PHILADANCO and friends dance into the past

By Lucas Snarski
Staff Writer

Three acclaimed dancers and instructors visited the College on Friday, Sept. 22, to discuss their personal dancing stories and issues in the modern dance world as part of the Brown Bag Series’ lecture, “By Way of the Funk.”

John Laughton, dean of the School of Arts & Communication, moderated the discussion between Joan Myers Brown, Karen Calloway Williams and Risa Gary Kaplowitz.

The three dancers discussed how they began their careers: Brown started ballet during high school in 1949, while Williams started tap dancing two decades later at the age of 14. Kaplowitz, an adjunct professor of dance at the College and former ballet dancer, began learning when she was just three years old.

Brown is the founder and director of the Philadelphia Dance Company, also called PHILADANCO, and was awarded the 2012 National Medal of Arts Award for her work as a dancer, choreographer, director and teacher.

Williams is an internationally known tap dancer who also teaches the trade. She has been a guest on shows such as “Sesame Street” and has written several children’s books involving dance.

Brown discussed the importance of diversity in dance, describing her early ballet education in a predominately white class, and how PHILADANCO works to stay versatile in a changing world.

“I try to bring choreographers into the company who are historically important but also have something to say,” Brown said of PHILADANCO’s recruits.

In response to a question from the audience, Kaplowitz explained her views on reality dancing shows. She said they help attract interest to dance studios and performances, but they do not prepare viewers for the self-discipline required to be a dancer.

Both Brown and Williams expressed a desire to perform in locations across the globe. Williams, for example, wants to perform in 30 countries and all 50 states and has already performed in 14 countries and 31 states.

PHILADANCO’s performances mix elements of ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, funk and modern dance. Some of the pieces PHILADANCO performed later that night in Mayo Concert Hall were even based on the music of funk band Parliament and soul singer Nina Simone.

Freshman interactive multimedia major Brandon Mazzarella said the event’s discussion of modern dance “opened up (his) eyes to a much bigger world than (he) expected.”