So you think you can dance? You’re right
Partnership with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance helps students learn valuable career skills, connect with community and find personal empowerment.
Connection is key for Lisa Engelken, a Metropolitan State University of Denver alumna who recently returned to Denver to teach at Cleo Parker Robinson Dance’s Summer International Dance Institute.
“Pretty much every culture dances,” said Engelken. “Depending on your belief system, it can be a form of worship or medicine. At the end of the day, it’s a way to process and heal collectively.”
The partnership between MSU Denver’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the long-running, internationally renowned Denver-based dance company affords students access to cross-discipline career-building expertise, said Nicole Predki, faculty member and co-director of the University’s Dance program.
She cited reports from the World Economic Forum projecting that by 2025, 50% of the workforce will require reskilling in areas such as collaboration, self-discipline and creative problem-solving, all attributes cultivated by the arts. And thanks to the partnership with CPRD, MSU Denver students have access to touring performers and gain demonstrable programmatic leadership from teaching, internships and other opportunities in community programs and schools.
“A major goal of ours is to get people employed in dance and the arts,” Predki said. “I can’t say enough about what Cleo and her organization have done for our community.”
This kind of community collaboration drew Tamarra Justice Pratt to the institute and its MSU Denver Intensive.
“Today has really been great to help get me out of my comfort zone,” said the MSU Denver junior pursuing an Individualized Degree Program combining Dance, Theatre, Journalism and Social Work. “Learning all the different techniques and engaging with the dancers is something I’ve never done before — it’s a really beautiful process,” said Justice Pratt, who’s interested in developing nonprofit programming to use creativity in processing trauma.
Like Justice Pratt, Engelken, who completed an Individualized Degree Program in Social Action Through the Arts in 2012, believes in dance as a vehicle for social change.
Born in Denver, she began taking classes at CPRD at age 3, eventually assisting classes at 12 before making her way to MSU Denver and becoming an instructor for the dance company. She credits her coursework in Africana Studies, Chicana/o Studies and Gender, Women and Sexualities Studies for helping to amplify “art for a purpose.”
“As a white woman here in Denver, I’m so grateful to have the opportunities and experience with Cleo I have, being immersed in an Afrocentric organization rooted in Black culture,” she said.
Engelken’s Breaking Barriers dance company aims to continue exploring intersections of art and identity while building community. She splits her time now between Los Angeles and Denver, and her passion has led her to tour with the Reminders, coordinate backyard pop-up performances with Flobots and direct choreography for Denver music breakouts Neoma and Kayla Marque.
Hannah Slate appreciates the opportunity to develop a comprehensive understanding of the dance world that the collaboration provides. In addition to performing on the CPRD stage, Slate was involved behind the scenes, working with lighting and stage management.
“I always come back to dance as a form of expression,” she said. “It’s how I connect to people and learn best; it’s how I live. It’s been such a gift and treasure to get to work with (CPRD).”
Slate, a senior Dance major, teaches ages 2-18 at the Mile High Dance Center as well as courses at Leap Dance Studio and serves as poms coach at Cherry Creek High School.
Originally from Hawaii, Nohealani Rufo has also embraced the applied-arts career trajectory. The MSU Denver Dance major helped organize the intensive and lauded the sense of community she has discovered studying and working within the field and alongside CPRD, calling it “an amazing experience that inspires a continual striving for excellence.”
Predki and Rufo emphasized dance’s ability to serve as a vehicle for personal empowerment, giving students the leadership skills so highly prized by employers in all fields.
“I’m not always great at speaking my feelings, but through dance I’ve been able to find my voice,” Rufo said.