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Pirouetting Outside of the Classroom: Experiences at Miami City Ballet

By: Michidael Ceard

Students attended a Miami City Ballet Open Barre performance on Sept. 19 to expand learning opportunities outside of the four walls of the university classroom. 

Dr. Sean Erwin, assistant professor of philosophy at Barry, invited his Judeo-Christian doctrine philosophy class to attend an Open Barre performance of “Rodeo,” the traditional ballet choreographed by Agnes de Mille. It originally premiered in 1942 but was revamped by popular ballerino Justin Peck in his choreography “Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes.”

The Open Barres act as teasers for future Miami City Ballet performances and facilitate discussion with the community on ballet as an important dance style. Special guests are invited to moderate the series and Barry’s own Dr. Erwin was selected to facilitate this Open Barre. 

Across the U.S., learning environments are beginning to encompass and complement experiences outside of standard lectures. According to research published in 2015 by Dr. Gerardo Gonzalez, professor of psychology at California State University, a great student experience in the 21st century encompasses “greater learning communities.” 

These learning communities are characterized by service-learning opportunities, field visits, and even attendance to different artistic events. Professors at Barry are jumping on this wave as they seek to include their students in community projects in which they are already involved.

In the case of Erwin, he is an experienced ballet critic with the Miami City Ballet. He offered pertinent information on the cultural context of De Mille’s and Peck’s version of “Rodeo” where most of the dancers in both ballets were men. With ballet being a predominantly female style, both offered social criticism on gender norms and rules in dance. 

Agnes De Mille's "Rodeo" performed worldwide *Photo courtesy of google images*

Afterward, student dancers at Miami City Ballet performed a full sequence from Peck’s interpretation of “Rodeo” to entice viewers to attend the full performance in 2020. 

Although dance seemed to have no obvious correlation to religious philosophy, Erwin believed that the experience was important for his students. 

“There is a branch of philosophy called aesthetics,” said Erwin. “Aesthetics is often theory-focused, and art often takes a backseat position. The event was to approach the area of aesthetics from a different vantage point.” 

And, his students were appreciative. 

Andres Jaramillo, freshman finance major, experienced his first encounter with fine arts through his Judeo-Christian doctrine philosophy class. 

“This was my first time experiencing ballet and it was definitely moving,” said Jaramillo. “Overall, I didn’t know what to expect, but I found it beautiful and something I could see myself exploring more.” 

Susannah Young, a freshman communication major, said it was interesting and said she “felt honored to attend.” 

The ballet allowed students to critically think about their place in the world as well as the factors influencing the lives around them. 

As Barry students are committed to social justice and a quest for knowledge, the Miami City Ballet allowed students to form opinions on the purpose of both ballets without necessarily knowing everything about the dance style. 

Young did feel confused about the ballet performance when attending. Nonetheless, she realized that the takeaway was much greater than the smaller details she did not understand. 

“I wish I would have known more about the ballet and the histories of both ballets so I could have understood more,” said Young.  “But, I learned a lot about different viewpoints…in ballet and how different styles can be incorporated through music and dance.” 

In addition, Jaramillo was able to make the connection to social justice and the larger world context. 

“The juxtaposition between fast and slow was very well choreographed and sheds light on the topic of gender roles in the 21st century,” said Jaramillo when commenting on Peck’s interpretation of “Rodeo.” “There were different elements [in the new version] that were both energetic and calming.” 

Erwin hopes to continue the tradition of exposing students to cultural arts in Miami and will be incorporating more outside learning opportunities in his future class curricula.

“I’d like to develop a philosophy of art class that investigates the standpoint underlying the character of the art,” said Erwin. 

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