Dance alumnus Katie Swenson ’05: What she is doing now in Colorado and at CSU
Dance Alumni, University Center for the Arts | March 02, 2012
Katie Swenson ’05, dance teacher and visiting dancer with the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, came back to Colorado State University to teach an advanced modern Master Class this month.
“Even though I am no longer with the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble on a daily basis, I brought some of my ties with the company to class. I touched upon some Horton technique, Dunham technique, some movement from CPRDE repertory, and some of my own choreography. Within this past year, I saw some of the CSU dancers perform, so I know what beautiful movers they are. It was exciting to see how they attached themselves to the movement in my class,” said Katie.
We sat down with Katie to relive some of the memories she had with CSU and to ask what she is doing with her performing arts degree now.
Major and year graduated?
Ensembles/dance groups you participated in while at CSU?
CSU Touring Group/Ensemble
What brought you to Colorado State University? Why did you choose CSU’s Department of Music, Theatre and Dance for your education?
When I began at CSU, I was there for Occupational Therapy, which soon became Sports Medicine, with the aim of becoming a physical therapist. I often wonder where I would be had I continued with that. Two years into my time there, I switched to a dance major after having committed a sizable amount of time to rehearsals for student and faculty performances. As a very quiet and quite often socially awkward person, I thrived on the connection that I made with the teachers and dancers within the department. I felt that I was being more true to my being by immersing myself in dance.
What are you doing now?
I am currently teaching a variety of dance classes in and around Denver, as well as working with Santos Designs, which is a company based in Dancesport Colorado that makes custom ballroom gowns.
I spent the last 4 years dancing for the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, an international touring modern repertory company. I have had the opportunity to work with and perform the choreography of masters such as Katherine Dunham, Donald McKayle, Alvin Ailey, and Milton Myers. We recently traveled to New Zealand, where we were able to take part in Maori ceremonies and perform for their Takitimu Festival. Shortly after returning, I had the opportunity to perform in a new role in Cleo’s annual production of Granny Dances to a Holiday Drum. For the past few years I have enjoyed playing the part of Grandmother Spider in the Native American scene of this show. Recently I took on one of the lead acting roles, playing Cantadora, the Dreamweaver and friend of Shakti (Cleo), Granny’s Guardian Angel. It was quite refreshing to get a new perspective of the show.
What is your fondest memory of the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance at CSU?
I remember really enjoying Tech Week for all of the concerts we produced. When show time rolled around every semester, I got excited in anticipation of the late nights in Johnson Hall. The culmination of all of those rehearsals aroused a magical and energized feeling, even if most of us were tired from being in classes all day. Blocking the dances and waiting for the tech crew to set the lighting queues always took a long time. ‘Move downstage right.’ Wait 10 minutes. ‘Next place.’ Wait 15 minutes. ‘Next please.’ With all of the downtime came lots of joking, playtime, and bonding. By the time the tech rehearsal was over most of us were ready to go to Old Chicago or IHOP.
Favorite professor, director?
I love and respect each one of my professors for different reasons.
Jane Slusarski-Harris is responsible for nudging me into the dance department while I was still majoring in Sports Medicine. I had gotten involved in a student-choreographed piece for the dance department’s Studio Night Performance, which was chosen for a faculty concert, and from there chosen to represent the school at the American College Dance Festival. While on the trip, she made sure to point out my potential as a dancer and suggested that I add a dance major. She, a very assertive personality, and myself, very stubborn and childish at times, butted heads a couple of times while I was in the department, but not once did I ever feel that I didn’t fully have her support. She helped to push me through.
Linda Heine-Nebbiosi, in charge of the Touring Group when I started with them, was always very nurturing. A realist with a love for Italy that surfaced on a regular basis, Linda was that teacher who would occasionally do something while demonstrating that would remind you that, yes, she could out-dance you if she needed to.
Judy Bejarano, Lee Cooper, and Lisa Morgan were also teachers with very loving spirits, ready to help their students get to the next level.
Melissa Corr, my ballet professor for the bulk of my time at CSU, put up with a lot from me, and I mean A LOT. There has always been something about ballet that I feel my body can’t relate to. Melissa, supported me CONSTANTLY, as I tried to keep my ridiculous fear of ballet from overpowering my love for it.
Chung-Fu Chang came into the department around the same time that I did with his big smile and sinuous movement. When I’m moving, choreographing, structuring a class that I’m going to teach, I find that my own movement quality mimics what I learned from him. That movement quality is what I enjoy taking to the stage.
Carol Roderick was not a full-time faculty member while I was at CSU, but during her visits for the Pedagogy course, she most definitely offered up the no-nonsense approach to dance. She always came in with her hair perfectly in place, a pleasant smile, and her tiny feet that point so beautifully as she demonstrates–delicate in every way. Except, once she started to teach, you started to get a picture of just how hard-core she really is. She is definitely a teacher’s teacher.
What did you take away from the dance program that you use in your daily or professional life?
I often find that when I’m planning classes my excitement for the movement tends to cause me to add to its complexity. I have to tell myself to be clear, clean, and simple. I don’t want to stifle myself when I’m feeling creative, so I let it flow out, but I like to take a step back afterward and simplify some of the material. That definitely came from my experience at CSU. I find that this need for clarity is an integral part of my dancing and performance as well. At all times, I strive to be clear and strong in my movement.