Bounder Jazz Dance Workshop: Madison Knutson

By Madison Knutson
Student, College of Fine Arts and Production

people dancing on a stage

Last fall, the dance department at Grand Canyon University had the opportunity to work with Christy McNeil-Chand from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In addition to setting the infamous piece entitled “Sinoatrial Node,” Christy motivated students to attend the renowned Boulder Jazz Dance Workshop, which was celebrating its 40 anniversary. Upon her recommendation, I attended the two-week intensive with three other GCU students—Hannah Croft, Isiah Johnson and Alyssa Quiett—in Boulder, Colorado this past July 2018.

The workshops consisted of classes from 10 a.m. to  10 p.m. for fourteen days. We took a series of modern, contemporary, jazz, turns, improvisational and choreography classes that showed us a whole new level of choreographic and athletic brilliance. Looking back at the workshop, I noticed that my range as an artist grew significantly. With each class I learned new choreography, some of which did not always align with my comfort level. I left feeling hyper-diverse in the realm of jazz and contemporary and artistically fed after performing in the student show and witnessing a professional production by the local company, Interweave Dance Theatre.

Besides learning overwhelming amounts of choreography and tips to improve technique, I walked away with new mantras to live by, both in the dance space and in the real world. One of the instructors, Kari Herman, put major emphasis on dancing as if your heart were to stop beating at any moment.

After recently having brain and heart surgery, Kari prompted us to “never waste a (heart)beat,” and to push ourselves further than what we thought were our limits. This really resonated with me. It is easy for a dancer to anticipate the rhythmic contemporary movement or the pirouettes that make us dizzy, thus forgetting the importance of refining technique at the barre, releasing in modern rolls and internalizing goals before class.

As the days pushed forward, I altered my focus to give equal importance to all aspects of the classes; this mindset became fuel when ten-hour dance days became brutal on my body and spirit. Before I knew it, the last day of the workshop had concluded and I looked back at the timeline of classes, thankful that I gave each step its due diligence.

Upon coming back to GCU, I have noticed a distinct change in the way that I move, which was highly influenced by my fellow dancers and diverse teaching staff. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to work with artists like Christy McNeil-Chand and Kari Herman, in addition to Jess Hendricks, Wade Madsen, Meghan Lawitz, Lauren Beale and so many others.

I also cannot ignore the credit due to the skills developed by training with the GCU Dance Dept. I was pleasantly surprised when my modern technique made an appearance in the classes taught by Wade Madsen and Lauren Beale. GCU emphasizes modern greatly and I was thankful that I could properly use the floor, travel across the space and sink into movement—all skills I did not have before college. There were many times when the BJDW instructors made comments on the movement quality and class etiquette of our GCU crew, and that reflects the professionalism of our program.

This semester I prompt dancers in our department to not waste their heartbeats and treat every piece of movement as if it were their last. Every modern roll, Graham contraction and arabesque promenade should be done with care.

If you want to learn more about Grand Canyon University’s arts program within the College of Fine Arts and Production, check out our website or click the Request More Information button on this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.