When senior Weston Krukow dances, the world simply slips away. He feels free and open and, well, happy.
“Internally, at first at barre, I’m getting into my body,” he ponders, focusing on what’s happing within. “I’m trying to lift out of my hips and really reach and work on my footwork and by the time I start warming up and understand what I’m doing, then I start to project. I start to think, ‘How can I make this movement bigger? And how can I show what I’m feeling inside, on the outside?’”
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Krukow is one of a rare breed of about 50 male students at the University of Arizona School of Dance. With a total of 150 dancers, the UA stands out from every single program of its kind, with the highest ratio of male-to-female students in the United States. That difference is by design, according to Jory Hancock, Ph.D., dean of the College of Fine Arts, who says that the UA actively recruits excellent male dancers from across the nation.
That difference was an important factor for sophomore Gianni Howell, whose focus is tap.
“Where I’m from, we had guys at our studio, but there was one or two,” he says, “so coming to a school where there are 50 guy dancers...it’s almost like a new experience in dance all on its own.”
A Conservatory Environment, A Research-1 University
Aside from the proportion male-to-female students, many other factors attract serious dancers to the University of Arizona, among which are the facilities, the professors and the university as a whole.
“The students in this program are so dedicated to their art form, so they’re really focused on dance,” says Hancock. “But many of them are double-majors…engineering, business, pre-med. So it’s important for them to be in a conservatory environment like the U of A School of Dance, but on a campus that’s a Research-I university.”
Here, students can study practically every aspect of dance, including ballet, tap, modern, jazz and musical theater, and they can supplement that study with an endless choice of academic pursuits allowing for limitless life opportunities.
“I decided to minor in business because when I’m done dancing I want to own a competition,” says Howell. “I want to own a studio. And just in case anything happens with dance, I always have that minor to fall back on.”
As for junior David Maurice Johnson, he looks forward to a lifetime of dance.
"When I graduate, I just want to dance in every aspect of the word...choreography, teaching, performing, traveling, getting lost in the advanture of this career and life choice."
A Laboratory for Dance and Discovery
When it comes to the facilities where UA dancers train and perform, the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre is state-of-the-art, with sprung floors, a large stage and a small house that allows for close, intimate connections between dancers and audiences. Because the space only seats 300 people, the program offers a large number of performances allowing each dancer to experience the stage in front of an audience 40 or 50 times each year.
“We’re so lucky to have this space for our dancers to enjoy and for our faculty to be able to use,” says Hancock, who appreciates the opportunities the theatre affords for pushing the limits and promoting innovation and discovery.
“It’s a state of the art laboratory like any science lab would be. But for us, this is our laboratory.”
A Ruthless Education
In that laboratory, student’s minds and bodies are worked ruthlessly in classes like that of visiting professor James Clouser.
“The attitude towards ballet is an interesting thing with young men today because they come from a background where ballet is something a little bit foreign, a little bit elite, a little fancy-pantsy,” says Clouser. “They come from a milieu where street dance is what turns them on.”
But through his instruction, these dancers transform themselves into true professionals.
“Every day we come in and he’s ruthlessly working on our technique,” says Krukow, who came in to the UA confident in jazz and ballet, but with no experience in modern. “What the U of A has given me is an incredible, well-rounded knowledge.”
Students like Howell are soaking up everything the UA has to offer, embracing the ruthless regimes of the curriculum.
“I chose the U of A because of their wide program,” he says. “And me being primarily a tap dancer, that couldn’t please me more because now I’m getting every single technique in this one school while also on a beautiful campus.”