Dance to a better tune
Internationally renowned choreographer Kiesha Lalama sees dance not merely as a means to entertain but as an entity that can provoke positive change in the world.
This is one of the primary lessons the visiting professor intends to teach students participating in the weeklong Summer Dance Intensive hosted by In Motion School of Dance.
Ms Lalama, who has created more than 50 works choreographing for film, stage and television, is one of ten overseas choreographers and teachers visiting the school.
And while dance style and technique are high on her agenda, so too is being a good person and advocating for the wellbeing of humanity.
A Flash Mob she organised outside the 2009 G20 Summit in her native Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, reflected a theme in the summit itself.
“G20 was a big one,” she recalled. “Our message was about peace and coming together.
“When the opportunity presents itself, I like to challenge dancers to be advocates. You have to activate that and make sure that you are doing something to make change — that is important.”
Ms Lalama also choreographed an “interdisciplinary movement” at a TEDx conference in Pittsburg at the end of 2011 called Chaos, which served as an “examination, exploration and investigation of power”.
“It was making sure that we call attention to things that are questionable,” she explained.
“I look back at the work and the irony is that almost ten years later, we are still in a state of chaos, but we have to continue to fight the fight.
“It can get overwhelming, but I have learnt that you have to plant the small seeds. That is it — little pieces. Even coming here is a small contribution to making positive change — you have to do it in small steps.”
Ms Lalama, who first taught at In Motion’s summer intensive last year, was born and raised in Pittsburg where she began her dance training at a local school when she was 13.
She later graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in dance from Point Park University and then a Master of Fine Arts in interdisciplinary arts from Goddard College.
“Getting my masters at Goddard College in Vermont allowed me to expand a little further into interdisciplinary arts, which allows me to have the resources to dig further into mind, body soul and not just dance, exploring things like racism, discrimination, inequalities and covering everything that the arts can do.”
She has choreographed feature films The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Sorority Row, hit television documentary Broadway or Bust (PBS), and the highly acclaimed television series Outsiders (WGN), while her theatrical credits include National High School Musical Theatre Awards (Broadway).
The mother of two is also a member of the Stage Directors and Choreography Society and resident choreographer for Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.
In 2009, Ms Lalama was named one of Dance Magazine’s 25 to watch and was awarded a Leo’s Award for choreography at the Jazz Dance World Congress. The Youth American Grand Prix also placed her on the coveted Top 12 for three different works and honoured her with numerous outstanding choreography awards.
Her students are able to draw from this vast experience.
“I have been teaching them about concert dance, but also a Broadway repertoire. We did an excerpt from Hello Dolly and from Hairspray so they get classical and contemporary. Both are still relevant.”
In Motion’s summer intensives often provide academic opportunities for the school’s students.
Four Bermuda dance students who took Ms Lalama’s class last year are now studying at Point Park University.
Ms Lalama is so impressed with the standards at In Motion, the school’s director and owner Lizz Pimentel and her staff, that she hopes to return for many more years to come.
“I think there is huge potential in Bermuda — I always say you are only as good as what you are exposed to and what I find most fascinating about the island is that if you don’t have it, you bring it in, which is a testament to who you are as people.
“In Motion is not only preparing its students to be strong dancers, but also to be better people. As an artist today, especially with what is happening in the world, I think it is really important to have talent and to be a good person.”
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