UNCG Campus Weekly

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Jan Van Dyke helps build appreciation for modern dance in cities across the state

She was one of those little girls who wanted to be a dancer, she explains. “I came from a family of teachers and bureaucrats, but somehow dancing was the most wonderful thing I could think of doing.” Luckily, she was pretty good at it, she adds, and had encouragement from teachers.

Dr. Jan Van Dyke has been giving similar encouragement to students for decades.

She received the university’s Gladys Strawn Bullard Award in 2010 for initiative and perseverance in leadership and service. And earlier this year, she was honored with the Betty Cone Medal of Arts from the United Arts Council of Greensboro. The annual award is given to an artist who has made a significant contribution to the community and achieved excellence in her field.

She’s the founder and producer of the N.C. Dance Festival, which can be enjoyed in Aycock Auditorium Nov. 4-5. This annual showcase of dance tours the state, bringing audiences the best choreography from within North Carolina. (A video made especially for last year’s 20th year can be viewed here.)

It’s entering its 21st season. “A ripe old age for any artist-led grassroots event,” she says.

“We have expanded during that time and now we travel around the state, going to Boone, Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington in addition to Greensboro.” This year, they will travel with eight groups from across the state.

CW asked her about her future plans. “Since I’ve recently begun phased retirement, I plan to be at UNCG during the Fall semesters for 2012 and 2013,” she said. “The Festival is managed by the Dance Project, a non-profit I began in Washington, DC, in 1974 and brought to North Carolina with me. As long as I am associated with the Dance Project – and I have no plans to leave – I will be involved with the Festival.”

She recounted its beginnings. “I joined the UNCG faculty in 1989 when John Gamble was head of the department. We had just moved into our current facility with the UNCG Dance Theater, and we were puzzling over how to share that wonderful little space while giving our students a more professional viewpoint and building an active community among the dancers who were working around the state. We also wanted to expose our students to what was going on here in North Carolina with the idea that they might be encouraged to stay around after graduation.

“So, early on, in 1991, we invited the dance faculty at Duke to present a concert in our theater. After that show, we felt so successful that we invited a different group of out-of-town artists for the following year. After the second year, we were beginning to wonder why we were only inviting out-of-towners, so the 3rd year included a concert for Triad area artists as well.”

At the sixth year, they decided to take the shows on the road. And it has continued to blossom.

“It’s a surprise to me that we’ve gone on so long. When, after we started touring and I realized how much work it was each season, I told myself I’d carry it forward for ten years.” Now, it’s entering its third decade.

She says that dance is possibly the earliest art. “Studying the history of dance provides a perspective on humankind that is not focused on wars and battles but instead on culture, aesthetics, and religion.”

But contemporary dance is much relatively new. “Contemporary dance is an American art, only about 100 years old. Many people are not familiar with it, and many who see it don’t think they understand.” Helping build that familiarity with modern dance, in cities across North Carolina, is important. It’s been an essential part of her life work.

“It can be beautiful, funny, profound, athletic, thoughtful, political – and very rewarding. North Carolina has a large and growing dance community, with many fine artists – something to be proud of.”