Even before she stepped into her first dance studio at the age of 3, Cerena Chaney ’18 couldn’t resist the urge to twirl across a room. She knew instinctively that her body was made to move in beautiful ways.
Dancing was in her blood.
“My parents noticed I was always moving and dancing around the house,” Chaney, 19, recalled.
Though the local dance studio in Chaney’s hometown of Ponca City, Okla., didn’t accept students until they were 4, her mother convinced them to make an exception.
“My mom said, ‘We got to get this kid doing something,’” Chaney said. “So, they put me in a class, and I took to it right away. Dancing is what I love to do.”
Chaney's passion will take visible form on the stage this weekend when Stephens College’s Dance Collaborations presents its annual New Works Dance Concert featuring original pieces choreographed by seven dance students. Chaney, a second-year dance student, has choreographed four pieces selected for the show: two duets, a trio and a group dance.
The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 21-22, 2017, with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee on April 23 in the Warehouse Theatre on the Stephens campus. Get ticket info.
New Works is produced entirely by students through Dance Collaborations. Earlier this spring, dances were presented to an external panel of adjudicators who selected the pieces that would go in the concert.
Audiences can expect a range from ballet to tap to hip hop to musical theatre.
Elizabeth Hartwell, coordinator of dance, said choreography is the main focus of the three-year, two-summer B.F.A. in Dance at Stephens.
“The act of choreographing is time consuming and very difficult for some people, even after formal training in the discipline,” she said. “Having direct experiences as a choreographer at this stage of their training puts our dance major students ahead of their peers who are learning dance roles.
“Being a choreographer allows a dancer the chance to see the big picture beyond her own dancing role in a dance work. The benefit is that our students gain a deeper understanding of the construction of a dance work and their role within it.”
Hartwell said students develop many of the dances in New Works during their choreography courses, taught by Stephens Modern Dance assistant professor Deborah Carr.
“Deborah passes on the theoretical concepts she received from her teacher at Stephens, the founder of the Stephens Dance program, Harriette Ann Gray,” she said.
Chaney said three of her pieces—the trio, group number and one duet—were developed during choreography courses this year with Carr. Her second duet, a tap dance performed to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band, was choreograph on her own time.
“This is my favorite dance concert of the year because it is completely student-run, student-choreographed and student-produced,” said Chaney, who has developed a greater appreciation for the work that goes into creating a dance show. “I have gained so much respect for professional dancers because I have gained a greater understanding of how hard they work.”
Hartwell admires Chaney’s motivation as a dancer.
“Cerena has both the interest to choreograph and the discipline to complete such an arduous task,” she said. “I think she is unique in that she has skills in so many different styles and that she wants to flush out the creative process for each of them.”
Chaney, who is also minoring in education, hopes to eventually pass on her passion for dance to younger students.
“My dream is to own my own studio just like my dance teacher,” she said.
Other dance concert selections include “Midnight Thoughts,” choreographed by Jamila Scales ’17; “Anger,” choreographed by Chaney; “Whispers in My Head,” choreographed by Allison Connely ’19; “Prisms of Light,” choreographed by Madisen Nielsen ’18; “Freedom,” choreographed by Kylie Thompson ’18; “Closer,” choreographed by Jami Tebockhorst ’19; “Sisters,” choreographed by Chaney; “Positive and Negative,” choreographed by Nielsen; “Beneath the Stars,” choreographed by Kiana Homan ’19; and “The Witches of Salem,” choreographed by Chaney.
Performances are 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 21-22 and 2 p.m., Sunday, April 23, in the Warehouse Theatre, 104 Willis Ave. Get tickets online. Contact the Box Office at (573) 876-7199 or [email protected] for more details.
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