People & Places

VIDEO: Cornell College Summer Dance Institute offers students diverse learning experience

Free performance set for 7 p.m. Friday in Mount Vernon

Ethel Calhoun, West African dance instructor at Cornell College’s Summer Dance Institute, observes as her students demonstrate the choreography they have learned for Friday’s showcase. (Alexandra Olsen/ The Gazette)
Ethel Calhoun, West African dance instructor at Cornell College’s Summer Dance Institute, observes as her students demonstrate the choreography they have learned for Friday’s showcase. (Alexandra Olsen/ The Gazette)

MOUNT VERNON — From each floor of Cornell College’s Armstrong Hall a different genre of music bleeds into the halls from nearby rehearsal spaces.

Upstairs, six ballet dancers warm up to classical piano music and on the lower level a mixture of contemporary music and jazz propels another six dancers as they prepare for the long day of dancing ahead.

These 12 students, ages 12 to 19, are participating in Cornell College’s first-ever Summer Dance Institute, a week program that offers interdisciplinary training in ballet, hip-hop, jazz and West African dance.

“For a lot of them this is their first time having this real visceral experience with teachers outside of their norm,” said Alvon Reed, Cornell College’s dance artist in residence and co-director of the Summer Dance Institute. “Having these instructors with these enormous backgrounds in dance brings a diverse experience to these students, which has helped broaden their dance perspectives.”

Each of the program’s instructors has traveled to Mount Vernon to share their experience with the students, some from the East Coast and some from the West Coast.

Reed said he and co-director Adam McKinney, assistant professor of dance at Texas Christian University, began the program with a goal of engaging Eastern Iowa’s dance community by providing a diverse learning experience for young dancers.

“It’s a big opportunity that we don’t normally get in the Midwest,” said Nick Mendoza, 19, a break-dancer from Iowa City and a student in the program. “The teachers are really great. They give you a lot of freedom and a lot of feedback so they are very receptive to what you are doing.”


Catalina Moore, 14, a dancer from Williamsburg, said the diversity of instructors and disciplines is one of the reasons why she chose to take part in the program.

“My favorite part is all the new experiences that I’m getting and networking with the teachers and getting their feedback,” Moore said. “I’m a ballerina and I also do hip-hop so the West African is definitely different for me.”

Ethel Calhoun is the West African dance instructor for the program, she traveled from New York City and said she has been dancing for more than 16 years.

“They’re getting their first opportunity to really learn a traditional African dance,” she said. “It excites me that they’re excited about it and that they’re focused and really want to learn it, and they look good.”

Each student has learned choreography from all the disciplines offered. They’ll showcase what they’ve learned during a performance at 7 p.m. Friday at Cornell College’s Kimmel Theater. Admission is free.

Meet the dancers

Cedar Rapids — Maddison Lynn Bulman, 16.

Coralville — Ellie Grimm, 13.

Iowa City — Nicholas Mendoza, 19.

Mount Vernon — Sophia Elisabeth Andrews, 14; Ashlee Sue Elliot, 13; Brynden Arthur Fisher, 16; Abby Eileen Keen, 14; and Dallas Olberding, 12.

North Liberty — Amanda Parsons, 18.

Springville — Angelica Rose Barkalow, 16.

Urbandale — Kayli Karkiainen, 17.

Williamsburg — Catalina Moore, 14.



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