The South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities started out in 1980 as a five-week summer program for arts students which was held at Furman University. The dance program was added in 1984, and I was on the faculty there each summer for 16 years. I spent those five weeks each summer at Furman teaching, choreographing, and, more years than not, chairing the dance department and doing a lot of paperwork and meetings. Founder Dr. Virginia Uldrick was a hard task master, but our young faculty of dancer/teachers had a lot of responsibility for these young people who were away from home for five weeks. I had the opportunity to dance and teach along side fine colleagues from the University of Texas, California Institute of the Arts, The Juilliard School, Fordham University, New York City Ballet, and many others. We put together a fine, balanced program of ballet, modern dance, and conditioning for these young dancers some of whom were being exposed to rigorous, technical training at this level for the first time.
I remember eating lunch at the Furman cafeteria five or six days a week for those five weeks. I guess the food got better each year (and it was all you can eat!). I didn’t see much of my young family those weeks as we often had activities from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. six days a week including concerts and events put on by the other departments (music, theater, visual arts, and creative writing). I remember it being a large responsibility and a scheduling nightmare; many hours working on Macintosh computers when they first came out.
Governor’s School dance program
When the new year-round Governor’s School opened its campus in Greenville in 1999 it was perceived as somewhat of a competitor to the School District of Greenville County’s Fine Arts Center where I was working. So I was no longer involved as a faculty member. The dance program started out with a similar ballet/modern curriculum to the one we had in the summer program and hired a highly respected modern dance teacher, Gerri Houlihan, as department chair. However, after the first year, the program became more or less a Russian ballet curriculum with little room for other dance forms. Many of us did not think this was the best curriculum for students from diverse experiences all over the state, many of whom had not had serious ballet training, and most of whom did not have the “perfect” ballet body demanded by the Russian technique.
Recently the Governor’s School has turned back to a more well-rounded curriculum, an international faculty that cooperates and communicates with each other to better the program, and hopefully is providing a good dance foundation and the opportunity to advance to a high level. We had the pleasure of having the faculty to dinner and meeting them all. We know Thomas Shoemaker from The Atlanta Ballet and Augusta Ballet, and he danced The Nutcracker with the Greenville Ballet years ago. We have seen the facility and some classes and attended several luncheons put on to honor teachers whose students have attended the school. Kiersten Rist, one of our most promising students of recent years, is now in her first year at the Governor’s School. At this year’s luncheon we had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Cedric Adderley, the new president of the School, and he and his family attended our performance of The Nutcracker in December.
Their beautiful facility seems like a great “home” for these young people where they can live, study, and dance. The academic programs are geared to both assist those in need of help and challenge those who are more gifted. Students are accepted on the basis of their artistic talents, and are challenged to keep up their academic studies in this new, positive environment, even if they had had trouble in the past. Sound like a good plan.
If you are unfamiliar with the Governor’s School and its programs you owe it to yourself to learn more about this jewel in Greenville’s crown. All of South Carolina should be proud that we have invested in the arts and in our young people in this way.