Senior shakes down dance in search of roots

Alesia Young is busy these days.

She has, after all, recently put the finishing touches on her senior honors thesis. In addition to long hours of research and paper work, she decided to present her thesis in the form of a dance concert.

A double major in dance and American studies with a focus in multiculturalism, Young’s project combines the two disciplines. The choreography examines the influence black history has on American contemporary dance.

trygYoung says she “benefited from having a diverse college experience.”

Young first examined African influence in contemporary American dance, then began to study movement. Young points out that these traits range from subtle to obvious.

She adds that the indications of African influence in American culture call into question the concept of “Black Dance.”

In her concert, “Moving Truth,” Young uses choreography to probe the question further, but does not come up with any answers.

“The work is not intended in its construction to define or personify “black dance” merely because I am of African descent,” says Young. “It’s more of a personal exploration than a survey of opinion.”

A thesis’ worth of wondering who is qualified to define black dance, Young says, led her into a personal journey toward her own identity.

“Moving Truth,” which began as a self-choreographed solo, became a question of identity. The choreographer’s quote in the concert program reads, “I am Moving (in) Truth because I am (moving) in tune with the rhythms of nature.”

Young directs and choreographs “Moving Truth.” She is also technical, lighting and costume designer – and she will dance a solo in the show.

Many students from the theater and dance department loaned a helping hand, Young says. Andrea Chatham, a radio and television major and Presidential Arts Scholarship recipient in dance, chipped in as acting videographer for Young’s piece. Andrew Nannis contributed public relations advice.

And fortunately, Young already cleared one of the biggest jobs from her to-do list.

“The technical production is being taken care of by SPADE,” Young explains with a sigh of relief.

The annual Student Performance Art Dance Event precedes Young’s own concert. SPADE organizers agreed to coordinate lighting in addition to helping with the technical aspects of Young’s concert.

Young presented her first group work and performed a self-choreographed solo last year in SPADE, which features original works by student dancers, musicians, actors and performance artists, many of whom are Young’s peers and friends. In fact, most of her cast members will be featured in both performances this weekend.

Young says her dancers have also helped move her project along.

“My dancers and I took our own movement experience and created a work,” she explains.

Many of the dancers have their own choreographic experiences under their belts. Two of the dancers, Crystal Akens and Jessica Phillips, will present their own creations in SPADE the night before.

Young describes her choreography as “collaborative,” soaking up input from the performers.

“They wouldn’t say that, though,” she admits.

The dancers do not realize how deeply they inspire her, Young says. “I need their energy and physicality.”

Young started dancing at age six, taking classes in ballet, tap and jazz. She did not begin taking modern dance, the medium she chose for her concert, until high school.

Although a captivating performer, Young says she prefers to choreograph.

“I don’t get as much out of it as people seem to get from watching,” she says.

“Moving Truth” is just the latest enterprise in a long list of achievements that reveal a woman committed to applying black heritage to her roles as dancer and leader.

Young is a Presidential Arts Scholar in dance, founder of GW’s Capoeira Angola Club and dance liaison for Shades of the Fine Arts. She is co-director of the Annual International Capoeira Conference hosted at GW. Once a week, Young teaches a creative movement dance class to pre-school children at the world bank.

Earlier this semester, Young was awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award for outstanding community service. The prestigious honor is awarded to students who exemplify King’s ideals throughout college.

Young will graduate this May. She says hopes to start graduate school during the fall of 1999 and work toward an MFA in dance with a focus on education. Later, she hopes to work and study dance in California.

Falling during Black Women’s Week, “Moving Truth” is a celebration. In truth, Young is a moving force.

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