Funds Raised by Arty Party Bring Talent Scout to Tuscaloosa, Pivotal Career Opportunity for Dancers
From the 2013 Celebrating Excellence | Many people think they know who the most demanding coach is at The University of Alabama. If you guessed the coach who wears a straw hat during spring practice and has three crystal trophies, you would not be wrong. But you wouldn’t be totally right.
In fact, one of the most demanding “coaches” at UA is not a coach at all, but a nationally recognized dance instructor. Professor Cornelius Carter, director of dance in the College’s Department of Theatre and Dance, has been shaping young dancers at the Capstone since 1992.
Under Carter’s tutelage and with financial support provided by the College’s Leadership Board, six seniors in the program were awarded scholarships to “go pro” at the Broadway Dance Center (BDC) in New York. Undergraduate students James “JJ” Butler of Birmingham; Alyssa Marks of Florence; Mary Jane Mitchell of Columbus, Ga.; Desmond Nunn of Anniston; and Shey Thorn of Grand Bay; will participate in the summer professional semester there. A sixth student, Alicia McGinty of Bethel Park, Pa., participated in the spring professional semester at the BDC.
Carter has had a longstanding career with the Alvin Ailey Dance Center in New York and spends his summers as an instructor and choreographer for the center’s Summer Intensive Program. This connection allows him to build relationships at Ailey and in the New York dance community that ultimately benefit his students at UA.
Last summer he attended several performances at the Broadway Dance Center where he met the director, Bonnie Erickson, at the request of colleague John Virciglio, an adjunct dance faculty member and guest artist in residence in the College’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Carter quickly forged a professional relationship.
That relationship took a major leap forward last fall when Carter invited Jim Cooney, a choreographer and faculty advisor for the Broadway Dance Center, to come to Tuscaloosa to present master classes to dance majors. Cooney’s visit was made possible by funds raised at last year’s Arty Party, the fine and performing arts fundraiser sponsored by the College’s Leadership Board and its Fine Arts Committee.
Since its inception nine years ago, the Arty Party has raised more than $250,000 to support the College’s five fine and performing arts programs. Last year’s event provided the dance program with $27,000 for student scholarships and to fund visiting lectureships by professionals like Cooney.
“All of us on the fine arts committee are thrilled when we hear that funds raised from the Arty Party result in bringing national professionals to campus,” said Paula Quarles, co-chair of the Fine Arts committee. “But we are all the more delighted to learn that this investment by the Board has led to dance students being funded to study in New York. Now that’s results!”
While at UA, Cooney attended the Dance Alabama! Fall Concert. “The student choreography was very creative and well executed, and the dancers were excellent. I see so much dance, and I told them that it is rare I see new ideas—it’s not because I’m jaded, it’s purely because I’m, luckily, exposed to so much dance,” Cooney said. “However, at the UA concert, I saw so many new ideas and concepts! It was just delightful.”
Cooney said the high level of talent and professionalism spurred him to call his home office in New York for a very special request of additional scholarships.
“This was the first time he had asked to give more scholarships, and it was the first time in the history of the Broadway Dancer Center that they did that,” Carter said.
The professional semesters at the BDC are unique, Carter said, because they are a chance for students to work personally with some of the top professionals currently working on Broadway. The program includes intensive dance training, pragmatic industry education, and invaluable networking. Each semester concludes with a dance showcase where students have a chance to get signed with an agent or cast in a Broadway production.
Carter said it was a challenge to decide who the scholarship recipients would be. There were so many dancers who were ready for the experience. In the end, Cooney and Carter offered all six scholarships to seniors who could go directly from the summer professional semester into professional experiences.
Scholarship recipient Shey Thorn described the opportunity as “humbling” and “eye-opening.”
“This amazing opportunity has made me realize that my hard work and dedication have been noticed and have completely paid off,” Thorn said. “Through this experience, I know I made the right decision to become a professional dancer and most importantly to attend The University of Alabama.”
Such pre-professional workshops and internship opportunities, made possible by the connections of the faculty members, have earned the dance program an enviable reputation as a destination of choice for aspiring professional dancers and have placed it in high demand. Carter notes that in the last 11 years, the number of dance majors has increased from 35 to 135.
Just like other tough UA coaches, Carter and his fellow dance faculty members recruit the best students by offering them the best. Opportunities such as the BDC scholarships are a boon to the program, which attracts high quality students from all over the country.
“And when the students see that the Leadership Board, our college alumni and friends, are supporting this kind of quality and their ambitions, it adds a championship strength and distinction to the program that few can match,” Carter said.
Carter was also asked to take a troupe of UA dancers to New York to perform as guest artists for the Broadway Dance Center in May. This opportunity to dance on a prestigious national stage gives his students motivation to work their hardest, Carter said.
“Our program is very demanding, but the students love it because of the results,” Carter said. “We know what we want out of the dancers and know what the field demands,” he said. “Once you get the students in that mindset, then you are able to help deliver them to their dreams.”