Artist-in-residence Elijah Gibson brings positive energy to a UD dance class.

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2:24 p.m., Oct. 10, 2013--They were clearly working hard to impress him. An intense focus was evident in their eyes. They studied the way he moved, committing the dance sequence to memory, both mental and muscle.

After all, it wasn’t every day a professional dancer and choreographer taught the University of Delaware students’ Intermediate Modern Dance class.

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But the internationally-accomplished Elijah Gibson used his charm and good humor to set the class at ease.

“For a generation who wants everything now, you guys work too hard,” Gibson teased the class of mostly junior and senior women.

Gibson, on faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, just wrapped up a six-day visit to Newark and UD as an invited artist-in-residence.

The artist-in-residence program is part of the President’s Diversity Initiative and made Gibson's trip possible, the class’ usual instructor, Kim Schroeder, said.

“It allows guest artists to work with the dance students and create a piece for the annual faculty dance concert,” Schroeder, also head of the University’s dance minor, explained.

Each spring since 2011, faculty within the UD dance minor choreograph a concert performed by students. Last year, Schroeder created two pieces focused on the need for human connection.

This year’s concert will be held March 14-15, 2014, at 7:30 p.m. in Mitchell Hall and will be open to the public.

Gibson traveled from Illinois to teach several classes, including last Thursday’s Dance 303 class, as well as to help compose a piece and audition students interested in performing in the March show.

Both Blair Galiber, a junior majoring in communications and psychology, and Kaya Simonson, a junior majoring in public policy, were eager to perform well for Gibson. They both worked hard during Thursday’s class to learn the techniques taught by the master dancer and planned to attend that evening's audition.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks,” Galiber said excitedly. An expressive dancer, she quickly picked up what Gibson taught the class, though she worked hard to put everything together as he moved the class through fast-paced sequences, set to a beat performed by a percussionist present that day.

Gibson led the class through several dance routines, urging them to be in tune with their bodies.

“Let the spine stretch and get all the way into it,” he coaxed them. “You know where you’re going, send yourself there.”

Limbs and ponytails flying, the class that was stiff and tense at the start was more fluid and relaxed by the time the last drumbeat sounded.

“I think we just let ourselves go a little more,” one student said when Gibson commended them on their late-class performance.

By bringing in accomplished artists who also engage with the community through the concert pieces they help create, the students in UD’s dance minor have the opportunity to learn techniques and styles that are both unique and challenging.

Gibson and Schroeder studied for their masters of fine arts degrees together at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. When Schroeder was working with UD colleague Lynnette Overby to figure out who to bring in this year, Gibson came to mind.

“His style is challenging artistically,” she said. “The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a very strong dance program. We’re very fortunate to have him here with us.”

For Gibson, traveling to universities throughout the country is part of his research. He observes trends in dancers coming up in different generations, noticing how much hip-hop has changed since it took root in the early 1990s and how ballet is less a part of a dancer’s skill set than it once was.

“It’s good, it keeps me current,” the dancer said.

He also notices the commonalities and celebrates how much more “normal” dance degrees have become, now offered at universities across the country. The UD dance minor is open to any student, through courses like Dance 303 have prerequisites.

Additional artists-in-residence, Marilyn and Sekou Sylla, are working with several dance minor students as well as with percussion students from the Department of Music. They will work with the dance minors and percussion students together to learn a traditional African dance and drum piece that will be performed in two concerts. The first performance of the piece will be the Percussion Ensemble concert, which is Nov. 4, and again for the dance minor concert in March.

Article by Kelly April Tyrrell

Photos by Evan Krape

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