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Modern dance professor brings ‘fresh perspective’

Published: Monday, December 5, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:09


Carl Bloss

Garfield Lemonius is the Conservatory’s newest addition to the modern dance faculty.

For Garfield Lemonius, nothing compares to being in a studio and teaching. The newest associate professor of Modern Dance has used his teaching talents in a variety of schools across the country.  Now, he brings his unique philosophy to the students of Point Park University's dance program. 

Lemonius realized his passion for concert dance at a young age, while watching a television performance by English dancer Wayne Sleep.

 "That morning when I saw that I thought ‘that's the dancing that I want to do,'" he explained. "Dancing is just one of those things that you either want to do it or you don't."

He did not originally pursue dance as a career.  He started his education at York University majoring in environmental science and education, but after two years he realized his passion was dance. He entered York's dance program, eventually earning degrees in both dance and education.

"After two years," he explained, "it was enough…The drive was there.  It's something I felt I needed to do.  That innate passion for something like dance will supersede anything else."  

At York, he met many influential teachers, including his Limon teacher Donna Krasnow, who taught lessons in performance quality "as well as the clarity, how does the body make movement mean something?"  He continues to use her philosophy in his teaching today.

After college, Garfield knew that he would like to be in an internationally-touring company, so he joined Dallas Black Dance Theatre, a contemporary touring company that holds performances all over the world.  During his time with them, he was one of the only United States dancers chosen to perform Awassa Astrige/Ostrich, a work by Asadata Dafora that features a male soloist mimicking the moves of a bird. Performing the work taught him the concepts of "connectivity and sequential movement," leaving a lasting impact on his dancing.

After finishing with the company and performing as a guest artist elsewhere, Garfield combined the skills from both his dance and education degrees and became a distinguished dance teacher.  He has taught in schools across the country prior to Point Park, most recently the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, many of whose alumni are now Point Park dance majors. 

 "He was always very dedicated to his students and really cared about them and trying to help them succeed," Erica Messonnier said, a freshman dance major and Booker T. graduate who studied with Lemonius said. "He's one of those teachers where you don't want to give up and you want to keep trying.  He's also a fun teacher.  You can feel comfortable in his classroom.  You have the freedom to try new things."

Senior dance major Monique Delgado agrees. 

"He has a complete understanding of what he's teaching," Delgado said.

"He knows how to break it down to the smallest detail. And I love his professionalism in class.  When you walk into the room, you feel like you have to be respectful."

Garfield brings a unique teaching philosophy, which he calls "The 3 R's," to all of his modern technique classes.  The first "R" stands for rigor. 

"The training has to be rigorous … challenging enough that the student doesn't feel too comfortable," he said. "In order for growth to happen, the program has to be rigorous to get them out of their comfort zone."

The second "R" is for relationships, which means that Garfield has to learn where students are coming from, and what their individual learning styles are. 

"They have to learn it's okay to make mistakes, and not feel chastised or less than, because they did not get it the first time," he said.

 The final "R," for relevance, means the material has to be related to what is required of dancers in today's industry. 

"The classroom is a matrix of the real world.  Whatever you do has to relate to the real world," he said. He adds relevance does not mean the great artists of the past should not be revisited.  "That's not to say something that's old isn't relevant," he said. "It's an instructor's goal as a facilitator to help students make that connection."  

Garfield cites these "great artists" of the past, including Lester Horton, Jose Limon and Martha Graham, as being influential on his teaching and dancing today. 

"We cannot help as dancers but to be influenced by all those who went before us," he observed. "We do not exist in a vacuum."

Other influences of his include Afrocentric movement by choreographers such as Chuck Davis, as well as contemporary ballet, especially by dancers Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden.

He appreciates the "way movements are conveyed" by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, and thinks that contemporary ballerina Sylvie Guillem "can do it all.  That to me is phenomenal.  She inspires me to create movement that allows dancers to be versatile."

It is this versatility that he is trying to instill in his Point Park dance students, whom he says have a "breadth of knowledge that is truly unmatched. Point Park's got a lot going for it already.  I will continue to offer the students a fresh perspective of what the professional dance world is like.  I will bring my professional dance experiences here in terms of offering students new movement vocabulary."

For Lemonius, being in the studio teaching is his favorite part, but as for his least favorite part of the job?

"When that happens," he said with a smile, "I'll let you know."

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