New dance chair pointes toward success

Written By Miriah Auth

For the first time in university history, the Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA) appointed an African-American to serve as the chair of the dance department.

Former dance department head Rubén Graciani’s last day as the department chair was June 30. That is when Garfield Lemonius took over the position full-time.

Rubén Graciani announced last spring via email that he would be leaving the school to assume the position of director of the School of Theatre and Dance at James Madison University. The email also disclosed that Lemonius would take over as the chair at Point Park.

According to Point Park’s website, Lemonius formerly served as an associate professor of modern dance and has worked for the university full-time since the fall semester of 2011.

“I was so relieved because Lemonius [has] obviously been with Point Park for years, and the transition will be seamless,” junior dance major John DeNeff said.

Sophomore dance major Theodore Alexander believes having a department head of color will expand the audition process.

“The change will affect the demographic of who auditions for the conservatory,” Alexander said. “I think more people of color will feel comfortable auditioning.”

Alexander is from Baltimore, Maryland which according to the 2010 US Census has an African-American population of 63.7 percent. African-Americans make up 14 percent of Point Park, according to the university website.

Alexander also recalled the difficult transition from Baltimore to an institution with a much smaller African-American population.

“When I came here, it was really different,” Alexander said. “I found it hard to get used to the attitudes and things people say and get away with.”

For Lemonious, after attending two years of school at York University for environmental science, he told the Globe in 2011 that he realized his passion was in dance. After earning degrees in dance and education from York University, he joined the Dallas Black Dance Theatre company and toured the world.

Before coming to Point Park, Lemonius “served on various boards such as the The Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts, North Texas Dance Council and on panels at the Annual International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference [IABD],” according to his faculty profile on the Point Park website.

According to the IABD’s website, the association’s mission is to “preserve and promote dance by people of African ancestry or origin.”

Lemonious has also taught a handful of master-level classes around the globe in places such as The University of Oklahoma, York University of Toronto, The Pittsburgh Youth Ballet Company and the Newton Performing Arts High School in Sydney, Australia.

Lemonius is known for bringing his unique teaching philosophy to Point Park, a philosophy that revolves around what he calls “The 3 R’s”: rigor, relationship and relevance. The three R’s are practices Lemonious feels must be present in the classroom.

“The classroom is a matrix of the real world,” Lemonious told the Globe in 2011. “Whatever you do has to relate to the real world.”