Jenny Braswell, who graduated from UNCG in May, leads a dance class for 3- and 4-year-olds at the Greensboro Cultural Arts Center.

“Alright, dancers, are you ready?” Jenny Braswell, who graduated from UNCG in May, asks her class of 3- and 4-year-olds in a Greensboro Cultural Arts Center studio. The seven little girls shift their weight from one foot to the other. Parents, some more attentive than their children, sit quietly on folding chairs arranged along one wall. The lesson begins.

The class is one of dozens offered through The North Carolina Dance Project, a nonprofit founded by Jan Van Dyke, head of UNCG’s Department of Dance. Two years ago, the organization took over the City Arts dance program when city leaders decided they could no longer pay for it.

All kinds of dance for all kinds of people.

The Dance Project at City Arts now holds classes in tap, ballet, hip hop, contemporary and African dance for students of all ages. It’s a community dance studio with a simple motto: “All kinds of dance for all kinds of people.”

It’s all part of Van Dyke’s efforts to nurture dance in Greensboro and throughout the state. The lessons train the next generation of dancers and provide teaching jobs for the current generation. She wants the dancers who train in North Carolina to have the option to teach and perform here. “North Carolina has great training facilities,” she says, “but then everybody leaves.”

“Do you remember the dance rules we talked about?” Braswell asks her students. “We have to express ourselves without using voices.”
“Can you move just your head?” Seven heads bobble.
“Can you move just your shoulders?” Fourteen shoulders shimmy.
“Can you move just your toes?” Seventy toes wiggle.
One girl approaches Braswell. “I have a puppy,” she declares before returning to her place on the floor.

In addition to offering dance classes, The North Carolina Dance Project includes an annual statewide festival and a dance company, the Van Dyke Dance Group.

The North Carolina Dance Festival, now in its 19th year, promotes dance by cultivating audiences, nurturing leadership in the field, and providing opportunities for performance and education.

The festival makes its 2009 debut at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6-7, in UNCG’s Aycock Auditorium. After its two nights in Greensboro, it will visit Boone, Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington.

“Let me see your proud walks,” Braswell says. “Heads up!” The girls march around the room.
“Let me see upset.” Heads and shoulders slump dejectedly. One girl sinks all the way to the floor.
“Can you show me a jump for joy?” The girls pogo up and down. “Those are some good joy dance movements. Good job! Give yourselves a hand!”

As her pupils and their parents file out of the studio, Braswell chats about teaching and her students. She understands the 3-year-olds, because that’s how old she was when she started taking lessons herself. Memories of those lessons continue to inspire her today.

“I was a mess, a handful,” she says. “But you never know who’s going to find a love for dance.”

Photography by Chris English, University Relations