Associate Professor Duane Cyrus has had the career that all aspiring professional dancers dream about.
He’s toured internationally with renowned modern dance companies like the Martha Graham Dance Company. He’s performed in musicals, including the original London production of Lion King. And he’s worked as an independent artist, performing, teaching and making his own work.
When asked about his success, Cyrus credits his entrepreneurial spirit – something he helps develop in his students.
Cyrus firmly believes that the arts can – and should – translate into successful, professional careers.
“I’ve always believed that there is no such thing as a ‘starving artist.’ That’s a myth, there’s no need for it,” he said. “A smart professional has a strong business acumen.”
In addition to the courses he teaches on dance technique and choreography, Cyrus teaches a career strategies course open to all students in UNCG’s College of Visual and Performing Arts.
“Students need to know how to launch a career, regardless of the discipline,” he said. “The class is about more than just teaching how to start a company – not everybody is going to do that. But everyone needs that kind of mindset and planning.”
Cyrus’ goal is to prepare well-rounded students in dance technique, choreography, dance education and professional practice. To do this, he often includes students in his own research and creative activity.
Cyrus worked with eight undergraduates, in addition to several recent graduates, on his research-based dance production “Hero Complexities” (formerly titled “Comanche: Hero Complexities”). The work, which premiered in September at UNCG Auditorium, explores themes of rescue, self-sacrifice and heroism when black male bodies are positioned in contemporary spaces.
The group will bring “Hero Complexities” back to the stage at the Collegium for African Diasporic Dance at Duke University and at UNCG’s Conference on African American and African Diasporic Cultures and Experience (CASE). Both events will take place in February.
In addition to his ongoing work with “Hero Complexities,” Cyrus is planning to revamp his 2010 piece “Middle Passage” in an effort to contribute to the discussion of the Atlantic slave trade in new ways. As part of the project, he is teaming up with Dr. Tara Green in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies and Dr. Colleen Kriger in the Department of History.
For Cyrus, UNCG provides him an opportunity to constantly create new work and to reimagine existing pieces. It also allows him to invest in students seeking mentorship. It’s this role of teacher-scholar that’s particularly gratifying for Cyrus.
“I think what’s most rewarding for me is what happens after our students graduate,” he said. “To see their success, to see them out in the world making their way, even if it’s not in dance – that’s something special.”
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography by Mike Dickens, Office of Research and Engagement
Videography by Grant Gilliard, University Communications