- Associated Press - Friday, April 7, 2017

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - The end of Saturday’s performance by the Indiana University African American Dance Company will also be the end of an era for IU professor Iris Rosa.

It was 43 years ago when Herman Hudson, founder of Indiana University’s department of Afro-American Studies, decided to create a new dance ensemble that would focus on African-American dance.

Rosa was asked to interview for the role of director.

“That’s how I got the position,” she said.

Now, Rosa is ready for the next phase of her life. “The catalyst was that I have been at Indiana University for 43 years, and I just thought that I should move on and go into another phase of my life and pass on the baton,” she said.

Hudson not only created the department that focused on African-American studies and the African diaspora, he also created IU Soul Revue and the African American Choral Ensemble that now fall under the African American Arts Institute.

Rosa said the dance company was one of the first offered at a university. It wasn’t easy to get started back in 1974, but by the spring of 1975, the company performed its first concert.

“It was really a lot of work in terms of trying to forge new territory in the type of expression that we wanted,” Rosa said.

As with anything, things have changed over the past 40 years.

“The dance discipline has changed and has evolved. Of course, then you just have to evolve with the discipline, then you have the complexities of students who are also evolving,” she said.

The focus of the dance hasn’t changed, although the dances have. Early classes always used jazz and even some gospel.

Contemporary dance has changed, but it has continued to be a part of what the students are learning.

“We haven’t really changed the focus of what we do. We’ve just changed how we approach the work, the choreography, because students change.”

The company is open to anyone, which has to be taken into consideration when it comes to the diverse backgrounds of the dancers. The dancers come with experience in ballet, modern dance or hip hop as well as different experiences. Creating a cohesive dance group with such diversity can be a challenge.

“It’s always a combination of struggle and fun,” Rosa said. “I don’t think that has ever changed.”

Along with dance, the students also must learn about protocol. There is a way to come into class, an emphasis on the right clothes to wear and how to conduct yourself in class. “Those types of things I don’t think have ever changed for me,” Rosa said.

In the early years of the company, Rosa said the dance company served as a place where black students could come and talk about the discipline, black dance and expression. At that time, Rosa said there weren’t many clubs or organizations on campus where that could happen. With so many organizations today, Rosa said the challenge is finding students who understand what the dance company is as well as its importance to the fabric of IU.

“You have to know what you’re dancing about. The dance company provides that intellectual discussion. It’s not only just dancing, but dancing with a purpose,” she said.

The class has always been a mix of students who love to dance and those who are considering dance as a career. Rosa has seen some of her dancers go on to great success. Other students have passed on the love of dance by creating classes in their communities.

“My job is to give students an opportunity to find another way of expression and to also serve the community through our performances. We do a lot of that, too, and some of the students really enjoy being in that community in that spirit,” she said.

Through the years, Rosa has built relationships with the students, many of whom still keep in touch and provide updates on what has happened since graduation. She said she recently got an email from a former student who graduated in the mid-‘90s and is now living in Chicago. She wanted to tell Rosa how important the company was to her, because as an African-American woman, she struggled to find a place of commonality and community. “At that time, it was difficult for her. Those types of stories, to really know that the company has served that for people, is very heartwarming,” Rosa said.

Preparing for Saturday’s show means this week has been a little intense. As Rosa eyes the end of the semester, she said she’ll miss coming into the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center and making art in the space. She appreciates the fact that she’s had many opportunities and the freedom to be creative.

“I am going to miss my colleagues and the opportunity to create with them here at the African-American Arts Institute,” she said.

She’s worn many hats as well, so it’s always been a balancing act.

“It just kind of keeps you on your toes,” she said - no pun intended.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/2nOTEUQ

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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