Memories from 90 Years of Dance

We asked our alumni to send in their memories to share with you. Enjoy this look back at our dance program through the eyes of our alumni.

Don’t forget to buy your tickets to our 90th Annual Spring Dance Concert and Alumni Dance Concert, March 1 through 3. See below for details.

Sharla Peterson Desentz  – Class of 1997

As a student who found the WSU dance program and company, I was thankful for that and all that it exposed me to, the ability to continue to perform, opening myself up to Modern Dance (which was unknown to me as an incoming student there) but allowed me to learn that my mind, body and soul was craving it!  I was able to experience a semester abroad at the Laban Centre for Movement & Dance my senior year, auditioning for – and getting selected to perform with – the Leni Williams Dance Company that was in residence was a major confidence booster for me and something that meant so much and still resonates with me!   I am still teaching dance, but also, thankful that I am still able to perform as a modern dancer with the established DDCdances modern dance company.  

Ashlee Merritt

Graduating from the dance program at WSU with my BFA gave me the platform and confidence that I needed to take a leap after graduation across the country and dance professionally in both L.A. Contemporary Dance Company (under direction of Genevieve Carson/Kate Hutter) and Clairobscur Dance Company (under direction of Laurie Sefton).

The experiences and tools that I accumulated from WSU provided me with a jumpstart on my professional career that I continue to invest in each and every day. I will forever cherish the three years I spent there, some of my most treasured and breakthrough moments were within those walls of Old Main! 

Paula Kramer  – Class of 1978

Well certainly my experiences at WSU have resonated continually throughout my personal life in Detroit and in St. Petersburg Florida. and in my professional career.  I could not have had better mentors than Ann Zirulnik and Ruth Murray and Georgia Reid and you!  And, oh my, the iconic teachers that came to WSU left me with emotional, intellectual and physical knowledge that continues to inform the choreographic and theatrical work that I am doing today.  I still have and refer to the lesson plans that AZ had us create so that for our exposure to students of all ages would be rich with multi arts experiences.

Of great importance is the fact that Detroit Dance Collective (now DDC Dances), a professional modern dance company, was formed in 1980 with WSU dance colleagues Barbara Selinger, Sue Darr, Anita Surma and myself. Just a bit later, Kay Davis Rediers and other Wayne dancers enriched DDC’s roster. The company reaches toward its 40th Anniversary still giving great service to the art form and to many arts communities.

I am grateful for the awards I received from the Dance Alumni Association, the Dance Department , the Department of Education and of course, the Arts Achievement Award from the university. My wish is that the present and future students reach for excellence in the art form and realize that they are now a part of a rich dance history that they must contribute to in a significant way.

Minou Carey Jones

My best memories with the WSU Dance Company are when we performed at the State Theatre and late night rehearsals to prepare for childrens’ concert and Spring concert.

My experience with the dance department provided me with life-long lessons that helped prepare me for my career as a Community Organizer.  I currently serve as the Executive Director for the Black Caucus Foundation of Michigan and I still dance. I have been a member of the Detroit Ballroom Dance Explosion Team for 10 years.

Denise M. Allen – Class of 1996

Most Memorable Memory at WSU: My most memorable memory at WSU is when Georgia Reid told me “To always be ETHICAL in your approach as a dance educator. This is the only thing that will matter in the end:”. To this day, I stand on that advice from a very dear DANCE EDUCATOR/ADVISOR from the Wayne State University Dance Department.  

Nia Silao 

Entering Wayne State University as a freshman, I was signed up as pre-med. Living in the dorms, I met a myriad of people and participated in many social events, but something was still missing. I missed dancing. Luckily, I was already at a university with a stellar dance program. Deciding to audition was scary. I was changing the trajectory of my life forever. And it was exactly what I was looking for. 

After training in a local dance studio studying ballet, tap, and jazz, being exposed to modern dance and improvisation felt uncomfortable to most, but fulfilling for me. I remember learning how to contract sitting on the floor like Martha Graham with Leslie Williams, executing mind boggling tendu combinations based on Cunningham technique with Jeff Rebudal, realizing there was another Ballet technique called Cecchetti and memorizing the positions of the body with Stephen Stone, running stairs and doing handstands with Ray Robinson, exploring the possibilities of time, space, and energy with Eva Powers, and becoming obsessed with Kinesiology (remember, I was signed up as pre-med!). 

I remember becoming infatuated with the connections between music and dance and learning how to edit my own music with Jon Anderson, and revelling over the fact that dance can be an intellectual field.

I remember meeting Meg Paul for the first time at Music Hall, participating in residencies and master classes with ballet, tap, and modern masters from all over the world.

