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Globalizing USF’s Dance Program

Help is needed for USF dance students to make the leap to China this fall after hosting Chinese dancers this spring.

Students from Beijing Normal University performing in China.     Photo courtesy of Beijing Normal University

By Barbara Melendez
      USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (July 28, 2015) – There’s no easy way to dance around the subject of needing to raise money, even if the sum is not earth-shattering. The challenge – send a group of USF Dance students and faculty invited by Beijing Normal University (BNU) and the Chinese government to China to participate in the Creative International Dance Conference and Festival in Beijing which will feature some of the best choreographers from around the world.

To this end, USF Dance Professor Jeanne Travers is working tirelessly to make sure that China’s generosity in providing housing and food once they arrive is matched by the generosity of people in and around Florida to pay their airfare.

A class in classical Chinese dance at USF. 
Photo by Sharon McCaman

“The students are on pins and needles,” said Travers. “They don’t want to miss out on this opportunity to take classes, perform in an international forum and interact with dancers on a global scale. The thing is, they’re already barely getting by financially as it is, but they’re raising money as best they can.”

That still leaves $10,000 to raise.

It has taken three years “to get to this moment,” Travers says with pride for what has become the first cultural exchange with China that’s in place in USF’s School of Theatre & Dance. What makes this particular event so important is that “Some of the most important choreographers from around the world will be there,” she explained. “And we truly need to keep our momentum going with this relationship.”

Bridging the Miles

Travers made an initial trip to China in 2011 with School of Theatre & Dance Director Mark Powers, to begin the initial stages of creating an exchange program with a university dance program in China. After visiting three different universities, the strongest connection was made with BNU

“We were met with an extraordinary reception by deans, directors of dance programs and faculty members,” Travers said. “We also observed dance classes and met with students. What was so wonderful in meeting everyone was that they were all so interested in getting to know us. I was invited to teach and I was so impressed with the level of dancing. They are among the top dancers in the world.”

Travers and Powers also met with officials and the US cultural attaché at the embassy, escorted by Powers’ son who lives in China and is fluent in Chinese and served as their translator during the trip.

“By the time we left, Beijing Normal University, the university that most resembled USF in size and its intimate group of faculty and students, appeared to be the best fit for us. There were very sophisticated dancers in the program and the Dean of Dance Xiao Xian Grong was very open and excited about forging this new and innovative exchange program. He is an extraordinary choreographer, teacher and administrator. We felt very confident that something very unique could develop between USF and BNU.”

In 2012, Travers was invited to return to BNU for an international dance conference where she taught and presented her choreography.

“It was non-stop classes, performances, round table discussions and cultural events,” she said. “It was extraordinary and I felt a deep commitment to continue to build this exchange program.”

Then last spring, faculty members and dance students from BNU made the trip to USF.

Building Mutual Admiration

USF and BNU students in a performance of "Confluence."
Photo by Kyle Scharf

“We had a week of dancing together, creating two collaborative pieces, and an enthusiastic full-house audience,” Travers said. The program, titled “Confluence: Dancing Across Cultures” describes what the audience experienced. “What they saw was alternative dance, traditional dance, all beautifully presented. It was created in four days – students signed up, rehearsed and performed.”

Travers wanted the experience to be all-inclusive so all levels, beginners to advanced, participated.

On their first night, the students held an improvisational get-together, Travers described as “a big dance jam.” She said, “While the faculty was out to dinner, students were sending us videos. They just built on non-verbal communication, with some English.”

Variations in style offered a lot of opportunities to share.

Noting that “much of their choreography is built on narrative where there are specific themes and story lines running through the works they perform,” Travers said, comparing her students’ concentration on “ballet, modern, world dance forms and jazz. “Here we’re more abstract. Our expressiveness is very movement oriented, more open to interpretation.”

The dance students also had a great deal in common.

“Both entities are very disciplined, very committed,” Travers observed. “In China they’re exposed to many different styles of dance and martial arts as well as studying Western–style dance forms. They’re getting a very well-rounded education and they have an impeccable sense of focus and attention to detail. I was personally moved by their artistry and found their performances breathtakingly beautiful.”

For the students, it didn’t end with one visit.

“There were so many tears when it came time to leave but what’s so wonderful is that they’re connected on Facebook,” Travers said. “They’re really looking forward to seeing the friends they made once again.”

The trip to China for USF’s dance students is scheduled for Oct. 2 to 12. “It’s sort of mirroring their visit with us, 14 dancers, me and three faculty members, John Parks, Paul Nunez and Andee Scott.”

Closing the Gap

All told it’s taking $26,000 to make the trip happen for the 14 dance students. They’ve getting closer, but they are still in need of additional funds to bring the trip to fruition.

BNU and USF students in Prof. Andrew Carroll's ballet class.
Photo by Sharon McCaman

So much has fallen into place so far, success seems assured. At the end of June, a fundraiser was held in the home of Tampa resident Rosemary Henderson.

“It was a beautiful and successful event, and we are all deeply grateful for all the donations that we received,” Travers said. “Still we have yet to reach our goal.”

Confucius Institute Director Kun Shi is working to get the signatures in place on a memorandum of understanding that will put the program in place and make the relationship official.

“So far it’s been a wonderful journey to build this program, I want to see it grow and live on.”

When the exchange program with China is firmly established, the next frontier for Travers is Southern India.

“I’ve been involved in international work for many years. I’ve taken students to Bolivia, China, France, Italy, Scotland, Trinidad, Tunisia. That’s my passion, building bridges,” she said. “Interacting at the global level, speaking the language of dance, making artistic connections, people to people, I literally live for this.”

The benefits to students are incalculable.

“With these travels they develop mutual admiration and build life-long relationships. They can go back without me and go about building their professional resumes. Our seniors are graduating with impressive travel on their resumes – and the experiences create quite an awakening for them.”

For anyone who wishes to learn more about the USF-BNU Exchange Program or to make a contribution, contact USF College of The Arts Development Director Bill Faucett at

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563

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