a lifetime of dance
I have been dancing my entire life, and I have always believed it to be the brightest and best part of what it means to be me. I consider it an honor to be in a field that is a celebration of human existence, and my roots in dance go back to the very beginning of my life. My mother, Gwen Owens, was a professional dancer in London, and she came to Dallas when she married my Texan father, Bobby Owens. He had been stationed in London during his service in the navy. I was two years old and one of my mother’s first students, when she created London School of Dance. Proudly in its 53rd year, it is now co-directed by my sister, Misty Owens. Growing up in London School of Dance was the highlight of my childhood. We were always performing in the community at shopping malls, assisted living centers, talent shows, festivals and fairs. I studied ballet, tap, jazz, and musical theater. Dance was the center of my life.
I spent many hours after school at the studio, and was able to observe my mother, who is a very gifted teacher of children. I assisted my mother in class when I was a teenager, and by the time I was seventeen, I was able to teach a class by myself. I loved teaching dance, and I taught in studios when I attended college. I was not exposed to modern dance until my bachelor studies at The University of Texas. It was very exciting for me, because I connected to it intellectually in a different way than any other dance form. Modern, born in the 20th century, was relevant to me with its emphasis on time, space, force, and movement invention. It was creative, fresh, and new. I had the pleasure of dancing with UT’s Dance Repertory Theater, and in my final year, we performed in Scotland at an International Youth Festival. Upon graduation in 1989, I received the Morton Brown Award for academic achievement. After graduation, I went back to London School of Dance in Dallas to teach for my mother, but I had a strong calling in my heart for something new, something different.
I felt strongly that growing up with dance had given me a sense of confidence and awareness of myself. I was very interested in the connection between self-esteem enrichment and dance education. Up to that point, I had primarily worked with middle- to- upper class Caucasian girls. I wanted to reach a wider range of students – students in the broader community that might not ever sign up for a dance class. I also wanted to work with students with a range of abilities – including those with physical or cognitive disabilities. These ideas led me to my graduate studies at The University of Utah.
The U of U was one of the only graduate dance programs in the nation at that time which had a Master of Arts in Modern Dance, with an emphasis on dance education. It was also the home of Anne Riordan, my mentor and thesis chair. Anne was one of the forerunners of dance for people with disabilities and created Sunrise Dance Company in the 1970’s. I was able to dance with Sunrise every week, and I learned so much about dance for all populations when I was at U of U. My thesis involved the inherent esteem-enriching aspects of modern dance education. My graduate studies crystallized my philosophy and goals for my life as a dance educator.
I received the Dee R. Winterton Award for outstanding achievement upon graduation. I am so grateful to have studied modern dance with many great teachers during my college studies, including Abby Fiat, Heywood “Woody” McGriff, Shirley Ririe, Yacov Sharir, Sharon Vasquez, Kate Warren, and JoAnn Woodbury. They all had a tremendous influence on the dancer and educator I am today.
At the end of my studies, I was one of 5 graduate dance students in the nation to be selected for the 1993 National Endowment for the Arts Artcorps Program. It involved a six week dance project in Monmouth, Illinois, a rural community with a large population of people with disabilities. During this invaluable experience, I taught dance to all levels of children and adults with disabilities. I led teacher workshops on integrating dance into academic curriculum, and I directed a dance concert with groups from all over the community. It was an experience I will always treasure.
I returned to Austin in 1993, inspired to create my own dance school and do meaningful work in my community. I am living that dream, and I feel so fortunate to be dancing and working from the deepest longings of my heart. My school at Café Dance is soon to be in its 24th year. It is a school devoted to the creativity and individuality of modern dance. With an emphasis on improvisation, the individual student is at the forefront of the experience, rather than spending time imitating the teacher. I have curtains on the mirrors to be used discriminately, because our dance has much more to do with how we feel than how we look. In the words of Isadora Duncan, I want the movement to “spring from the student’s innermost being”. It is an honor to dance in Café Dance, a barefoot space under the direction of Kate Warren, a dear friend and colleague, who was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work with modern dance in Austin.
I have also directed the WINGS program at Crockett High School for 25 years. Designed for teenagers with learning disabilities, the students take weekly dance classes. Every Spring, we travel to elementary schools to share our work. Most recently, we have been performing ABCMeMove—an interactive journey through the alphabet, and it was seen by over 1000 school kids in 2019.
I have taught in many settings over the years, and I have enjoy working in schools with boys and at-risk youth. I teach annually at a women’s correctional facility through the Beyond Bars program. I have WINGS II for older adults at McBeth Recreation Center, and I direct a pre-school dance program at Mt. Olive Lutheran School.
Today I continue to be amazed at the universal power of dance, across diverse populations of children and adults. I see students coming to know and value themselves in every setting that I teach. To move is to be human, and dance has been part of the human experience throughout our history. I believe in the power of dance to celebrate life, and to unite, inspire, and express the uniqueness of each member of the human family.