Antonio Brown Teaches Next Generation Of Dancers At Cleveland State

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Cleveland native Antonio Brown studied dance at the prestigious Juilliard School and now dances professionally in New York.

However in recent years, Brown has returned home to share his skills as a choreographer with students at Cleveland State University.  

Growing up in Cleveland as an only child, he has vivid memories of dancing.

"Memories of me dancing to Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' in my living room over and over again. I knew all the dance steps when I was very young. My mom was like, 'you have way too much energy,'" Brown said.

She also realized Brown's raw talent.

"She asked me if I wanted to go into a performing arts school to really learn how to do it, and I was like, I mean, 'why not?'" Brown said.

Brown attended Newton D. Baker School of Arts and later the Cleveland School of the Arts where dance teachers like Bill Wade, Michael Medcalf and Terence Greene became his "dance dads."

Especially Greene, who encouraged him to apply to Juilliard. 

When Greene discovered Brown was procrastinating, "he pulled me out of my dance class, sent me to my guidance counselor, and I sat there for the rest of the afternoon and filled out my whole Juilliard application," Brown said.

Brown was accepted. After graduating from Juilliard in 2007, he auditioned for the renowned Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in New York. He made the cut and spent more than a decade as a company member.

All the while, Lynn Deering, Cleveland State University dance director, kept an eye on Brown's progress. 

Lynn Deering, CSU dance program director [ideastream]

"Antonio is this huge, luscious mover that just takes over the space and has this beautiful sense of changing of dynamics. Yet I always feel like I'm looking at him as a person, as an individual, that there's this depth to what I'm seeing," Deering said.

Deering invited him to come home and set new dances on her students.

Antonio Brown brown leads CSU dance students during class [ideastream]

"From there it was, 'c'mon make a dance for the CSU dance company students. C'mon do it again. Why don't you bring in your dance company?' And then, from there seeing how can we take advantage of having this lovely artist go deeper into what they have to share with the students," Deering said.

This year that relationship took another step.

Antonio Brown teaching CSU dance students [ideastream]

"Lynn was like, 'I have a bigger idea. Why don't we bring you in to guest teach, to be a guest teacher, guest faculty for the semester so you can get to actually work deeper with the students,'" Brown said.

Brown has spent the semester commuting from New York City to spend four days a week teaching at CSU's dance studios in Playhouse Square.

Brian Ward Jr., CSU dance student [ideastream]

CSU dance student Brian Ward Jr. was challenged by the fast-paced choreography while he relished the interaction with Brown.

"One of our members in the company, she did this little move with her shoulders and Antonio was like, 'do that again, I like that.' She did it and it's part of the routine now. So it's like any instant something could change, and it's like we all see him developing his piece right in front of us," Ward said.

CSU dance students Sage Rook and Brian Ward Jr. rehearse [ideastream]

"I like to just take things step by step and let the room organically start to make itself. I try to allow access to all those points to get people moving, get people interacting, see what stories I can pull out," Brown said.

Antonio Brown teaching at CSU [ideastream]

Brown has traveled the world as a dancer, but Cleveland is where he believes he can leave the biggest impression.

"How can I give and share these experiences with people in my hometown, who might not even know that those things are even accessible for them?" Brown said.

Antonio Brown leads his students in a free, public showcase December 6 at CSU's Middough Building.

In April, a full performance of Antonio Brown's new piece for Cleveland State takes the Allen Theater Stage in Playhouse Square as part of the school's Spring Dance Concert.
 

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