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Personal best: at the Boulder Jazz Dance Workshop, students measure growth in more than technique.

Twenty-eight years ago, Lara Branen and Michael Geiger, both students at University of Colorado, had a plan: to start a workshop that used jazz dance as a vehicle for personal growth. They would combine transpersonal psychology (the psychology of health and human potential), which was an influence on Geiger, with dance. What that really meant, when they put their plan into practice, was they wanted young men and women (16 and older) not only to learn to dance but also to be in an environment that nurtured and encouraged them as individuals. The workshop they created became known as the Boulder Jazz Dance Workshop (BJDW). Eventually, Geiger left to dance in New York, but Branen stayed on to direct the workshop, which now takes place every July for two weeks. She wanted to keep their dream alive: "We want a supportive atmosphere to permeate the entire workshop, and are committed to the mission of empowering students," she explains.

Nearly three decades later, students and teachers can't seem to get enough of it. Lauri Anderson, who has attended BJDW for more than seven years, first as a student and now as a faculty member, explains why she keeps coming back. "I am pushed to new personal limits while being part of an extremely supportive and non-competitive environment," she says. "It's a lot to pack into two weeks, but it's beyond worth it."

In keeping with its original plan to foster creativity in its students, BJDW doesn't hold formal auditions. Branen does ask that only intermediate or advanced students sign up.

Students sign up for as many classes as they wish. They can either pick individual technique classes (in jazz, modem, jazz funk, ballet barre, or hip hop) or join the full performance track where they work to create a student show at the end of the two-week session. The performance trackers can also receive college credit. Of course, it's good to sign up early, because Branen keeps the class sizes small.

BJDW offers seven repertory classes with a maximum of 16 students in each class so everyone gets the attention he or she deserves. "What I love about BIDW," says Alexandra Stratton, a recent graduate of University of Arizona, "is the personal attention you receive from the teachers and the choreographers." Students choose among three levels of jazz rep, one musical theater class, two levels of modern rep, and hip hop. Most students sign up for one or two rep classes; some focus on jazz and modern, but most pick one specialty.

Students can also sign up for the choreo-feedback class, where they bring in their own choreographed pieces, get feedback from the faculty, and perform them for the Student Show. It's a demanding process. Theresa Venturini, a dancer from Denver, says, "The program does an amazing job of challenging students and developing a full evening's concert in just two weeks." Stratton agrees. "Since all the dancers, faculty, and company members have been working so closely together over the two weeks, the final show is low stress and very fulfilling."

In addition to the regularly scheduled classes, the faculty and guest teachers offer seminars twice a week. The topics range from auditioning to the use of imagery, from authentic movement to Fosse.

Students aren't the only ones who perform at the end of the summer workshop. BJDW is also home to Interweave Dance Theatre (IDT), a collective company made up of BJDW faculty members, other graduates of BJDW, and a few dancers chosen at the March audition. The company performs original pieces choreographed by the BJDW faculty. One of the perks of being in the company is a scholarship to all the technique classes offered at BJDW, so each year the company members also get to be students. The more advanced BJDW students get to take class with the company members.

Sumi Clements, a dancer in New York City and a first year IDT company member (she's returning in 2006), knew after her first summer that she wanted to take part again. "I can't emphasize enough how fantastic this workshop is. Everyone has a deep investment in dance. The passion and excitement are both contagious and inspirational."

Linda Sparrowe is a freelance writer living in Boulder, Colorado, and a frequent contributor to DANCE MAGAZINE.
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Title Annotation:2006 summer study guide
Author:Sparrowe, Linda
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Words:713
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