A History of Dance at Eastern University
In the fall of 1990, when Dr. Karen Clemente arrived at Eastern University there were no dance classes in place. From the first course-- Movement, Rhythm, and Games-- to the current dance curriculum, much visioning, designing, creating, and constructing has taken place. The early years of the program consisted of students coming together to dance their ideas of faith and life. At first, there were no formal dance concerts; however, there were performances in Eastern's chapel services, at area churches and at nearby dance festivals and conferences. The first dance concert was held in April 1993. The comprehensive Dance Major program that is in place today grew steadily from its small beginnings to the Dance Minor in 1994 and eventually to a Dance Major in 2003.
Throughout the late nineties, the dance program at Eastern continued to attract students who wanted to explore their faith through the medium of the body; some of these students had little or no dance experience, others had many years of formal training. Together, they participated in The Sacred Dance Group, which, at one point in time, had 45 members. In those years, guest choreographers and student musicians collaborated with the group and it was supported financially by the student government association and by the chaplain’s office.
In the fall of 2000, Dr. Joselli Deans arrived at Eastern and expanded the level of technical proficiency and professional training in concert dance. Together, Clemente and Deans secured a dance major for the program, thus allowing students to deepen their commitment and understanding of the art form through placements in high-quality internships and an audition-only dance repertory class.
With the dance major in place, the number of regular dance faculty expanded to include Saleana Pettaway, who specializes in cultural studies in dance and teaches jazz and the Umfundalai technique, a contemporary codified African dance technique; Stephen Welsh, who brings an eclectic style of Modern Dance, and expertise in the area of composition and performance production; Janine Bryant, who teaches all levels of ballet, provides a Graham-based modern class, and through her PhD her studies in dance medicine and science, offers dancers an analytical approach to technique focusing on anatomical and biomechanical principles; and Anne O'Malley Castellanos, an internationally recognized specialist in Latin dance. The program also invites guest artists on a rotating basis.
The dance program has continued to grow regarding student participation and expertise. Several student groups have been instituted, including the Dance Guild, which supports the academic program and provides extra-curricular activities for all dancers on campus and the Eastern Dance Ministry, whose members perform in chapel services. Dance majors and minors also have participated in regional conferences of the American College Dance Festival Association through attendance at regional festivals. Most recently, Eastern dance students performed on the Gala concert at the Northeast Region festival held at Penn State University.
The fall of 2012 welcomes another chapter in the history of dance at Eastern with both professors Pettaway and Bryant taking the helm as co-directors. Together, they will continue to build on the foundation that Dr. Clemente and Dr. Deans created.
With each new class of Freshman dance majors and minors, Eastern's Dance Program continues its strong tradition of merging the field of dance with the expression of faith. At Eastern, dance is both art and ritual, the soul speaking through the body, an expression of the spirit of God. The past has been blessed; the future is bright. We hope you join us!