Guest choreographer, Trudy Cobb Dennard, teaching UD students in Hartshorn Hall.

Technique and tolerance

Guest choreographer teaches lessons in dance, social injustice

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10:11 a.m., Dec. 10, 2012--Trudy Cobb Dennard, a renowned dancer and former associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication at Towson University, visited the University of Delaware from Nov. 30-Dec. 2 as the second participant in the President’s Diversity Initiative Advancing Diversity Through an Artist-in-Residency Program. 

Cobb Dennard spent the weekend working with five UD dance students on a piece called Lynching: Then and Now. She introduced students to several new dance techniques, while simultaneously facilitating discussion of social injustices.

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The artist-in-residency program allows participants to explore themes in diversity through art, according to Lynnette Overby, director of the University’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning and a professor of theatre.

“The dance residencies have provided UD students with the opportunity to perform challenging choreography, and gain knowledge about historical content such as lynching and jazz music. We are very appreciative of the support provided by Margaret Andersen and the President’s Diversity Initiative,” said Overby. 

Cobb Dennard developed the original choreography for Lynching: Then and Now and dedicated the performance piece to Rodney King of the California police brutality incident, Malice Green who was beaten to death by police officers in 1992 and victims of intolerance and oppression in general. 

“I wasn’t planning on choreographing this dance,” said Cobb Dennard. “The dance just came to me and kept coming out of me until it was over.” 

Originally a solo piece, Cobb Dennard decided a dance based on social intolerance would be more powerful as a group performance. 

Set to a piece of music, called Strange Fruit, Cobb Dennard helped UD students learn the dance with techniques from several prominent choreographers. 

Students spent most of the first practice session perfecting the Dunham technique, developed by anthropologist and dancer, Katherine Dunham.  Dunham spent years studying the dances of the people of the African diaspora. 

“Dunham developed a technique grounded in Afro-Caribbean dance, modern dance and ballet,” said Cobb Dennard. 

Using Dunham technique among others, Cobb Dennard helped UD students capture the essence of the music.

Strange Fruit paints a picture of the widespread lynching in the American South during the first half of the 20th century. 

“The dance we worked on tells the story of Strange Fruit through vignettes of people searching for their loved ones, being frightened and being hanged,” said Cobb Dennard. “One part of the piece shows extension of the palms towards the audience, symbolizing that if we do absolutely nothing, we too are guilty of injustice and have blood on our hands.”

Although the topic is a difficult one to broach, Cobb Dennard acknowledged that it is also important.

“Part of dance is about highlighting what is wrong in our culture and our society so people are not as afraid to speak up,” she said. 

The dance will be performed at the second annual Dance Minor Faculty Concert, March 8-9, 2013, in Mitchell Hall. 

Article by Kelley Bregenzer

Photos courtesy of Dan Dunlap 

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