SRU student receives grant to study dance improvisation in Nashville


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Front row, far left, Slippery Rock University dance student Olivia Barner was among 26 dancers enrolled in a weeklong intensive in Nashville, Tennessee. Her participation was made possible through an SRU Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities grant.

Jan. 30, 2020

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Improvisation, by definition, is the act of creating something without preparation. But when it comes to researching dance improvisation, that's something that took a lot of time and effort for one Slippery Rock University dance student.

Olivia Barner, a junior dual exercise science and dance major from Hermitage, studied the dance technique of improvisation last year in a class taught by Jennifer Keller, professor of dance. Under Keller's guidance, and after a month of preparation last fall, Barner applied for and received a Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities grant from SRU for $1,000 that she used to further her research of improvisation. Thanks to the grant, Barner attended the Creative Process Research Winter Intensive, Jan. 6-10, at New Dialect, a professional contemporary dance company in Nashville, Tennessee.

"Olivia took information and an opportunity and ran with it," Keller said. "The workshop has supplied her with more tools and methods for expanding her movement research."

The workshop was led by Banning Bouldin, New Dialect's artistic director and resident choreographer, who worked with more than 26 dancers, mostly early-career professionals.

"Banning taught us her creative process and the tools she uses to create new work and ways to think outside the box," Barner said. "This was a way to break out of the same ideas and techniques that we like to use, kind of like when you have writer's block, but for dance."



Dance improvisation is the process of spontaneously creating movement, facilitated through a variety of creative explorations with the body and shapes. Examples Barner provided included tracing an object in the room with body movement, going from one side of a stage to the other making only circular movements, or making movements to represent the temperature of a room.

"An instructor would give you an idea, like making all shapes (with your body) that are angular, so you can use improvisation as a tool," Barner said. "(Dance researchers) can film themselves improvising and then they can take pieces of that and use it to set choreography. It's about taking in everything that's around you and applying it to your dancing."

Dancers enrolled in the weeklong intensive met twice a day, with a technique class instructed by Banning, followed by work with company dancers from New Dialect.

"This was great experience because to be around a more experienced group of dancers and to see what's possible in a dance career and understand the path that you need to follow (to achieve success) is critical," Barner said. "There are jobs and projects out there for me and there are opportunities, and just making connections with people from all over the country is important, as well as the things you can take from it and bring back into your studies."

Barner plans to present her research at SRU's Symposium for Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement, April 9, in the Smith Student Center. She will also use what she learned to set choreography for her classmates at SRU.

"I'm proud of the way Olivia has immersed herself in a physical and creative practice that is evident in both her performance and choreography," Keller said. "When you watch Olivia in a performance setting, you see that she has a special ability to keep vitality in all parts of the body at once in what we call 'presence' in the field of dance."

To learn more about the Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities grant, click here. To learn more about the SRU Dance Department, click here.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |