Kayla Muirhead dances while wearing a mask during one of her classes. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Virtual dance series hosts talented artists every week to teach students

Oct 21, 2020
Kathryne Davis
Madia Cooper-Ashirifi leads her dance class.
Madia Cooper-Ashirifi leads her dance class. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

The Brenau University Department of Dance is fostering growth and expanding the networks of its students through a weekly Virtual Guest Artist and Lecture Series featuring internationally acclaimed choreographers and artists, Brenau alumni and other experts in their fields.

Hosted each Friday via Zoom, the weekly series includes workshops and lectures in which the guests teach students a new dance or share stories of what they have done throughout their careers to become successful. Madia Cooper-Ashirifi, Dance Department chair and assistant professor, came up with the series after dance classes shifted to more nontraditional formats due to COVID-19.

“The reason we’re doing this is to keep students motivated and engaged,” Cooper-Ashirifi said. “The students can watch whether they’re at home or on campus. We wanted to engage the on-ground students because they can’t have an in-person concert. This has taken the place of theater, even though we will be having a pre-recorded virtual concert later.”

Past artists and experts in their fields have included physical therapist Brigid Gillis, Emmy-nominated choreographer and international tap star Chloe Arnold, Brenau dance alumni Derrick Smith, Delight Moore, Gabrielle Angle and Brianna Wiggins-Smart, former Brenau dance chair Vincas Greene, and three-time Emmy award-winning choreographer Marguerite Derricks.

Arnold is the artistic director and founder of the all-female tap company Syncopated Ladies, whose viral videos have accumulated over 50 million views. Her work has been featured on TV, film and stage.

“I had the best time taking the class with Chloe Arnold,” said Jenna Patton, sophomore dance and theatre major. “I’ve had a few years of tap here and there, but I wouldn’t consider myself proficient in the dance style. Chloe was so kind and good at explaining things. It’s also just incredible to take class from someone with such a successful career.”

Students keep a distance as they practice dance moves.
Students keep a distance as they practice dance moves. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Highlights so far of the series have included Brenau students learning new dances from Arnold, Greene and Derricks, hearing experiences from alumni about their time at and after Brenau, and learning how to take care of their bodies from Gillis. All of the artists and experts shared experiences with the students to help them figure out how to work on their careers after graduation.

Derricks, the most recent guest, has worked on television shows True Blood, The Mindy Project, the Gilmore Girls revival, Will & Grace, Dancing with the Stars and CSI: Miami. She has also worked on movies such as Tropic Thunder, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Austin Powers, Charlie’s Angels and Little Miss Sunshine. In addition to her television and film work, Derricks has worked with Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz and Adele, for whom she choreographed the award-winning video for “Chasing Pavements.”

“Through the Zoom sessions, I learned that COVID-19 cannot stop the outpouring of opportunities for dancers,” said Tiffany Kovash, sophomore dance major. “Being able to connect with a renowned choreographer and other artists shows just how well Brenau faculty and students are committed to creating new learning opportunities. I am very grateful for Professor Cooper-Ashirifi’s dedication to bringing in inspiring artists and all Brenau University continues to offer students.”

Other upcoming artists include Allyne Gartrell, founder and artistic director of the Atlanta Dance Connection, on Oct. 23 and Nicholas Palmquist, dancer and choreographer working in a wide variety of dance genres, on Oct. 30.

For more information on the series, contact Madia Cooper-Ashirifi at mcooper3@brenau.edu.