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Caribbean Alumna Shares Rhythm of the Islands

Published: November 11, 2010
 The master dance class “Caribbean Essence” being held in Edison this week was a menagerie of ages, sexes and cultures. The Caribbean music – which guest lecturer Susan Barnes Pereira ’94 turned up so her students could feel – flowed out onto North Boulevard like a warm breeze.

She defines her style as a unique fusion of movement that embodies the modern contemporary genre. It’s a full body concert using the hips as conductor.

“I’m hoping this lecture demonstration will encourage them to liberate their movements,” said Pereira.

Pereira’s visit is part of Arte 2010 , a city-wide, biennial celebration of performing and visual arts from Latin America. Along with the master class, Pereira is choreographing a piece for UT’s Spanish Dance Team which will be performed in the Scarfone/Hartley Gallery on Friday, Nov. 12, at 8 p.m., when the University presents its annual Evening of Experimental Dance.

Complementing the performance is the current faculty art exhibit including new work by Kendra Frorup , who grew up in the Bahamas, and Santiago Echeverry , who grew up in Colombia.

“Being involved in Arte highlights our internationality of curriculum, and it sends a message to our students that we honor and respect our students that have gone on,” said Professor Susan Taylor Lennon . “It makes a nice mixing pot of synchronicity.”

Pereira brought 11 of her students ages 11 to 20 with her on this visit. They’ve participated in several classes and taken in the campus atmosphere. Lennon said they are giving as much to the UT students as they are getting in return.

“On a pedagogical level, our UT students are seeing how much of our movement is influenced by Caribbean movement,” Lennon said. “My guess is they’ll be impressed with how good these kids are. I think this will give our students a good jolt.”

Brittany Harder ’11, an accounting and sociology double major who is taking hip-hop dance classes, attended Pereira’s master class on Wednesday.

“There aren’t a lot of dance studios in the U.S. that offer this type of dance, and she’s here, teaching it, and right from the place where it originated,” said Harder, who has taken dance classes most of her life and enjoys expressing music through movement. “I feel like with this type of dance you tell a story with your body.”

Pereira’s story is nothing but fluid. This extends from the long arch of her arm as she sweeps the air in front of her to the softness in her voice as she talks about teaching not just movement but values to her students, to how her life has come full circle back to the University and professors who inspired her to live her passion.

“I think it was my exposure here at UT that cemented my dream that it is possible to have a career in dance,” said Pereira, who received a B.A. in psychology with a minor in dance from UT and her M.A. in dance education from New York University. She credits Lennon, chairwoman of the Speech, Theatre and Dance department, for encouraging her to pursue dance, and the small classes at UT for providing the type of atmosphere that encouraged her to grow.

“Her belief in me made all the difference in the world,” Pereira said. “Coming from a small environment, it was important that I was nurtured as well as trained. Now I’m doing for my students what Susan Taylor Lennon did for me. How she taught me is how I teach my students.”

Pereira is a founding member and a principal dancer of the Cayman Islands National Dance Company — Dance Unlimited and the owner/director of Barnes Dance Academy Limited (BDAL) in the Cayman Islands. Her visit to UT is supported by the Office of International Programs and the Department of Speech, Theatre and Dance within the College of Arts and Letters.

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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