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Jazz dance in New York City


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Taking learning out of the classroom – and the country.

By Caitlyn Spencer

The class that includes a Broadway audition is a rare one. But for Jocelyn Hoover, a fourth year dance student, this was only one of the perks of her spring semester. During her time studying jazz dance in New York City, she and a classmate went to two.

“We attended auditions for the touring casts of Young Frankenstein and Cats,” Hoover says. “I didn’t get very far, but it’s nice to have a clear goal in mind for how much I need to improve!”

Hoover’s attitude twins that of classmate Gemma Crowe. “I was determined to go to there and make connections, so I could go back on my own,” she says. Travel study as one of the first steps in a long research career is exactly what Michèle Moss, assistant professor of dance and co-founder of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, hopes for her students.

“If I count on my fingers the number of people, since 2000, who’ve continued and returned to West Africa [the site of most of Moss’s previous travel studies] to do their own research, it’s quite astounding,” she says. “In New York, we just had little tastes of everything, and it’s up to the students to pick up the challenge and pursue it.”

In May of this year, students had a week’s on-campus preparation for the trip to New York before flying to the jazz mecca on the 15th. They spent two weeks in the city, attending classes, evening shows, tours and lectures, complete with days dedicated to independent exploration of the city. “There was a lot of freedom to tailor the program to our own interests,” Hoover says.

For Calgarian students, seeing the dance scene in a different city was a source of inspiration. “In Calgary, you have one style [of jazz],” Crowe says. “In New York, everyone kind of has their own style. It’s a confidence booster, knowing you don’t have to fit into any one person’s syllabus.”

Hoover believes there’s no comparison between travel study and a regular class. “There’s so much information I was able to absorb that no one would think to mention in a book or lecture,” she says.

While Moss plans to have 2012’s dance travel study in West Africa once again, she says New York was a valuable experience. In Guinea, Moss’s students learn more about the African roots of jazz. “It’s important to get students to research in embodied practice, as living work, whether in New York or West Africa, as a participant,” she says. “For them to see the work, to see dance companies in Cuba, or ‘ballets’ in West Africa – it’s an invaluable experience.”

Crowe has simple advice for students embarking on future travel studies: “Keep an open mind and be prepared. I had a big purse with everything in it.”

For more information on dance travel studies, click here. If you have questions about the travel studies, please email Michèle Moss at mmoss@ucalgary.ca.