CONWAY, Ark. (October 24, 2012) – Hendrix dance instructor Brigitte Rogers hasn’t stopped dancing since she learned her first step-ball-change as a three-year-old student at Sandy Horne Studio in Centerville, Miss.
Born in South Carolina, Rogers lived across the south in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. After Sandy Horne, she stayed with dance at a succession of small town studios, including Lana’s School of Dance in Lonoke, Ark., and former Miss Arkansas Mickey Petris’ Studio Allegro near Carlisle, where Rogers lived.
“Itching to get out and about,” Rogers skipped her senior year of high school and headed to Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, which offered a minor degree in dance.
“I knew I wanted to study dance, but I didn’t know quite what to put with it,” said Rogers.
Influenced by her mother, a high school home economics teacher, she considered the college’s fashion merchandising program before selecting theatre as a major.
At Henderson State, she auditioned for the role of Meg in Crimes of the Heart, her first speaking role.
“I was hooked and thought, ‘This is it. I want to perform’,” she said. “That’s where acting and dancing really merged for me, and it really brought dance to a performance level.”
“College really opened up modern dance philosophies and theories for me,” said Rogers, who balanced her modern study with traditional style by training with Ballet Arkansas throughout college and appearing in several performances, such as The Nutcracker and Cinderella.
After graduating in 1995, she went to graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss., for her MFA in theatre performance. She created her own curriculum of acting and dance, studying all styles, including ballet and jazz.
“It was really holistic in that regard,” she said.
In her graduate school admission essay, Rogers wrote that she wanted to bring theatre performance to areas that were unaccustomed to performing arts. So after graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1998, she returned to Arkansas and worked for the Little Rock Arts and Humanities Promotion Commission. She taught acting and creative movement to six- to 16-year-old students in an inner city summer school program.
“It was a wonderful experience for them to see they can do it,” she said.
At the same time, she remained professionally active in dance, taking master’s classes in Little Rock with veterans such as Dennis Glascock from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats.
Before joining the faculty at Hendrix, Rogers taught high school speech and theatre in England, Ark., where she was able to incorporate movement and dance into theatre productions and curriculum.
When she arrived at Hendrix in 2006, dance was strictly available as a physical activity credit through the Kinesiology Department.
“I was excited because dance had not really been fully developed here,” said Rogers, now a visiting assistant professor of dance.
She found instant support within the Theatre Arts Department, which quickly realized how dance could contribute to the theatre performance curriculum.
Rogers worked with theatre professor Danny Grace to create full-course credit dance courses.
“Danny was very supportive,” she said. “We created the curriculum for each course and studied dance programs at other liberal arts colleges.”
“We wanted it to be specific to Hendrix and be available to every Hendrix student,” she said. “I wanted to be able to do that because of the way I’ve always studied dance … I believe everybody can move and everybody has a place.”
Once the curriculum was in place, Hendrix began offering a minor in dance in fall 2009.
“We hit the ground running and brought dance into the academic mainstream,” she said.
With the support of Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning, the Hendrix Dance Ensemble now performs every year at the American College Dance Festival. The group participates in the annual Conway Arts Festival and presents a concert in the fall, which Rogers choreographs, and a student-choreographed spring concert. In addition to performing, Hendrix dance students often teach at local studios in Conway and Little Rock.
Dance was just one part of a newly expanded Theatre Arts and Dance Department, Rogers said. In the last few years, the department has added alumna Cheri DeVol, who teaches theatre and serves as technical director, and costume designer Dr. Constance Campbell.
“That’s big new growth for Hendrix,” she said. “The college has realized we need that technical support to study performance.”
In addition to working with her Theatre Arts and Dance Department colleagues, Rogers worked with classics professor Dr. Rebecca Resinski and music professor Dr. Karen Griebling on a production called Fragments from Sappho.
Rogers’ dance students have also worked with choir director Dr. Nancy Fleming and the Hendrix College Choir on a production of The Unicorn.
“I love collaborating,” she said. “It’s an experience every professor should have.”
Rogers would like to see the college eventually add an additional faculty member in dance to add additional techniques courses in a variety of styles and more levels of technique.
Having a second company of the dance ensemble, a black box theatre or small proscenium to alleviate the logistical burden on the existing facilities, and developing a touring production to go to elementary and high schools for recruiting and community outreach are also on the list for the future, she said.
But for now, she’s pleased with the trajectory of the dance program in such a short period of time.
“It’s amazing to reflect on it and how it is now,” she said, adding that the college now offers some scholarship opportunities for dance students. “We’re in a really good place.”