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Dance Program scholarship sends outstanding student to New York this summer

Dance major Alma White received the scholarship to study classical ballet at the Dance Theatre of Harlem

WhiteThe Dance Program within the School of Theatre & Dance trains students in choreography, performance and pedagogy to prepare them for careers on the stage, backstage and in the classroom.

Led by Director Karen Stokes, the Dance Program also encourages its students to strengthen their skills and stretch their creativity by learning from professional dance companies as much as possible.

This summer the Dance Program and the student dance organization, University Dance Theater, granted a $250 scholarship to junior Alma White after she auditioned and was invited to join the Dance Theatre of Harlem summer intensive training program.

“Alma is a valued member of the UH Dance Ensemble, the University of Houston's pre-professional performing dance company,” said Teresa Chapman, associate professor of dance. “Her talents emerge with great spirit and beauty when she is on stage. Off-stage, Alma is an exceptional student. She has earned the respect of her instructors and her peers with her dedication to practice and passion for the art of dance.”

Her talents on stage caught the attention of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a multicultural dance institution that has trained and showcased people of color performing classical ballet and other forms of dance since 1969. After a 15-year absence from Houston stages, the DTH touring company performed a free dance concert at Miller Outdoor Theatre on July 23.

White was happy to be back home to catch the historic performance. She spent June 23 to July 11 in New York, taking DTH classes in classical ballet, tap, and various forms of modern and contemporary dance, including jazz and African classical. For housing, she sublet a New York City apartment with guidance from one of her UH instructors.

“I had the most amazing time being amongst so many gifted teachers and peers,” White said. “I learned many specifics that will take my dancing to the next level. There is a saying that ‘the devil is in the details’ and that is certainly true when it comes to ballet.”

The dance coursework was enhanced with a professional development curriculum that included workshops on nutrition and health, lunches with professional dancers, and field trips to Broadway shows.

“Dance Theatre of Harlem gave me two main points I will take back to UH,” said White. “First is to always look your best. Traditionally ballet dancers wear pink tights and shoes, but we learned to match our skin tone with our tights and shoes. Seeing all the dancers wearing tights the same color as their skin brought tears to my eyes and gave me a sense of pride I’d never felt before.

“Secondly I learned that if dance was a food pyramid, ballet would be the fruits and vegetables – everything revolves around ballet and ballet is essential to dance for longevity and strength,” said White.

This academic year, White plans to choreograph a piece in a UH production based on everything she has learned in her dancing career thus far – as well as what she learned this summer at DTH. She is on track to graduate with a major in dance and a minor in education in 2015. When White completes her bachelor’s degree, she plans to work as a dance instructor at a public or private school as she prepares and saves money for graduate school.

“I want to get my master’s degree in dance education so I’ll be eligible to teach college level dance,” White said. “Ten years from now, I want to have traveled to Ireland, Africa, and Chicago. Eventually, I want an institution of the arts in my name, but I haven’t decided on the location of my establishment.”

- By Monica Byars