I remember being encouraged to go to auditions all over the country and making it past most cuts and owing it all to my training. 

Yet, I also remember not wanting to move away. I began to see how graduates were making a splash in the Michigan dance scene. We were the big fish in a small pond. We danced in already existing companies, started our own, created dance festivals, provided quality education in schools and studios around the area. And I’m seeing what a difference this can make in a community, city, and state; and what a difference it made in my life. 

Seeing how this department has grown over the years makes me proud to be an alumni. It started as a section of the physical education department. Then it became its own. Now it is combined with Theatre and offering masters programs! The efforts and investments being made to recruit talent from all over the country, and to turn around and send out educated, open minded dancers back into the world is the most rewarding element of still being involved. Here’s to another 90 YEARS OF WSU DANCE!

Karen Leighton Amick

Dance Education offers a path towards innovative thinking with limitless possibilities.  Too often, there is an assumption that the creative path will serve only in the artistic environment without crossover to one’s overall career choice or daily life.  When one learns the process of creativity, one learns how make something from nothing.  The understanding of this process and learning to trust such a process is what allowed me to build the company I have today.  I have a saying mounted in my office, “a mountain is built one stone at a time.”  Dance education taught me which stones, how many and in what order to lay the foundation.  There is really not a day that my education in dance has not touched my life.   I am the Chief Executive Officer of the first and largest mental health case management company in Michigan.  Upon Quality Care Consulting’s inception, no one was using social workers or psychologists for case management of those who sustained a brain injury.  It was with a confidence and competence to apply innovation that I entered the field.  I already knew how to create and make something from nothing, and so there my task began.  I “choreographed” policies and developed systems within my company that are now a standard within my industry.  Mental health case managers are now used throughout Michigan for the care and recovery of brain injury.  Throughout Quality Care Consulting’s history, we have preserved social justice for the disabled.  QCC has navigated thousands of patients through the rehabilitation process and has given them access to their healthcare benefits and restoration of their personhood.  There is no question that the work done has saved lives.  It also preserves the quality of ones life and the lives of those who surround the injured.  I credit the education I received at Wayne State University for my ability to create.   I celebrate the ripple effect it has had within my life and the lives I have been privileged to touch.   As for my daily life, nothing gives me more joy then design.  I built and customized my home from an empty lot before I moved to the home where I now reside:  a historical horse and carriage barn.  I love and support the arts.  I support education that fosters the right brain child as I believe it will be the innovators of tomorrow that will be the key to our future.  

I have many beautiful memories at Wayne with a few standouts:  when I received the Copperfoot Award for choreography.  It was one of the proudest moments I can remember and was so life affirming.  Also, dancing at the top of Old Main.  The creaky floors, the sound of wind through the windows and the feeling of being one with the sky.  I remember Eva Powers inviting me to audition for a dance scholarship and telling me I have nice feet (pointed banana feet).  I remember receiving the scholarship and feeling validated in my passion of dance.  A very special thank you to all my beloved teachers at Wayne who helped me and fostered me to who I am today.  Congratulations Wayne and well done!

Marina Cantarella Russo

What I remember are all the hours of practice, my love of choreography, the performances and the all night parties!! And from all of this, I am the luckiest person because I have obtained and retained sister friendships that have lasted over forty years – THE DIVAS: Kay, Mary, Sandy, Portia, Linda, Gwen, Shelia, Susanne, Sue Ellen and me. These ladies are the greatest gift of all and I love them all!!

Martha Dobbs

In 2008, Dance Workshop had the pleasure of choreographer Jan Van Dyke setting her piece SPIKE on the company during a guest residency. After seeing the piece on film I knew I wanted to perform the title character role but thought it would be a long shot because of the immense talent in the company. So I was equally shocked and ecstatic to discover I had been cast in the piece and as the principal! I worked hard during rehearsals and continued that work after the residency had ended to connect with my character on such a deep level. SPIKE took Dance Workshop to Hunter College in NYC for the Sharing the Legacy Conference and my relationship with Jan provided the opportunity for me to learn one of her solo works, Luna, in conjunction with an undergraduate research project. 

Get tickets to our 90th Annual Spring Dance Concert

Celebrate our 90th Anniversary of Dance at Wayne with this thrilling weekend at the Bonstelle Theatre. Join us as we highlight national and international works from top-performing artists.

With only two regular performances plus one Alumni Dance Concert, you don’t want to miss the artistry and athleticism of our dance discipline.

Performance Schedule

  • Friday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Alumni Dance Concert — Sunday, March 3 at 5:30 p.m.
Twyla Tharp and Benjamin G. Bowman

Wayne State University Brings Twyla Tharp’s Ground-Breaking Work, “The One Hundreds,” as the Fall 2018 Allesee Guest Artist in Residence in Dance

Twyla Tharp and Benjamin G. Bowman
Twyla Tharp and Benjamin G. Bowman
Ms. Tharp’s photograph may not be reproduced without written permission of Richard Avedon. Copyright © 2003 Richard Avedon.

