Room to Dance 

A dance rebirth at Idaho State University

The dance division of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Idaho State University is going through a time of transition. With the departure of director of dance Melanie Kloetzel to Calgary, Alberta, starting this fall, there will be new faces appearing on the dance scene. Kloetzel made many contributions to the dance department during her time at Idaho State, and those remaining, as well as those coming in, are looking to keep the program growing. Amid all of the change, there are a couple of aspects of Idaho State dance that will remain. One constant is Lauralee Zimmerly, who will be taking over as director of dance while the university looks to fill the position. Zimmerly has seen many changes in the department over the years and remains enthusiastic about the future of dance at the university.

Zimmerly became a part of the dance program in 1998 as an adjunct faculty member. Zimmerly has a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from Raymond College, University in the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., and a master's in dance choreography and performance from UCLA. Currently, she is working on her doctoral degree in educational leadership with an emphasis in instructional technology at Idaho State.

Zimmerly embodies the importance of movement as a form of expression. I took a Survey of Dance class that she taught a couple of years ago, and almost every word she said was accompanied by a movement. It wasn't forced, and I don't know that it was even a conscious decision. I was left with the impression that words and movement were so deeply intertwined that they could not be separated ... which was perhaps one of the most important lessons Professor Zimmerly taught. She has an appreciation for dance in all of its many forms and conveys that by her willingness to collaborate with many of the different dance-related opportunities that occur in Pocatello. It is Zimmerly's passion for dance that has kept her immersed in all of the activity in the department.

Under construction is a new dance complex that will consist of two dance studios, faculty studios, a student warm-up area, a classroom, a media room and an annex office. The "new" dance complex is actually the old Red Hill Building, previously an old church that has slowly been morphing into a space for dance ever since Dr. Marcia Lloyd acquired it. Zimmerly explained that the funding for this project came through the Division of Public Works and is strictly allocated to the refurbishing of existing buildings. They have been on a waiting list for four years—patiently awaiting the renovations that are now taking place.

The dance program at Idaho State University has traveled a long road from where it began nearly 30 years ago. In 1978, Dr. Marcia Lloyd (who could be considered the mother of Idaho State dance) implemented five core dance courses—a modest start but a step in the right direction. Those courses were Survey of Dance, Dance for Children, Methods of Techniques of Dance, Issues in Dance, and Choreography. It was Lloyd who originally acquired the Red Hill Building for dance. Without her vision of what the dance program could become, the department would probably not have achieved all that it has today. The completion of the renovation of the Red Hill Building is the continuation of a process she put into motion many years ago.

For all involved in dance at Idaho State, the new facilities mean much more than just additional room to dance; there is also the feeling of progression and the acknowledgement of dance as an important aspect of the university. Zimmerly commented that this is truly a "step in the right direction," and as she took me through the construction site, I could see the potential unfolding one piece of drywall at a time.

When the Red Hill Building was first acquired, an old basketball court was used for dance classes—so the extra rooms and floors being built are exciting new additions. New life is being breathed into the program.

Among the additions to Idaho State dance are Molly Smith and Rosa Vissers, who will be joining the Department of Theatre and Dance this fall as faculty members. Smith originally from Pocatello, holds a bachelor's degree in modern dance from Brigham Young and a master's in modern dance from Utah State. She has performed with an assortment of companies, including Contemporary Dance Theatre and the Dancers' Company. RosaVissers was born in the Netherlands and moved to Salt Lake City in 2004 to further her studies in dance. She has a bachelor's of fine arts degree from ArtEZ Dansacademie and received her master's of fine arts in modern dance from the University of Utah.

Currently, Idaho State offers a minor in dance with the option of emphasizing in one of two different areas, performance and choreography or Dance Education. It was in 1990 that a dance minor was started within the Department of Physical Education and then, in 2003, became part of the Department of Theatre and Dance. Becoming a co-department with theater has allowed dance and theater at Idaho State to collaborate on many projects.

"We are very interested in finding the connection between theater and dance," says Zimmerly. "We will be connecting with theater in various components." In the past, the dance department has provided choreography for a number of operas and various other theater productions. The next collaboration will be for Pippin, a Broadway production.

Another important extension of the Department of Theatre and Dance are the two existing dance companies, The Idaho Moving Project and Danson.

