Friday, January 28, 2005
African-American dancer to make OU history
By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
This spring, Rodney Brown will make OU history as the first African-American man to graduate from the Department of Music, Theater and Dance’s dance program.
However, studying dance at OU is something Brown thought he would never do. He was a vocalist in high school and assumed that would be his future.
“I really thought I was going to be an opera singer,” he said.
That all changed when he went to watch his cousin’s dance rehearsal. When Brown laughed at his cousin who kept messing up, his cousin’s instructor encouraged Brown to give it try, and he has been dancing ever since.
Brown took his first dance class, a jazz class, in 1999 and from then on took 3-4 classes a day, six days a week.
“I worked really, really hard,” he said. “I really did devote long hours to dance.”
When he first came to OU, he decided to leave after just one year in search of a dance experience in a major city with a large African-American dance population. He went to study at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center’s independent study program in New York and was in the city on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists struck the World Trade Center. His mother thought it was unsafe for him to stay in New York, so he left in search of other schools and soon realized he belonged back at OU.
“I thought ‘I’m not going to get what I was getting at OU,’” said Brown, adding that the Department of Music, Theater and Dance is very nurturing artistically and personally.
Brown, who returned to OU in fall 2002, has used his return as a chance to become involved and enjoy life on campus. He works in the Office of Admissions as a campus visit coordinator, serves as a resident assistant in the residence halls, and performs with the Oakland Dance Theater, Eisenhower Dance Ensemble and Patterson Rhythm Pace.
Brown already has achieved much in his chosen field, including being evaluated by the American College Dance Festival Association, receiving the Jacob Decker Dance Award for outstanding performer in 2004, landing an apprenticeship with the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble, and becoming a member of the Repertory Dance Company.
“Those are things not every student gets to do,” said Mariah Malec, assistant professor of dance.
Brown also benefited from the Maggie Allesee Summer Dance Student Program, which funded his two-week study at the Sankofa Dance Theatre in Savannah, Ga., where he choreographed several of his own pieces.
Because of his many talents and accomplishments, Music, Theatre and Dance Department members often use Brown to motivate prospective students.
“He is one of the individuals that’s great in all three areas — performance, choreography and teaching,” Malec said. “Anyone would be privileged to be associated with him.”
Brown, who has a passion for African dance and enjoys learning about African-American studies, sociology and anthropology, currently is working to secure funding for a trip to Ghana to do research in religious studies in correlation with dance, something that would combine all of his interests.
One day, he hopes to work as a faculty member at a university.
“I learned a lot about being me in college, and I really want to be apart of that in other students’ lives,” he said.
Malec said Brown’s intentions to continue his studies and eventually teach at a university are promising.
“He genuinely cares about dance," Malec said. "His heart just sings for dance and you want that kind of person educating students. It motivates them.”
Regardless of what the future holds, Brown said he will continue to dance and choreograph.
“I really enjoy saying things through movement that you wouldn’t want to say out loud,” he said.