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Dance pioneers share history of their department

Larshell Green

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A group of early dancers who were under the instruction of the university’s original instructor of dance Katie Planche Friedrichs are some of the many memories stored by Fellom.

A group of early dancers who were under the instruction of the university’s original instructor of dance Katie Planche Friedrichs are some of the many memories stored by Fellom.
Courtesy of Martie Fellom

Deeply rooted in the university’s culture is the hard work and dedication of instructors in this discipline. Their genuine love and connection with students have reserved a permanent preservation of a generational art form that cannot be forgotten. 

The history of dance at Southeastern is no folklore, but instead the story of trials and tribulations to ensure the success of students in the discipline of dance.

Instructor of dance Martie Fellom admitted that since both of her parents were school teachers with four children, they had to find a way to provide higher education for Fellom and her siblings. 

 “They knew they couldn’t afford to send us to college, so they moved across the street from Southeastern and said, ‘You will go here,’” said Fellom. 

According to Fellom, before attending Southeastern, a new rule was put into place stating that people from the community could not attend dance classes, but Fellom still attended concerts and later became a dance major at Southeastern. 

“Dance at Southeastern is so important to me because it became my life, then I was fortunate to get a job here,” said Fellom. 

It was at Southeastern that Fellom met the original instructor of dance at Southeastern, Katie Planche Friedrichs, who began teaching at the university in 1951 and later retired in 1984. Friedrichs previously studied with major modern dancers such as Charles Weidman and Merce Cunningham. 

“She believed in the program so much,” said Fellom. “She was such a promoter for the arts and didn’t take no for an answer. That’s why there was a major in dance. It got dropped at some point because of low completions.”

Fellom returned to the university in 1985 to teach dance and met now instructor of dance, Keith “Skip” Costa for the first time when he signed up for a choreography class. At the end of the semester, Fellom asked Costa if he would perform a solo at the Kennedy Center American Theatre College Festival. Although Fellom was Costa’s instructor at that time, the duo both learned from each other.

“I started learning about choreography from him,” said Fellom. “He was on the cutting edge of dance and the exploration of it.”

Fellom praised Costa’s new take on choreography and his execution of it.

“Before, choreography was followed by certain musical forms, but he didn’t approach choreography that way,” said Fellom. “That’s part of the reason why he’s such a successful choreographer. Each work that he creates has its own identity.”

Both Fellom and Costa described dance as an “academic field of study” that is used to promote an artist’s creations. Fellom admits that she and Costa are not only looking for techniques and stunts from students, but also creativity.

“Skip is opening the door for them, so they have a wider definition of what dance can be,” said Fellom. “Everybody’s definition of dance is widening, but we want them, students, to find their voice.”

According to Costa, students at the university have a greater chance to do choreography after graduation. Costa admitted that four students are graduating this year with a degree in general studies with a concentration in dance.

“I believe in what they do so much,” said Costa. “They come in with all this training, but they have so much room to grow, we fester that growth.”

For Fellom, students in the program at the university aren’t only being instructed in dance, she and Costa wish to equip them in life lessons about morals. 

“It’s better to be positive with your students rather than yelling and throwing things,” said Fellom. “We want them to be good, kind human beings and good students.”

Fellom, was still in awe over Costa’s production of “10: The Katrina Project,” which included singing, dancing and live music.

“Skip has this exciting way of exciting people about dance,” said Fellom. “It was the most engaging project at Southeastern.”

According to Fellom, Costa’s performing arts activities helped him to coin the term ‘InterArts’ as a way to describe his forward-thinking performances. 

“Many cultures are combining and infusing many different disciplines like art, technology and seven boards of skill,” said Fellom. 

Costa also addressed the concern of their limited budget in the dance program. 

“We’re doing all of this without a budget,” said Costa. “As an academic field of study, it breaks my heart that we have to charge people to see what we do here.”

Despite this, Fellom strongly believes in what the power of dance can do for students and visiting audience members.

“We want to fight for our dance program here,” said Fellom. “We believe in this art form for life. I see it soaring because of Skip Costa’s ability to ignite interest in dance.”

Fellom, although optimistic about the future of the university’s dance program, stresses the importance of maintaining a tenure track position at the university. Without it, Fellom feels that the respect for the art form of dance may not remain. 

According to Costa, students from other disciplines such as theater, visual arts, psychology and computer science are beginning to want to pursue double majors.

“Our numbers in the courses that I’ve been teaching proves that we are growing,” said Costa. “These double majors are cross referencing both of their disciplines.”

For Costa, some of his gratification comes from helping people to make a life changing decision through performances.

“People who saw the Katrina project said, ‘Thank you so much, I’m fully invested in being a dance major,’” said Costa. “We transformed them and gave them the opportunity to introduce the world to their art.”

Costa addresses possible fears of those apprehensive about a career in dance.

“People have come to dance late in life and I’ve already accomplished and won things,” said Costa. “I’ve been successful and able to support myself.”

According to Costa, several graduates of the university’s dance program have gone on to pursue Masters and Ph.D.’s from institutions such as: New York University, The George Washington University, Mills College, Pratt Institute, Ohio State University, Sam Houston State University, Texas Christian University, Sarah Lawrence College and Belhaven College. 

“Those graduates currently serve on the faculties of Southeastern, UL Northwestern State, University of Maryland, Pratt Institute and New York University,” said Costa.

Costa will be choreographing the production department’s upcoming “Bayourella: A Story of Forgiveness.”

Fellom will begin auditioning non-dancers for a new production that will display what is important in their lives.

For more information, visit the university home page.

 

Instructors of dance Martie Fellom (left) and Keith “Skip” Costa (right)  were teleported to the past by memories of earlier  university dance classes and programs. Fellom and Costa opened the portal to  the many trials and tribulations of the department, but also offered a positive outlook on the future of the dance program at Southeastern.

Instructors of dance Martie Fellom (left) and Keith “Skip” Costa (right)  were teleported to the past by memories of earlier  university dance classes and programs. Fellom and Costa opened the portal to  the many trials and tribulations of the department, but also offered a positive outlook on the future of the dance program at Southeastern.
The Lion's Roar/Larshell Green

 

 

 

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