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Choreographer spends three weeks at UD helping students explore jazz

Students rehearse "Overcomer's Suite" under the direction of artist in residency Laurie Taylor; they will perform the piece at a faculty concert in March.

It is a Sunday afternoon as Laurie Taylor leaves Thomas McKean Hall and heads to central campus. However, Taylor is not just another University of Delaware student trudging to the library or headed to brunch in the dining hall but an accomplished choreographer taking up residency in Delaware for three weeks.

Taylor heads to Hartshorn Hall, where she has been working with a group of nine UD dance students on a new dance piece, titled Overcomer's Suite.

The students, many of them dance minors, were chosen through open-auditions to spend three weeks (Oct. 6-26) learning from Taylor while honing their own dance craft at the same time.

The students stretch and review the parts of the dance they have learned so far before Taylor says, "Let's try this with the music." The studio fills with the soulful sounds of jazz musician Charles Mingus' song Better Git it in Your Soul.

In between leaps and shakes, Taylor makes it clear that she wants the students to learn more than just dance moves.

"It matters to me that the students hone in on the social quality of the movement," said Taylor. "I hope they learn new ways of expressing themselves, there are forms of expression that have no words."

"I definitely think it's cool how Laurie uses real life experiences to teach us instead of just technique," said sophomore Lauren Bonanno, recounting how Taylor encouraged the students to discuss their own experiences with adversity early on in the residency.

Taylor's residency is a result of the Advancing Diversity Through an Artist-in-Residency Program, funded by the President's Diversity Initiative. During the 2012-13 academic year, three visiting artists will spend time in Delaware working with UD students to create new work or polish existing work. Taylor is the first artist in the series.

Taylor, an accomplished performer, has danced for the Nicholas Leichter Dance Company and the Urban Bush Woman Dance Company before founding her own company, Soul Movement Productions. She has also taught dance at New York University, the University of Minnesota and has begun teaching at Lehman College as an adjunct professor.

"The style of movement that I like to do is an infusion; I call it soul movement," said Taylor describing the mixture of ballet, jazz, modern dance, afro-Caribbean and hip-hop that she practices.

Taylor is also spending part of her residency teaching a master class in the Carpenter Sports Building as well as classes at Cab Calloway School of the Arts, Glasgow High School and Dover High School.

During the residency, Taylor teaches the dance students how to tell a story using the movements and the feeling of the music. She also encourages her pupils to incorporate part of themselves into the piece.

"Basically, this piece investigates the road to overcoming adversity. Part of the residency involved having students explore times when they had overcome something and create a solo piece. The solo piece from each student in used in the dance," said Taylor.

The students have been able to explore what the music means to them.

"This piece is not just about the sad parts of overcoming," said junior Paige Liscka about Overcomer's Suite. "It's more about the joy of overcoming."

In addition to interpretation through dance, Taylor also wants the students to learn skills such as teamwork and improvisation.

"A part of them adding their own piece was that I wanted them to understand how to work off one another," she continued. "I hope they grow and expand as artists in the end."

The dance students are taking full advantage of this opportunity to learn something new.

"This piece in particular is really different than anything I've done before, so it has pushed me to dance in a different style," said Liscka. "The biggest thing I have learned is to let loose and to not be afraid to try."

As the sun streams through the windows in Hartshorn Hall, Taylor reviews part of the dance where students are to improvise.

"Let the music reform your movements," she says.

"Don't be afraid."

The product of the rehearsals can be witnessed when the students perform Overcomer's Suite at the dance minor faculty concert in March.

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Laurie Taylor, a choreographer, dancer, teacher and founder of Soul Movement Productions, has worked with UD students as an artist in residency.

Laurie Taylor, a choreographer, dancer, teacher and founder of Soul Movement Productions, has worked with UD students as an artist in residency.

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