Kent State prof has all the right moves

Brianne Carlon

Assistant professor of dance Barbara Allegra Verlezza introduces her class to Dance of as Art Form yesterday in the Gym Annex. Leanne Cassidy, sophomore accounting major, yawns during the introduction but later said, “I used to dance and am excited abou

Credit: Ben Breier

Barbara Allegra Verlezza has taught many students not only technique and choreography, but also an appreciation for dance.

“Everything she says is encouraging,” sophomore dance major Amanda Clark said. “She always found a way to compliment and praise everyone.”

Verlezza, assistant professor of dance, was nominated by a Kent student for the 2005 Dance Teacher Magazine’s Outstanding Dance Teacher Award in Higher Education, presented to her on Aug. 8 in New York City.

“It continues to shock me,” Verlezza said of the award. “There is no one teacher. I share it with all my colleagues and everyone I have studied after.”

The ceremony was part of a three-day convention attended by over 500 dance teachers. Verlezza and her husband, Sabatino, took every class possible, she said.

“There were so many marvelous teachers on hand, and we connected with old friends,” she said.

Verlezza began teaching modern dance at Kent State as an adjunct guest instructor following 14 years at Adelphi University in Long Island. She now teaches all levels of ballet and modern dance as well as Dance as an Art Form.

“I enjoy teaching Dance as an Art Form because I get to touch base with students outside of the dance division and incorporate other styles of dance that I love, such as folk dancing,” she said.

She also teaches Professional Aspects in Dance, a senior seminar, which is “the next chapter into the work world,” Verlezza said.

Verlezza will again choreograph for the annual Faculty Concert this year, she said.

“Sabatino and I were invited to perform in the concert this year,” she said. “Performing in front of your students adds a little extra edge.”

Verlezza performed professionally in New York City under May O’Donnell, an American modern dance pioneer, until O’Donnell’s retirement in 1988. In 1989, O’Donnell gave the rights to her work to Sabatino, with whom she started Verlezza Dance.

“Verlezza Dance was picked to represent New York in the male choreography festival at Riverside Church,” Verlezza said. When they arrived, they saw a woman in a wheelchair on stage and assumed they were in the wrong place.

“We couldn’t even imagine she could be a dancer,” she said. At that moment, the lights went down and Verlezza and her husband witnessed the performance put on by the person in the wheelchair.

“It completely redefined dance for us,” she said.

After forming a friendship with the performer, Verlezza and her husband moved to Cleveland to work with Dancing Wheels, a company of dancers with and without disabilities. They adapted O’Donnell’s techniques for dancers in wheelchairs and continue to do so today. Verlezza served as associate artistic director, education director, principal dancer, faculty member and administrative director.

“There is a host of people out there who want to live the dance experience, and either have been told they couldn’t, or just haven’t been invited,” Verlezza said in her interview in Dance Teacher Magazine. “(Dancing Wheels) redefined this definition of who should be able to dance.”

Nine years later, Sabatino resurrected Verlezza Dance, where Verlezza serves as associate artistic director.

“KSU students have been a part of all of our shows,” Verlezza said.

Verlezza Dance put on two workshops this summer for people with and without disabilities.

Clark attended one of the workshops in Shaker Heights, where Verlezza Dance is based.

“It was a one week intensive [program] with a performance at the end,” she said. “There was so much growth that week. Not just me, but everyone.”

The company also held two workshops in New York City this past summer.

“I also spent two weeks teaching in Cyprus (an island in the Mediterranean Sea),” she said. She taught O’Donnell technique, modern and ballet. She also introduced the idea of workshops for people with disabilities since the island had yet to offer anything similar.

The couple also has brought dance to organizations such as the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation and the Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

Verlezza also included a sit-down dancer in a recent Kent Dance Ensemble performance, which was a first, she said.

Verlezza said she is excited about teaching this upcoming year.

“I look forward to being re-inspired by students already in the dance department and working with the new students,” she said.

Contact features reporter Brianne Carlon at [email protected].