The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Guest artist teaches GV dance students technical, artistic exploration

Courtesy | Dayton Contemporary Dance Company

This past week, dance students at Grand Valley State University had the opportunity to learn from guest artist Devin Baker, a dancer and rehearsal director at the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC). Students also helped Baker choreograph a new piece influenced by African American culture and history.

During his visit to campus, Baker taught several modern dance classes to GVSU dance program students. Additionally, Baker worked alongside GVSU Assistant Professor of Dance Edgar L. Page to develop a separate choreographed piece for Page’s pursuit of a Master of Fine Arts in Dance (MFA) degree.

Rooted in the awareness of the African-American experience and culture, DCDC ranks in the top 20 African-American arts organizations in the country. GVSU’s dance program invited Baker to expose students to his dance approach at a technical, choreographic and personal level. 

Alaina Hogan, a dance and mathematics major at GVSU, said she appreciated the challenge of dancing in a piece with such a meaningful and powerful message. Hogan said with Baker’s recent visit, GVSU’s dance program demonstrated the program’s goal of introducing students to a variety of styles in order to make them well-rounded dancers. 

Some students felt Baker’s instructional approach helped guide students in their artistic exploration.

“Baker brought a sense of character, integrity and clarity,” Hogan said. “You have to know what it feels like to move with certain emotions (and) how to make it look authentic.” 

Baker’s modern class focused on the Horton technique, which combines elements of Indigenous dance and movement studies. The Horton technique relies on strength and flexibility through consistent motion, including flat backs, “lateral Ts” and hinges.

When not instructing students, Page and Baker worked to create a piece that incorporated Page’s research on the Griot, a caste of performers and storytellers from Africanist tradition. Having previously danced together professionally, Baker and Page have remained in touch and look for chances to work together.  When working on his MFA thesis, Page said he jumped at the opportunity to bring Baker and his “unique library of information” to campus to help with his piece.  

Furthermore, Page said Baker brought valuable insight in what it takes for students to make dance their profession. Dancers were encouraged to ask Baker questions on how to go from studying dance as a student to getting paid in the highly-competitive dance field after their time at GVSU. Additionally, students were able to get a glimpse of the high-level demand required to achieve a professional dance career. 

“Baker understands the work needed to be a dancer of the highest caliber,” Page said. “He has been sharing so many amazing anecdotes and gems of knowledge from his journey from student to professional dancer to rehearsal director.”

Page said it is paramount for GVSU’s dance program to continue bringing guest choreographers like Baker to campus because they all bring “lived experiences” they can share with students. Hogan echoed a similar sentiment. Hogan said she loved the opportunity to learn from someone who brought considerable experience and knowledge.  

“They (guest choreographers) offer us (dance students) connections to the world and real-time, real-world knowledge that we get to soak up like sponges,” Hogan said. “We learn techniques that we may not have been introduced to otherwise, thus we are more prepared for stepping into the real world and have more of a basis to succeed.”

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