Detroit, Michigan: The Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance, part of the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts at Wayne State University, announces the licensing and staging of world-renowned choreographer, Twyla Tharp’s ground-breaking work, “The One Hundreds,” staged by former Tharp company member, Benjamin G. Bowman as the Fall 2018 Allesee Guest Artist in Residence in Dance.

Twyla Tharp’s “The One Hundreds” will also serve as a community engagement event where 100 people from WSU’s theatre and dance department, college, university, and alumni along with the Metro Detroit dance community will join our dance majors onstage at the Music Hall for the December Dance Concert to perform one of The One Hundred phrases simultaneously. 

Two public performances of the December Dance Concert will take place on Friday, Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. Tickets for the December Dance Concert are on sale now, starting at $15, and may be purchased online at or by phone at 313-577-2972. For purchases made online, additional ticket and order fees may apply. Ticket prices are subject to change.

“’The One Hundreds’ is a hundred eleven-second segments that are performed by two dancers in unison separated by four seconds between each segment…Five people each do twenty different segments simultaneously so that the one hundred are represented one-fifth of the time and then one hundred each do one in eleven seconds, right? You follow me? Let’s go through it again. Five people do twenty representing all the phrases in one fifth of the time. And then one hundred people each do one simultaneously. In eleven seconds.” — Tharp, as quoted in “Ballet Review,” Vol. 4:1 in September 1971. 

Since graduating from Barnard College in 1963, Ms. Tharp has choreographed more than one hundred sixty works: one hundred twenty-nine dances, twelve television specials, six Hollywood movies, four full-length ballets, four Broadway shows and two figure skating routines. She received one Tony Award, two Emmy Awards, nineteen honorary doctorates, the Vietnam Veterans of America President’s Award, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts, the 2008 Jerome Robbins Prize, and a 2008 Kennedy Center Honor. Her many grants include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In 1965, Ms. Tharp founded her dance company, Twyla Tharp Dance. Her dances are known for creativity, wit and technical precision coupled with a streetwise nonchalance. By combining different forms of movement – such as jazz, ballet, boxing and inventions of her own making – Ms. Tharp’s work expands the boundaries of ballet and modern dance. 

In addition to choreographing for her own company, she has created dances for The Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, The Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, The Boston Ballet, The Australian Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Martha Graham Dance Company, Miami City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Today, ballet and dance companies around the world continue to perform Ms. Tharp’s works.

In 1992, Ms. Tharp published her autobiography “Push Comes to Shove.” She went on to write “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life,” followed by “The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together.”

Today, Ms. Tharp continues to create.

Benjamin G. Bowman was introduced to dance through an outreach program instituted by the North Carolina School of the Arts’ (UNCSA) Ballet department, studying under Sonja Tyven and, later, with Duncan Noble, Melissa Hayden, Gina Vidal, Frank Smith and Gyula Pandi. He attended multiple summer sessions at both the San Francisco Ballet School and the School of American Ballet (SAB), while continuing training with the staff of the Kansas City Ballet. Mr. Bowman was accepted to SAB as a full-time student, following his sophomore year at UNCSA and joined the Kansas City Ballet in 1986. He

then joined the Fort Worth Ballet in 1988, where he became a Principal Dancer in 1990. He joined the New York City Ballet in 1993, performing with the corps de ballet and in many soloist and principal roles,

until leaving the company in the spring of 2000. After NYCB, Mr. Bowman was invited to join a select group of dancers that Twyla put together to create two new works for the American Dance Festival. The group continued to tour and create work for the next two years, while generating the material that formed the basis of “Movin’ Out”, Twyla’s hit Broadway show set to the music of Billy Joel, in which Mr. Bowman originated the role of “James”. Post- “Movin’ Out”, Mr. Bowman worked freelance for a number of choreographers, and wrapped a long career working with Martha Clarke on the revival of her Obie award-winning show, “The Garden of Earthly Delights”. Mr. Bowman lives in New York City and freelances as a teacher, choreographer, and both acts and is represented by Access Talent as a voice-over artist. He has been setting work for the Twyla Tharp Dance Foundation since 2010.

About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit



Headshots for Mr. Bowman and Ms. Tharp are included for media use.

Benjamin Bowman Headshot
Twyla Tharp Headshot

Ms. Tharp’s headshot must include the following credit: This photograph may not be reproduced without written permission of Richard Avedon. Copyright © 2003 Richard Avedon.