Jessica T. Pearson Modern Dance Growing up in the suburbs of Connecticut and attending a private school with a mostly-white student body, Jessica Pearson’s mother sent her to Dee Dee’s Dance Center in New Haven, a predominantly black dance studio where she was able to gain more access to a community that reflected her racial identity. “There was a certain aesthetic at that studio—to dance hard, to be powerful and to have performance,” Pearson said. When asked how these early experiences have manifested into her professional career as a dancer, she said laughing, “I think it’s how I get noticed.” Pearson was noticed and was selected as a Raymond C. Morales Fellow for the Department of Modern Dance at the University of Utah in 2012. Pearson was chosen not only for her excellent pedagogy and teaching philosophy but to bring a technique not regularly offered to the department, The Horton Technique. “It is a very linear technique—has to do with various exercises to strengthen or gain flexibility in certain body parts,” said Pearson. Founded by Lester Horton, The Horton Technique was established on the West Coast while the majority of the modern dance movement was happening in either New York or Europe. This technique, she explains, offers another approach to more established modern dance practices, further widening a dancer’s approach and vocabulary to their craft. While the Department of Modern Dance offers a variety of dance styles to the students, The Horton Technique brings a kind of attention to line and precision that will effectively deepen the education and training of dance majors at the U. After her undergraduate studies at Maryland’s Towson University, Pearson began dancing professionally with the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble in Denver. Her first solo for the company was in acclaimed choreographer Carlos dos Santos’ Divinities. Having a successful run and response in the troupe’s home base in Denver, the piece was taken to New York City to be performed at the Joyce Theater. “My picture and review of the show was in the New York Times on Aug 20, 2003 — my birthday. It’s a memorable
experience from many angles,” laughed Pearson. After five years with the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Pearson decided to earn her MFA in Dance from the University of Colorado Boulder. She was interested in gaining a theoretical understanding of dance to add to her physical application. “It challenged me in a new way—I knew dance as only a practitioner and was ready to dive into theory,” she said. She says a seminar class on race and gender was particularly challenging initially, because she didn’t understand its relationship to modern dance. “I didn’t get the relevance of it at first,” she said, “but after a while, I saw how it really started to transform the way I looked at dance.” This change was the spark that made Pearson pursue a career in education. Now at the U, Pearson says her students are extremely positive and inspiring. “They are driven, they want to perform, they want to collaborate,” she said, admiring their dedication. “They are always in the building!” In January of 2013, Pearson presented at the 2013 International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and in the Fall of 2013 she taught “African American Experience Through the Lens of Dance and Entertainment” through the University’s Department of Ethnic Studies. She initially found the prospect of teaching a semester-long lecture intimidating, but ultimately found the challenge rewarding. “It gave me the freedom to go deeper into the material than I could have with a typical dance history series,” Pearson says. Pearson’s experience as a Morales Fellow has given her the opportunity to grow as a choreographer and a scholar, as well. Her piece for the Fall Performing Dance Company concert, It Continues, marked an important developmental step for her as a choreographer. According to Pearson, “I made a piece that was about something. It had meaning and substance and research behind it. It was a piece about social justice. A next-level piece for the next level in my career.” ≠
5 STUDIO / 2014
The official magazine of the University of Utah College of Fine Arts.