National Center for Choreography elevates variety of dance forms at the University of Akron
Established in 2015, the National Center for Choreography at the University of Akron (NCCAkron) is an incubator for dance. NCCAkron invites artists from across the country into the studios to create new work and to teach new steps to students.
A unique partnership
NCCAkron is one of only two national centers for choreography in the country. The nonprofit operates out of the University of Akron’s Guzzetta Hall with seven dance studios.
“We are solely dedicated to research and development and don't produce shows. So instead, we're here to foster the creative process and enhance the national dance ecosystem,” said Christy Bolingbroke, hired in 2016 as the center’s executive artistic director.
While independent of the university, NCCAkron partners with the University of Akron’s dance school by coordinating with faculty on programs that complement and contrast with the school’s curriculum. One of those faculty members is NCCAkron Assistant Professor of Dance Wilfried G. Souly, originally from Burkina Faso, who arrived at UA in 2022.
“The choreography center was one big attraction for me because in my work I like to constantly be creating something new,” Souly said. “(NCCAkron) allows us to bring many choreographers who have a different vision than what we are doing here in the department.”
Moving dance forward
Bolingbroke acknowledged modern dance of the 20th century lacked diversity.
“A lot of dance programs in the country were built in the mid-20th century, mostly by white women, mostly taking over women's gymnasiums,” she said.
NCCAkron opens its studios and teaching facilities to a more diverse group of choreographers from across the country with its 21st Century Dance Practices series, now in its fourth year.
“We’ll bring in six different teaching artists making work today, some of them building off of the knowledge in the 20th century, some of them making up their new practices today and working with the UA faculty,” she said.
Weaving in African dance
One of the choreographers visiting the center for the series in 2023 is from Cleveland. Errin Weaver, the executive artistic director for Mojuba! Dance Collective, specializes in West African dance, which Souly had suggested Bolingbroke highlight.
“I've been teaching Umfundalai technique, which is an African contemporary technique that was developed and cultivated by the late Dr. Kariamu Welsh, out of Temple University,” Weaver said. “I'm so grateful to have shared in one of the modern classes for three mornings this week… it's really been a joy.”
During a recent Friday morning class, Weaver put Akron dance students through their paces with Souly accompanying on an African drum.
“I threw a lot at the students at one time,” Weaver said. “You start to tap into the emotion because it's coming from a deeper place inside rather than just trying to create shapes. And so that's what I try to inspire when I'm teaching classes to push you, to challenge you to know that there is more.”
The class responded well to the Weaver’s challenging steps after just a few days of practice. Souly was impressed with the students drive and energy.
“(Umfundalai technique) is one of these forms when you look at it where you cannot really fake it... No, you have to really give yourself. And once you give yourself, it's pushing you more,” Souly said. “I like it because it's broadening our perspective of dancing.”