Dance Theatre of Harlem makes education a priority



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Two dancers from the Dance Theatre of Harlem perform last year at Hostos Community College in New York. The dance company is coming to perform Saturday in IU Auditorium as part of a residency program. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

When Alison Stroming joined Dance Theatre of Harlem three years ago, she was surprised to find herself in schools as part of her daily work.

Stroming  said she was initially drawn to the classical ballet company for its diverse repertoire, for which it is internationally renowned, but she soon learned much of the group’s time on tour is spent working with young dancers, from elementary-aged kids to college students.

She doesn’t mind, she said. In fact, it’s become one of her favorite parts of being in the company, which is now in its fourth decade.

“We’re sharing what we’ve worked so hard for in our training and passing it on to others to help them achieve their goals,” Stroming said.

This week Dance Theatre of Harlem is engaged in a University-wide residency that started Tuesday at IU-South Bend, moved to IU-Purdue University-Indianapolis on Wednesday and will conclude at IU-Bloomington. The company will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday in the IU Auditorium in conjunction with the IU Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs and IU Auditorium.

Much of Dance Theatre of Harlem’s acclaim stems from its efforts to maintain a racially diverse mix of artists and inspire children from all backgrounds to pursue dance. Jorge Andres Villarini is Puerto Rican and a man — neither of which is often seen on a ballet stage. He said he views the company’s educational programs as increasingly important.

“We have a strong message that classical arts belong to everyone, and it’s not just the domain of the elite,” Villarini said.

During one stop in Louisiana, a young boy — 10 or 11 years old, Villarini said — walked up to him after a performance. He was Puerto Rican as well, and he told Villarini he had a passion for singing. Then in front of everyone in the auditorium, the boy began singing “Fly Me to the Moon” to Villarini.

The boy has since started dancing and still keeps in touch with Villarini.

Stroming also described a memorable experience from an overseas trip to Israel. She taught a class of about 10 young dancers in Lod, Israel, and none spoke English. She said it was obvious that each girl loved being there, however, and they wrapped her in a group hug after the class.

As for residencies such as the ones Dance Theatre of Harlem is conducting this week, both Stroming and Villarini said there is something special about working with college students studying dance.

“We talk with them about what it is to be a professional dancer, what it is to be a working dancer, what it is to be a dancer of color,” Villarini said.

Tickets for Saturday’s show cost between $13 and $36 for IU students with a valid ID and $23 and $41 for the general public. They are available at iuauditorium.com, in person at the IU Auditorium Box Office, at ticketmaster.com, and by phone at 800-745-3000.

“We at IU Auditorium are so pleased to present Dance Theatre of Harlem,” IU Auditorium Director Doug Booher said in the press release. “Not only are they singularly spectacular artists, we are inspired by their dedication to enriching communities and celebrating diversity through dance.”

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A group of Dance Theatre of Harlem performers dance last year at Hostos Community College in New York. The company strives to encourage people of all races and backgrounds to pursue dance and will perform Saturday in IU Auditorium. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

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