SRU students learn how dance helps overcome language barriers


Dance students in Italy

Twenty-three Slippery Rock University students traveled to Italy, May 21-31, to take dances classes and visit sites like the Amphitheatre of Pompeii, the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater.

June 20, 2019

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Dance, one could say, is one of the most expressive forms of unspoken communication. Its power to overcome language barriers was a lesson learned by a group of Slippery Rock University students during a 10-day faculty-led, study-abroad program to Italy.

The trip, May 21-31, led by Lindsay Viatori, assistant professor of dance, and Jesse Factor, instructor of dance, featured 23 students learning unfamiliar dance styles and experiencing how techniques they studied at SRU are interpreted in a different country.

"That's the cool thing about dance: you don't need to speak the same language to understand; everything is communicated with the body," said Olivia Barner, a junior dual exercise science and dance major from Hermitage. "We're on the other side of the world and we can see how a technique is exactly the same and they are teaching the same principles."

The SRU contingent took four dance classes in Italy, three in Rome and one in Florence. They studied modern dance from independent Italian instructors in hip-hop and the Martha Graham technique. The Graham technique, created by the American dancer and choreographer of the same name, became popular in the 1930s and 40s and is taught at SRU by Factor. Students also took classes in dance styles that are not taught at SRU, like Italian folk dance, including the Tarantella, and Baroque, which is a style that uses simple steps but with intricate arm motions that was a precursor to what is now ballet.

"The students had a wonderful time and they loved learning these different styles of dance or just having a different experience with a style they already knew but in a different country," said Viatori. "It was wonderful for the students to see how small the dance world really is and how many connections there are with different dancers around the world who know each other."

The program was organized through SRU's Office of Global Engagement with a third-party agency, Anglo Educational Services, which coordinated in-country transportation and housing and negotiated contracts with the dance instructors. SRU faculty made the connections with the dance instructors and their studios. Many were established by Nola Nolen, a retired SRU dance professor, who previously took a group of University dance majors to Italy.

In addition to the four classes, the students were able to visit tourist destinations like the Colosseum, Vatican City and the ruins of the Amphitheatre of Pompeii, the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater, which was once buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The experience also helped students learn about foreign cultures and international travel. Many of the students, like Barner, had never previously traveled outside the United States.

"It felt like a different world, in the best way," Barner said. "It was cool to see how different people live their lives. The trip taught me about 'European time;' they don't rush and they take things really slow. In America, our schedules are so rushed and we're always up against deadlines. Being immersed and learning about a different culture helps you to be open to anything that comes your way."

"When students travel the world and experience a different culture, their lives are completely changed," Viatori said. "It's such a transformational experience to see how life is in a different country and the importance that different cultures place on the arts and how arts affect quality of life. Our students went in expecting to have an incredible time but they left completely transformed."

For more information about study abroad opportunities at SRU, contact the Office of Global Engagement at 724.738.2057 or click here.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |