLER: I have been tapping for 5 or 6 years now. It’s hard at first, but when you get the hang of it, it’s fun to learn new steps.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK: Fahler talks about the basics of learning tap.

HANNAH FAHLER: You have your basic steps, like shuffle, flap and ball change. And then you combine them to make different combinations like time steps.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK: Fahler talks about her favorite tap step.

HANNAH FAHLER: My favorite step is probably a wing. It took me a while to get it, but it’s really fun to do.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK: This is Hayley Jozwiak, with Get to the Pointe.


Are you interested in celebrating National Tap Dance Day by taking a tap class? Check out this infographic with a list of studios that offer tap classes near Lawrence, Kan.

Tap Dancing near Lawrence, Kan.

Tap dancingggg

Liveblog: KU dance presents spring 2013 student showcase


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The University of Kansas Department of Dance held its student choreography showcase of Spring 2013 on Friday May 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Robinson Center.  Students have worked on the pieces all semester, either choreographing, dancing or stage managing.

The variety of pieces included pointe, ballet, lyrical and modern dances. Some pieces were student choreographed, such as “Power” by Natali Diaz-Yepes, a modern dance full of strong movements. Others were classical choreography, like George Balanchine’s “Diamonds” and other pieces were choreographed by dance professors at KU, like “Miniatures” by Muriel Cohan and Patrick Suzeau. Each of the dances were performed by students.

Sarah O’Keefe, a dancer in two of the performances, “Diamonds” and “Power,” said that students submit their choreography to the professors if they want it in the showcase. While it is not a requirement for the class, it is encouraged to either choreograph or dance in the showcase.  “My favorite part is working with everyone in a collaborative manner,” said O’Keefe.

Cara Winkley, an audience member, went to the showcase because she danced when she was younger and still enjoys watching performances.

“The ballet and lyrical pieces took me back to grade school when I did ballet and made me want to go back and do it all over again,” said Winkley.

The KU dance department holds a showcase at the end of each semester, as well as a showcase during the semester where students can present partial work and receive feedback from the audience. You can check out their calendar at their website:

If you missed the show, check out my twitter feed @gettothe_pointe for updates about the showcase.


Dancers Kenna Sullivan and Amanda Rixley dance to “Miniatures,” a lyrical dance piece choreographed by Muriel Cohan and Patrick Suzeau Friday May 3 at Robinson Center. The KU Dance Department presents a student showcase at the end of the every semester featuring students’ choreographing and dance skills.

This week in dance – April 29


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Listen to Dance Spirit’s inspiring story about a victim of the Boston bombings. Adrienne Haslet-Davis, a ballroom instructor, lost her left foot after the second bombing. She told Dance Spirit that not only does she plan to be dancing again in a year, but plans to run in the race next year, as well.

Traditional and folk dance in Sri Lanka is struggling to continue as a living art because many of the native teachers of these types of dance are dying. Asanga Domask, a Sri Lankan dancer and master teacher, is working to make sure the dance steps are not lost.  She started a program to teach new students old steps. Read more at the Washington Post about her program here.

According the Dance Spirit, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Channing Tatum may be doing a movie musical together.  Not just any movie musical, but Guys and Dolls, which Fox attained the rights to recently. There is no information one when the casting and production will begin.


Pointe shoe injuries unwrapped


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Common pointe injuries

Ballerinas are trained to make their job look easy. They glide across the stage with no expression of pain on their face whatsoever. However, pointe shoes can be very painful and cause injuries.  According to a study done by Science Daily, the injuries for ballet dancers are just as common as athletic injuries. Check out this infographic on some of the most common injuries from pointe shoes.

This week in dance – April 21


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The New York City Ballet announced the list of ballets they will produce for this season upcoming season. The list includes classic performances of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, as well as new works by prominent choreographers such as Liam Scarlett. See BWW Dance World’s full list here.

Looking to broaden your dance horizons this spring? The Globe and Mail suggests five new dance shows around the world to attend this spring.

According to the Guardian, London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire is holding an experiment to figure out why male choreographers are more recognized publicly than female choreographers. Read the issues for the debate and about the events during the experiment here.

All in the family: Father-daughter dance instructors reflect on their experience together


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“Men, for an hour while you’re in this room, you have the lead.  Cherish it, because the moment you walk out that door your wife is in control once again,” Christie Curtis jokes as she and Blue Barrand demonstrate the basic proper technique and form for ballroom couples.

As a father-daughter dance teacher duo, Curtis and Barrand lead ballroom classes at the Lawrence Arts Center every Thursday night. They have been teaching together for 12 years.  Right now, they are teaching a Latin ballroom session at the Arts Center to 9 couples.

Dance has always been an important part of their family.

“The first time we danced, [Christie] was 2 years old and I held her on my hip,” Barrand said.

Barrand started dancing when he was 8-years-old.  He went to social dances with his parents, which cost 10 cents to get in.

While dance was more of a social activity for him in his youth, Barrand took ballroom more seriously when he was older. He began formal training during his 50s. at Walters Dance Center in Kansas City, Kan. Barrand began competing with his wife in 1976.  They traveled all over the country for competitions. Some of the dances they would compete in include waltz, foxtrot, tango quickstep, rumba, cha-cha and jive.

His favorite memory from competitions was when he and his wife entered a national amateur couples competition for Latin ballroom. They had made it to the top 12, and when competing for the top six, Blue thought they wouldn’t make the cut.

“I said to my wife, ‘Oh just relax, we know that we didn’t make it past that round,’” said Barrand.  His wife took off her shoes and they both relaxed offstage.

A few minutes later their names were called and they had to rush back out on the floor all disheveled.  They had been chosen as one of the top six amateur couples in the country. “It was the biggest surprise of my life,” Barrand said.

Curtis grew up watching her parents compete in different ballroom categories and eventually majored in dance education at the University of Kansas.

“After college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Curtis said.  “After teaching my first ballroom class I thought, ‘This is it.’” She liked getting to know the couples she taught and teaching them new things.

Barrand and Curtis had both taught classes with their spouses for many years. In 2001, they started teaching dance together.

“My dad and stepmom taught a class at the Lawrence Arts Center.  When my stepmom decided she had to take a break, I stepped in.  And I just never gave it back to her,” Curtis said.

Charles Higginson, a returning student to Curtis and Barrand’s class enjoys the chemistry they share with the class. He and his wife began taking classes with Blue and Curtis after a few friends took classes from Curtis and her husband.

“They’re really comfortable with each other.  They are just really in sync,” Higginson said.

Barrand instructs the men on how to lead, while Curtis teaches the women how follow successfully. They separate the men and the women and teach them the moves, then they have everyone come together. They make the class fun for the couples.

“They tease each other all the time. Especially him. And they are just good at what they do,” Higginson said.

They make a lasting impression on couples they teach at the Lawrence Arts Center. “For his age, he is graceful.  He is really smooth.  He’s been doing this for decades, he’s got the moves down,” Higginson said.


HAYLEY JOZWIAK:  Blue Barrand and Christie Curtis, a father-daughter dance teaching pair inLawrence, Kan., talk about their favorite part of teaching together.

CHRISTIE CURTIS:  It’s fun. We keep it in the family. I was brought up that way, we might as well end it that way.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK: Teaching dance is an important part of both of their lives.

BLUE BARRAND:  You dance with her husband, Lawson. I got to dance with my wife.  Then we get to dance together.

CHRISTIE CURTIS: Yeah, we get a little bit of everything.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK:  It’s their love of dance that makes them so passionate about teaching.

CHRISTIE CURTIS:  I think we love it enough that we don’t have to be inspired. Mention dance and we’re out on the floor and we’re inspired. Just the ballroom dance inspires us.

BLUE BARRAND:  Just the thought of dancing. Ballroom dance that is.

CHRISTIE CURTIS:  Give a us a floor and music, and we’re happy.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK:  This is Hayley Jozwiak, with Get to the Pointe.

This week in dance


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Sophia Lucia set a new Guinness World Record for pirouettes on March 30th in San Diego. Turning 55 times in tap shoes, she beat the previous record of 36 consecutive pirouettes. Check out Dance Spirit’s article on the rising star here.

A New York Times video reports that the Dance Theater of Harlem will reopen this April. The company closed in 2004 after facing nearly $2.3 million in debt.

According to The Daily Courier, Maria Tallchief, the former prima ballerina of the NYC Ballet, died on Thursday April 11 in Chicago. She was 88. She was the original Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker” in 1954.

Weekly dance news


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Ruff Diamond dance crew, recent runner-up on the dance competition show “Got to Dance,” signed a contract with Beautiful Movements, the dance company of Kimberly Wyatt, former Pussycat Doll. The UK dance crew hopes to tour in America with the help of Wyatt who is a valuable link in the dance business. Read the full story from Hartlepool Mail here.

Former Major League baseball catcher Mike Piazza is trading in his mitt and mask for pinstripes and ballet.  Signing with the Miami City Ballet, Piazza plays the part of the Gangster in Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, showing next month. Pointe Magazine talks about Piazza’s inspiration for his sudden change from sports to ballet.

Sergei Polunin, the principal dancer in London’s Midnight Express ballet, has walked out on the performance. This is the second time Polunin has walked out on a production, including one with the Royal Ballet last year. Being one of the most talented dancers at his young age of 23, according to the Guardian, Polunin has “shocked the dance world.”

Dance proves therapeutic


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Movement therapy, or dance therapy, provides application of physical therapy.


HAYLEY JOZWIAK:  Physical therapy often times extends beyond the appointment with the therapist.  For some, that therapy is sought out in a dance studio.

According to the American Dance Therapy Association, dance therapy, or movement therapy, allows a person to realize broad transformations in emotional, physical, and behavioral states.

Kim Hoobler, doctor of physical therapy, talks about the benefits of dance.

KIM HOOBLER:  Of course, as we age, who wouldn’t benefit from working on their balance.  So, I think Parkinson’s disease, you know any kind of knee replacement, hip replacement, ankle sprain.  I mean you really almost could… The list would almost be shorter of who wouldn’t benefit from some sort of dance.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK:  For Gretchen Hellebust, attending tango practices in Lawrence, Kan., has helped with her chronic pain that comes from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

GRETCHEN HELLEBUST:  What it is, is basically your connective tissue is too stretchy.  So your ligaments, tendons, veins, skin.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK:  Tango provides her with balance and proper walking technique.  Gretchen is able to apply what she learns in physical therapy to dancing.

GRETCHEN HELLEBUST:  What I like about the dance, and especially the tango is that with a partner you have to listen and be in the moment. And when you’re doing that, for one thing it takes your mind off of things, so like I got pains and things and it takes your mind off of that. Plus with the tango, you’re listening and reacting.

HAYLEY JOZWIAK:  This is Hayley Jozwiak, with Get to the Pointe.