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Dance Program Initiatives Lead to International Scholar Exchange

You know Chicago’s winter is particularly brutal when visiting students from Finland say they are a bit stunned by all of the snow.

Saana Ojala, Professor Billy Siegenfeld, and Mirva Vaananen inside the Marjorie Ward Marshall Dance Center

“The weather here is… surprising,” says Saana Ojala, one of two fourth-year dance students from the Arts Academy at Turku University of Applied Sciences in Turku, Finland, who are visiting Northwestern this 2009 winter quarter. Ojala and Mirva Vaananen are undergraduate scholars doing research at NU’s Dance Program courtesy of the “Memorandum of Understanding” co-signed in 2007 by Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer and Risto Hypponen, director of the Arts Academy at Turku University of Applied Sciences. The memorandum, which pledges “cooperative relations between the two universities and mutual enrichment of their teaching programs,” was the result of several years of work in Jump Rhythm Technique taught at Turku University by Northwestern Dance Professor Billy Siegenfeld.

Siegenfeld met Ojala and Vaananen in 2005 when he first taught the technique at their university while serving as a Fulbright Senior Scholar there. The two students immediately became interested in learning the approach, an innovative system of dance training that Siegenfeld created. Now, four years later, they are excited to research its pedagogy in greater depth here at Northwestern. 

Ojala and Vaananen rehearse with other Danceworks 2009 performers

In addition to observing Jump Rhythm classes, Ojala and Vaananen will perform in Siegenfeld’s “You Do Not Have to Be Good,” a performance for Danceworks 2009, and will also serve as both interns and junior company members with Siegenfeld’s Chicago-based performing-teaching company, Jump Rhythm Jazz Project. They will perform with the company in its lecture-demonstration at Northwestern’s Josephine Louis Theatre on March 7.

Siegenfeld says that Ojala and Vaananen were selected for this exchange program because they demonstrated a passion for Jump Rhythm classes and choreography over the four years he worked with them in Turku.

Jump Rhythm Technique, Siegenfeld says, is a “rhythm-first” approach to movement learning that transforms the dancing body and scat-singing voice into high-energy, emotionally focused percussion instruments. 

“People in Turku love it,” Vaananen says, explaining that the city’s home theater is always overflowing when Siegenfeld and members of Jump Rhythm Jazz Project present lecture-demonstration performances, which explain the technique and feature dances using its language of rhythm.

Siegenfeld instructs dancers for his Danceworks 2009 performance ‘You Do Not Have to Be Good’

Both Ojala and Vaananen hope to take their experiences at Northwestern back to Finland, where they would like to eventually teach Jump Rhythm Technique either at their university or private dance schools after they graduate in May.

Siegenfeld says he hopes this exchange will lead other Finnish dance students to study at Northwestern – and that it will also encourage Dance majors from Northwestern to study abroad at Turku University of Applied Sciences.

You can see Ojala and Vaananen perform along with other Northwestern dance students in Danceworks 2009; performances begin Friday, Feb. 27 and continue through Sunday, March 8. Thursday-Saturday shows are at 8 p.m., while Sunday performances are at 2 p.m.  Choreographers for the tap, Jump Rhythm Jazz, ballet, modern, and contemporary forms are members of the nationally and internationally acclaimed faculty of the Dance Program, directed by Dr. Susan Lee. You can order tickets online.