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UNCG alumna Shayla Taylor with the Urban Bush Women dances alongside students in a studio classroom.
UNCG alumna Shayla Taylor with the Urban Bush Women dances alongside students in a studio classroom.
Shayla Taylor ’20

“Bust the box! Over the top! Step! Step! Take a stand!”

As Mame Diarra Speis, artistic director of the Urban Bush Women, called out to more than 30 of UNC Greensboro’s School of Dance students across the studio floor, she demonstrated how dance is more than movement.

She showed them how to turn it into storytelling.

Her warm-up was a mix of movement and philosophy. Speis told them, “We are all entering this space with our own unique voices, our own unique stories. That is what allows us to make space for our work to breathe and to thrive. Bring in who you are, every aspect of that as an offering to the space, an offering to those with whom you share the space.”

Speis introduced students to dances from Senegal and Zimbabwe, sharing with them the history linked to those movements, and inviting them to build off of this movement.

“Have you ever tried to bust out of something?” she says, while showing them a kick. “Have you ever felt resistance? What have you said ‘no’ to? What is ‘busting the box’ on your scale?”

Alumna becomes a mentor

Dancing alongside the students was alumna Shayla Taylor ’20, who joined Urban Bush Women after she graduated from the School of Dance. Sometimes, she danced beside individual students as they moved across the floor, drawing out more expressive movements during their one-on-one interaction.

“Dancers are the pen, the paper, and the story,” she says. “It’s a lot to hold within our bodies. It can be hard sometimes holding on to so many stories, emotions, communities within our bodies, and then expressing them.”

Ally Marley, Laniya Smith, and Anna Clymer are all juniors in the BFA dance program. It was an incredible opportunity to blend their experiences with those of professionals and underclassmen.

“I love coming into a space full of people whom you don’t dance with often or at all,” says Smith. “I can watch them and take something from them. I learned from my peers today.”

She was excited to work alongside an alumna. “Watching Shayla dance, I thought about how I’ve always wondered what I might do in the future. Seeing her get into a company and doing so well is inspiring.”

For Taylor, the masterclass was also a reunion with her own support system, particularly School of Dance Director Janet Lilly.

“I wanted to fall into her arms and cry,” she says. “Knowing that I had Janet always rooting for me, even when I wasn’t physically here, kept me going. When I saw her and had that full-circle moment of coming back into her office, my heart was exploding.”

A breath of fresh air

A dance student slides across the studio floor during a masterclass.

Marley says this masterclass complemented regular coursework requirements of the juniors.

“When we’ve been taking the same classes with the same people, and we’re at a halfway point as juniors, we can become subconsciously tired. This was like a breath of fresh air. It’s helpful to have this class at this point in the semester, to bring us out of the norm and wake us up.”

“Speis kept encouraging us through the class,” says Clymer. “During the warmup, she talked about being present, to feel our feet planted and rooted in the ground. She encouraged that idea of being sturdy and strong and inserting yourself into it. It felt liberating.”

Speis, who has been dancing professionally for more than twenty years, was delighted to help the students grow and build up their confidence. She looks back at the people and the moments that pushed her forward and tries to give that support to a group of students who still feel vulnerable.

“When I think of myself, even today, I’m always growing,” she says. “Sometimes growth is challenging, and transformative growth requires us to be in some uncomfortable places. What I try to do is create a safe space for people to give themselves permission to do this.”

Speis ended the exercise with a message that is both encouraging and challenging:

“See…and be seen.”

Story by Janet Imrick, University Communications
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications

Woman dances in the Weatherspoon Art museum courtyard.

Find your spot on the dance floor

The UNCG School of Dance offers bachelors and masters degrees that provide specialized skills for a variety of careers in the evolving field of dance, as artists, educators, and scholars at the state, regional, national and international levels.

 
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