SRU students embrace Asia Pacific dances at Hawaiian festival


Group attending Hawiian dance

Slippery Rock University dance majors Kate Lehr (front row, third from left) and Kathryn Monsell (back row in blue tank top) worked with the ASK Dance Company from Malaysia and other students attending the Asia Pacific Dance Festival Intensive in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Aug. 29, 2019

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — It is said that hula, the popular dance developed in Hawaii, expresses all that the dancer sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches and feels. For two Slippery Rock University students, hula and other forms of dance from Hawaii, Asia and the Pacific could not be fully learned, or appreciated, without having such a multisensory experience in person.

Led by Melissa Teodoro, associate professor of dance, two SRU dance students -- Kate Lehr, a senior dance major from Pittsburgh, and Kathryn Monsell, a senior dance major from Lewistown -- attended the Asia Pacific Dance Festival Intensive, July 22 to Aug. 4, at University of Hawai'i at Manoa in Honolulu, Hawaii.

"The festival recognizes similarity and diversity, and honors the past, the present and the future by enhancing exposure to, and understanding of, many of the rich forms of dance from Hawaii, Asia and the Pacific," Teodoro said. "Because the values and belief systems of people are embedded in their dances, dance is an ideal window through which to expand our understandings of, and gain insights into, our own worldview and those of others."

Teodoro has led SRU students to the APDF every other year since 2011. While there, students learn about dances and cultures by participating in workshops with visiting dance companies and Hawai'i Manoa dance faculty, and by attending festival performances. The SRU students worked with and attended performances by the Dancers of Damelahamid, a professional Aboriginal dance company from the northwest coast of British Columbia, Canada; ASK Dance Company, a collective that performs traditional and contemporary dance from Malaysia; and Hula Halau Ka Noʻeau, a hula dance group from Hawaii.

"It was great to be able to engage in other people's culture," said Lehr, who earned three credits for her World Dance course by attending the intensive. "With Hawaii being equidistant to all these different places including Japan and Malaysia, you have the opportunity to watch as these cultures merge and you're able to indulge in different cuisines and experience the diversity of dance."

Lehr was trained as a ballet dancer before coming to SRU, so having the opportunity to travel and learn new dances firsthand from the instructors provided opportunities for a deeper learning experience. During the intensive, students attended daylong workshops where they not only learned the dance moves but the history behind them.

"I didn't have much prior experience with hula or these indigenous dances," Lehr said. "There's a lot of chanting and storytelling and it was cool to be able to experience something different. We got to learn some of these hand gestures or footwork and then see it performed at the festival. As an intensive student, I'm grateful to have been able to engage in this experience. It gave me a whole new perspective, not only as a spectator but as a student."

"(The students) enjoy journeying beyond movement through thoughtfully designed lectures and discussions that provide the insights that cultivate true understanding and growth as a dancer and a human being," Teodoro said.

Lehr will share her experience at the APDF with the SRU community on a yet to be determined date.

To learn more about SRU's Dance Department, click here.

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