Stage & Dance

UK's fledgling dance program is ready to fly

Megan Jellison, left, Shuling Fister, Carolyn Drury, Mary Szczygielski and Les Gibbs performed in How to Fold a Pleated Skirt: An Educational Guide, one of three dances in 3Dimensions. Susie Thiel is developing a dance minor in the University of Kentucky theater department.
Megan Jellison, left, Shuling Fister, Carolyn Drury, Mary Szczygielski and Les Gibbs performed in How to Fold a Pleated Skirt: An Educational Guide, one of three dances in 3Dimensions. Susie Thiel is developing a dance minor in the University of Kentucky theater department. Lexington Herald-Leader

This weekend's performance of 3Dimensions: Winter Dance Concert will feature a group of University of Kentucky students who think their college experience just got a whole lot better.

"Everything's coming together now, and it's great," says sophomore Megan Jellison, who came to UK to study business management but is now a theater major with a dance minor. "I had my first class with Susie, and it was amazing."

Just a year ago, students couldn't minor in dance at UK, and dance was never part of the College of Fine Arts. That changed when the school hired Susie Thiel to launch a dance program under the umbrella of the theater department. She started teaching classes last fall and began developing the dance minor.

The dance program steps into the spotlight this weekend with 3Dimensions, a program of three dance pieces by Thiel, Lyndy Franklin Smith and Jeromy Smith, and New York choreographer Blake Pearson.

"We were trying to put together a good show, probably a smaller show for our first show," Thiel says after a dress rehearsal Monday night. "I wanted a modern dance feel and to show off the talents of faculty and part-time instructors."

The part-time faculty are the Smiths, who come to Lexington with Broadway credits; they have created a Bob Fosse piece to close the show.

"It really complements modern dance," Jeromy Smith says of Fosse's work. "His style is really his own, and the way he uses isolations and props were really distinct."

From an educational standpoint, Smith says, it's important for students to be familiar with one of history's top Broadway choreographers.

The first work on the show is Pearson's Mama Gina, which he set with the students earlier this month to music by Astor Piazzolla.

"It was the first time they got to work with a guest artist and got to see his process," Thiel says. "He brought great energy."

Thiel worked with the students herself on creating How to Fold a Pleated Skirt: An Educational Guide, which includes speaking parts, something not always associated with dance.

"Blake's work is more modern," Thiel says. "My work is more post-modern, avant-garde."

She said the idea came from hearing a story on NPR about online how-to guides and how people who really don't have any expertise often end up writing them.

Sophomore Hayley Black says Thiel "has so much energy, and you can tell she just loves what she's teaching."

Jellison says, "I never took modern before I took a class with Susie, and the minute I started, I knew this was my niche."

Thiel says she hopes this weekend's program will expose more people to dance who were not predisposed to liking it, particularly modern dance, which has rarely been seen in Lexington.

And the students hope that the days of UK not having a dance program will be gone.

"I would love to see a dance major," Jellison says.

Freshman Les Gibbs says, "We're seeing it in its infancy, and I can imagine coming back when we're alumni and saying, 'We remember when this started.'"

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