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OSU dances into the heart of the community

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Students at OSU teach dance to members of the Columbus community. Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Levitt

Students at OSU teach dance to members of the Columbus community. Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Levitt

The Ohio State Department of Dance is harnessing the power of dance to impact the Columbus community.

The OSU Department of Dance was founded in 1968 by Helen Alkire, and since then it has reached out to the people of Columbus, as well as to the international community, through its performances and lessons. Since its founding, OSU Dance has partnered with Columbus-area schools, community centers and even correctional facilities.

Dori Jenks, external relations coordinator for OSU’s Department of Dance, is the liaison between the dance department and the community, both national and international. Jenks said that on every level of education within the department of dance, from undergraduate to Ph.D., there are individuals connecting with the community.

Undergraduate seniors complete a senior project, similar to a capstone project, prior to graduation. While the seniors have creative license over their projects, many choose an educational track in which they teach the community about dance.

Dana Schafer, a 2015 alumna, created Day of Dance for her senior project, Jenks said. Schafer secured grants to bring 70 third-grade students from Starling Elementary School, in Columbus, Ohio, to OSU to participate in three 45-minute dance classes in Sullivant Hall.

Sarah Levitt, a graduate student studying dance, has been partnering with the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resource Center since July to teach a dance class to adults over 50 years old.

“I really believe that everybody is a dancer and that everybody should have access to dance, including older adults who had forgotten all of the creative skills they have,” Levitt said.

Janet Schroeder, a doctorate student in dance studies, said she, too, believes that the community should be educated about the power of dance.

“Dancing allows people to change the way they look at themselves and the world, and that’s a really powerful thing,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder and an ensemble toured China last spring with an Appalachian step dance routine, also known as clogging. While performing, she educated her audience about this American cultural experience through short lectures.

Jenks said that when students travel, no matter the distance, there is always an exchange of knowledge.

“Through dance, we learn about culture and different styles of dance, but also about personalities and who we are as people,” Jenks said.

The OSU dance department also holds the annual Young People’s Concert. The concert is held at the Capitol Theatre during Dance Downtown, an annual dance event in Columbus, to which approximately 800 Columbus-area students, K-12, are invited to see an OSU dance performance.

Jenks said she is amazed by how many people have never seen live dance, which is why it is important for younger generations to be exposed to it.

In a world where people are so in tune with technology, especially in the younger generations, Jenks said, they have lost touch with their senses.

“We live in a day and age where people have lost their ability to listen to their intuition and connect with their own physicality,” Jenks said. “Dance is a direct way to change all that.”

Schroeder said she thinks dance can combat the effects of a technology-driven world.

“When we dance, we are connecting with our bodies in a way we don’t normally, and in an age of technology and iPhones, that’s really important,” she said.

Jenks said that dance is meant to be shared, adding that “communities are meant to be connected, and dancing is a way to do both.”

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The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between the Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.

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