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Urban Bush Women Connect UT Community

Published: March 27, 2014
The Urban Bush Women are at UT using art to address social issues and encourage civic engagement.
The Urban Bush Women are at UT using art to address social issues and encourage civic engagement.
Sitting in a circle — some on the floor, some in chairs — the group gathered for the Urban Bush Women workshop March 26 reflected on what had transpired during the previous three hours inside the Edison Building dance studio on UT’s campus.

Themes like vulnerability, self-awareness, nonverbal communication and the true act of listening tumbled to the center of the circle. All this, after just three hours of dancing together.

“We’re really using dance as a metaphor for bridging the gaps in our community,” said Maria Bauman, the associate artistic director for the internationally renowned dance company.

Based in Brooklyn, NY, the Urban Bush Women use art to address social issues and encourage civic engagement.

From March 25–31, they have come to UT for a community engagement residency that will explore the theme “Building Community through Dance.” On March 26–28, company members will host workshops with students as well as an intergenerational, diverse community population. The residency will culminate with a public performance by the workshop participants, who will demonstrate what they have created together. The performance is set for Saturday, March 29, at 7 p.m. in the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values.

“We will be sharing stories, sharing dance and sharing sweat for the greater good of the community,” Bauman told about 30 individuals who had gathered for the first workshop Wednesday.

There were a range of ages represented, from UT students participating and observing to an 88-year-old resident of The Ella at ENCORE!®, part of a 40-acre master-planned, mixed-use redevelopment community just north of downtown Tampa’s urban core, where UT students have been leading dance workshops all semester. There were serious dancers and those who just love to dance; the flexible and rhythmic and those who hear their own drum beat.

At one point, the participants were asked to circle about the room and find someone with whom to create a dance — a beginning, middle and end — all without words. When the couple agreed the dance was over, they were to move on to another person and create another dance.

This process brought out the vulnerable side of some, like being at a junior high dance all over again and feeling self-conscious while communicating with others by just looking into their eyes or reading body signals. But during the workshop reflection, participants discussed how such a simple exercise can open minds to the reality of human communication and how much we share in common.

“There is something that brought us all together, that piqued our interest to be here,” said Djenaba Akili-Sosah, a resident from The Ella. “It felt to me like we’re already kindred spirits.”

For Kelly Callahan, director of community engagement in UT’s Office of Student Leadership and Engagement , being on the planning committee for this visit and participating in the workshops is “one of the reasons I love UT.

“This whole event stands for everything I believe in,” said Callahan, who joins many in the organizational efforts of hosting the Urban Bush Women, including Professor Susan Taylor Lennon, who has been leading the UT effort. 

In addition to Saturday’s performance, there will be a post-performance reception in Plant Hall’s Fletcher Lounge at 8 p.m., with a chance to speak with company members and workshop participants and get a sneak peek at a documentary film being created about the residency by Christopher Boulton, assistant professor of communication. The March 29 performance and reception are free and open to the public. To reserve a seat, call (813) 257-3745.

The residency is being sponsored by Smith & Associates Real Estate, the Tampa Housing Authority, Bank of America Community Development Corp., the Life Enrichment Center, the Arts Council of Hillsborough County and The University of Tampa.

Have a story idea? Contact Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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