Broadway comes to Guild Hall

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October 24, 2013

By Mike Killeen

Galen Higgins, a member of Rhythmic Circus, demonstrates a dance move.
Students try to mimic instructor Galen Higgins' footwork during the workshop.

Guild Hall on the campus of Saint John's University is a long way from the bright lights of Broadway, where actors gracefully glide across the stage and make dancing look ever so easy.

But on a recent cold and damp Saturday afternoon, 13 students got to tap dance - well, tried to tap dance - on risers set up in a corner of Guild Hall near where basketball players put up three-point field goal attempts.

"I can now scratch something off my bucket list," said SJU senior Brandon Dorsey after completing the one-hour residency with Galen Higgins, who conducted the clinic.

Higgins is part of the 11-member Rhythmic Circus, a troupe of dancers and musicians who performed their show "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" Oct. 19 before a sellout crowd at the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater, SJU - a show they will repeat in a little over a month on Broadway.

"I like teaching people this age because they're willing to try anything and have fun," Higgins said. "Being able to laugh at yourself is something you have to do when you are learning something. It's a lot of fun to see the growth that happens over a class, when they start with a move and go argh!, and then a half-hour later, they've totally gotten it and moved on to the next move."

"I always like to try something new," said Broc Auringer, an SJU sophomore from Mantorville, Minn. "I thought it was good, something different. I wanted to give it a try. I always like a good challenge."

The workshop was a collaboration between Dorsey, a resident assistant (RA) on first floor Saint Bernard Hall, and Deb Lehman, director of community outreach of Fine Arts Programming at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University.

Lehman has tried for many years to work with RA's on residencies with visiting artists, like Rhythmic Circus.

"We started talking about it. He (Dorsey) got excited about the possibility. Basically, we had one residency, and I asked him if he wanted to run with it. And, he did," Lehman said. "He has marketed the event, he's garnered the excitement, he has gotten the excitement going. I mean, I can imagine what it took to get a bunch of Johnnies to say 'Sure, I'll try tap class.' "

"She (Lehman) showed me a video of Rhythmic Circus, and I fell in love with the video I saw and I thought, 'Wow, this would be a phenomenal opportunity for the guys to acquire a new skill while working with a world class group and seeing phenomenal performers up close and personal,' " Dorsey said.

"The cool part about it is hopefully we'll make a connection between Residential Life and Fine Arts Programming that allows future RA's to create a simple system for Fine Arts Programming to connect with RA's this year and in the future to provide floor events that are with these world class performers," Dorsey said.

He added that his students gave "energetic, positive responses" when they heard about the event.

"A couple of guys have asked to bring their girlfriends, and a couple have asked if we can just invite women in general so that they can see that these guys are learning to dance," Dorsey said.

Higgins, who has been dancing since he was 3 years old, gave the dancers an energetic hour of instruction, which included learning how to moon walk like Michael Jackson. He concentrated on the rhythm of tap dancing, starting slowly and gradually increasing the tempo. The session concluded with a jam circle, where the participants showed off their best moves.

"Rhythm is such a big part of this," Higgins said. "Because some of these kids have been playing music, they've got the rhythm to see how to apply music into their technique, and vice versa."

Auringer, who plays trumpet and piano, appreciated Higgins' sense of rhythm.

"It's a lot different when you're playing it with your feet than with your hands," he said. "It's a different kind of art. I liked it a lot."

Watch a short video clip of the workshop.