Pros teach dance class

Head rolls, plies and kicks filled the Helfaer Theater dance room Wednesday when a professional choreography team taught a Marquette class.

Ben Munisteri is a New York choreographer and creator of his own dance company, the Ben Munisteri Performance Dance. With his team, he taught the Beginning Dance Technique II class as a guest instructor Wednesday. Sarah Wilbur, artistic director of the Milwaukee dance company Danceworks Performance Co. and an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Performing Arts, teaches the class.

Munisteri's company is performing with Danceworks Performance Co. Saturday at 8 p.m. at Alverno College's Pitman Theater, 3431 S. 39th St. The performance came to Milwaukee after about two years of talking and scheduling, according to Munisteri. It consists of part of the show Munisteri's company performed at New York's Joyce Theater in January.

Munisteri said he prefers choreographing to teaching dance but enjoys teaching willing students.

"I really just consider myself a choreographer," Munisteri said. "The reason I teach is because it's a necessity in my field. Modern dance choreographers choreograph and teach. It goes together. I'm interested in teaching students who really want to learn about dance and this class is a great example. Everybody had a great attitude and they were really eager to learn."

The National Presenter's Network funded 40 percent of Saturday's performance. One of the criteria to receiving this funding is to teach dance students. Munisteri fulfilled this requirement by teaching classes at Marquette and other schools for a week.

Wilbur said the experience gave her class a taste of dancing in the real world.

"Ben's master class will just be a fun chance for my Marquette students to test their own ability to participate and excel in a fast-paced class," Wilbur said. "Their experience will feel essentially like a dancer feels in an audition scenario except that there is no job at stake. All students of dance should expose themselves to as many dance artists and styles of choreography as they can. It is their responsibility to the preservation of the art form."

David Ravel, director of the Alverno College performing arts series Alverno Presents, said he prefers smaller groups for experiences like Munisteri's residency.

"When we set up residency activities, it's really important for me to make sure that it's a meaningful activity for everybody involved — the students and the teachers," Ravel said. "There's a lot that happens in funding now where it seems like people are only interested in the numbers that are at these residencies and I really don't want to do an event for 200 people if 195 of them don't want to be there. I would much rather do an event like this where there 14 people in this class who really want to be there."

Some Ben Munisteri Dance Projects dancers along with Munisteri not only taught Marquette students but also students at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Roosevelt Middle School, Brookfield Central High School and others.

Lisa Wheeler and Devon Fitchett, dancers in Munisteri's company, warmed up the students for 15 minutes with head rolls, arm stretches, kicks and plies. Munisteri then taught the students new dance steps while Wheeler, Fitchett and Danica Holoviak, a fellow dancer, danced with the students. The class ended with a five minute cool down.

"I thought it was wonderful that we had the opportunity to work with such talented artists, especially since all of us in this particular class are at different ability levels," said senior Angela Parrish, a theater arts major. "It was great that they were able to get all of us motivated on our own level and really actively participate. It's just great whenever you have the opportunity to work with someone so talented."

"I thought it was a great experience that we got to work with a performer," said senior Kathleen Burns, a speech pathology and audiology major. "We can also go see the show and have a carryover and more of an individual aspect of the show, to see the dancers on stage and know that they worked with you."

"It was interesting to be able to dance with people who have to do this for a living just because you get to see the hard work and the dedication," said senior Monica Howrylow, a writing intensive english major. "It's inspiring to know that these people do it because of passion. It's contagious."

"I thought the class was a lot of fun today," said senior Mara King, a communication studies major. "It was a really interesting experience because the instructors today had definitely a different approach to dance than our normal instructor, Sarah, does and it's good to be able to try out different styles of dance within a class and different techniques. It was a lot of fun to learn with people who are so experienced."

Ben Munisteri Dance Projects began in 1994 and has performed in New York City, the Harvard Summer Dance Center, Drew University, the South Carolina Dance Alliance and many other venues according to the company's Web site. It consists of six dancers; Lisa Wheeler, Christine McMillan, Eric Sean Fogel, Danica Holoviak, Kyle Lang and Fitchett.