The evolution of dance

Maida Withers has always been a pioneer. From her roots in small-town Kanab, Utah – where her ancestors were frontier settlers – to Lisner Auditorium, Withers brings that pioneering spirit as a professional dancer, choreographer, director and professor to GW and D.C.

She is known around the University and the District for her role as an innovative and daring choreographer and performer. Withers also teaches undergraduate courses like advanced postmodern dance, trends in performance art, dance composition, choreography and dance improvisation, while also owning her own company, the Maida Withers Dance Construction Company.

The company began in the early 1970s in conjunction with the beginning of GW’s master’s dance program. The first six dancers in the company were graduates of the program, and just as Withers began a company in need of dancers, GW graduated dancers in need of a company.

Withers said that both presently and in the past, she has always sought out dancers and colleagues with a strong desire to collaborate.

“I definitely like the dancers I work with to be mature individuals that have a distinctive style and a distinctive contribution to make to dance,” she said.

Withers described her own work in modern and postmodern dance as “amazingly outrageous,” “passion-driven” and infused with “positive power.”

Withers said part of what has always intrigued her about dance is the fusion of the intellectual with the physical. Participating in basketball, swimming and tennis as a child, Withers always had an attraction to and a knack for physical activity. She began dancing in the fourth grade when a teacher moved to her small town and offered dance classes after school. The young Withers was enthusiastic to find a brand new way to test her body.

“I like the high energy,” she said. “I like the push. I like to compete with myself to see what I can do.”

For Withers, dancing was also about being a free spirit.

“When I was young, we danced every place. We danced on the hayloft, we danced at night when the full moon came out,” she said.

Dancing, Withers said, is a way of communicating and expressing the self and one’s values and passions.

“My works are so much about my life experiences,” she said. “Most of my dances are expressing what I felt at the time.”

Withers explained that inspiration in the dance world rarely runs dry because there is a “constant influx of materials that influence the way you’re thinking.”

Withers crafted her life to have a constant supply of inspiration. After receiving her master’s degree in dance from the University of Utah, Withers decided to start her career out East.

“I was in that group of modern dancers who were the first generation to graduate with college degrees in dance, and so there were a lot of programs being developed at that time,” Withers said. After a three-year stint teaching dance at Purdue University, Withers moved to D.C. in 1965.

“It was very exciting for me, because at that time – you know, this is in the ’60s – there was a huge revolution taking place,” she said. Withers first taught for a year at Howard University and then came to GW, where she has remained for 46 years.

“People have asked me, ‘Why do you stay at GW? Why do you stay in a university?,” Withers said of her long tenure at the University. “Well, it’s the students! They have always been interesting. They’re interesting now.”

The Maida Withers Dance Construction Company will premiere its latest piece, “Fare Well – The End of the World As We Know It OR Dancing Your Way to Paradise!” at Dance Place this weekend.

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