Danson was formed at Idaho State in 1978. An additional company, The Idaho Moving Project, or I-Move, was formed in the fall of 2003 under the direction of Melanie Kloetzel, Nicole Dean and Lauralee Zimmerly. I-Move is a pre-professional faculty dance company. And what exactly does that mean? Zimmerly describes it as "a company for the training of dancers who want to pursue dance in a company setting without some of the pressures and demands of a professional company."

I-Move is a modern dance company. Ask anyone involved in modern dance exactly what it is, and you will have a difficult time getting an answer. This is because modern dance cannot be described as a series of dance steps or a certain way of moving. There are a plethora of dance forms that converge in modern dance. That is one of the intriguing things about modern dance—you never know exactly what you are going to get.

Zimmerly stated that an important aspect of I-Move is that it facilitates the opportunity "to continue to explore modern dance as a form of expression." I-Move auditions are open to community members as well as college students. Zimmerly spoke of I-Move as being the dance program's "community connection­—community dancers, choreographers and performers." Collaboration between the college and the community in which it is located is key to making dance more visible and accessible to all.

If you have never been exposed to modern dance, an I-Move performance is an event you need to experience. With the completion of the Stephens Performing Arts Center, the majority of I-Move performances have taken place in the Black Box. The Black Box is just what the name implies—a small box-like theater painted entirely black, where the stage is essentially the floor. The setting is unique for performances because the performers are not raised above the audience. Audience members are given the opportunity to view the pieces performed in a more intimate setting—they have direct interaction with the piece.

Zimmerly says, "I-Move is always a surprise; you don't know what each choreographer will bring."

For I-Move concerts there are a variety of choreographers who contribute pieces; some are faculty members and others are brought in as guest artists. The last I-Move concert featured work by Kloetzel, Shawn Bible and Zimmerly. Each I-Move performance has a unique feel to it that even the choreographers do not have direct control over. Some performances will have more of a light-hearted theme while others are heavier, demanding the attention of the audience members. Zimmerly feels that the ability of a concert to carry so much weight is because of "the larger social aspect brought into dance, and the ability of each piece to have its own integrity, meaning and message."

This could also be said of Danson, which functions on a separate level from I-Move but is equally important.

Danson is Idaho State University's student dance company, which means that students do all of the choreography for performances. The student choreographers hold auditions for their piece and are able to select dancers from the student body. Zimmerly stressed that Danson "will become whatever the students want it to be" and was hesitant to define it as emphasizing one dance form over another. Danson is an excellent opportunity for students who are looking to break into the world of choreography. In this setting, student choreographers are able to have full artistic control and create works that they have a connection with. The three faculty members who serve as advisers for Danson are Vissers, Smith and Hilary Hoffmaier.

Both I-Move and Danson have performances coming up in the near future. Danson will be performing in the Black Box at the Stephens Performing Arts Center November 30. I-Moves' first performance will be February 7 through 9 and will also be in the Stephens Performing Arts Center. I-Move auditions will also be occurring at the beginning of the semester for all community members and students who are interested.

Along with the companies, which are an important aspect of dance at Idaho State, there are a variety of dance activity clubs. When I met with Zimmerly, she wanted to be sure to convey how vital the teachers are to the dance program. Some of the classes/clubs offered currently are social dance taught by Lori Head, hip-hop taught by Terron Flowers, pilates taught by Sara Jo John, and world dance taught by Lacey Smart. Zimmerly spoke of the importance of offering a variety of classes and embracing dance in all of its forms.

After meeting with Zimmerly, I can honestly say that the future of dance at Idaho State looks promising. Many years of working hard to make things happen are paying off, and now one piece at a time, the program is coming together.

Originally, I had intended to focus on the two dance companies but when I talked with Zimmerly, I realized the importance of all aspects of dance at Idaho State. It is the various parts coming together and working as a whole that make dance a success. All of the changes taking place right now are part of a larger process that will hopefully continue to develop. Zimmerly, always optimistic, says, "I hope I'm here for many new beginnings."

A Danson performance will be at the Black Box at the Stephens Performing Arts Center November 30. The first I-Moves performances take place February 7 through 9, 7:30 p.m. in the Stephens Performing Arts Center, 1677 Bartz Way, Building 88, Pocatello.


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