December 3, 2020

Visiting dance instructor teaches for semester

Visiting professor Leonard Cruz gives instruction to a modern dance class in a Webster dance studio. PHOTO BY MAX BOUVATTE

This spring, the Webster University dance ensemble spring concert will include a traditional folk dance for the first time. Leonard Cruz, guest assistant professor in the dance department, will help choreograph the dance at the spring concert.

“It’s exciting for me to be able to share my heritage and my culture to students,” Cruz said.

This is Cruz’s first semester at Webster. One of his classes focuses on the dances of the Philippines.

Cruz is a Filipino-born dancer who began dancing at the age of four.  At 17, he had the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center for former President Ronald Reagan after being named a presidential scholar in the arts.

Cruz received his BA and MA in dance from UCLA. After receiving his master’s, he danced in New York City for choreographer Bill T. Jones. He continued to dance for Jones, eventually going on a tour in Germany where he worked with choreographer Pina Bausch for one year. “Pina,” a dance documentary about Bausch, is a 2012 Academy Award nominee for best documentary feature.

Cruz is a Ph.D candidate in urban education at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and is currently doing research in St. Louis on elementary education. With his research, Cruz is attempting to integrate Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) — a curriculum used in dance courses — into other classes. Cruz hopes to finish collecting his data by May and one day publish his findings.

 Q&A with a visiting dancer

Where are you originally from?

LC: I was born in the Philippines, raised in San Antonio. My father served in the air force for 25 years, so I’m a military brat. I lived in Germany for the past 23 years. I built my career as an artist there.

Why did you choose UCLA to study dance?

LC: I was raised in San Antonio and I went to the University of Texas in Austin my freshman year. I just need to get away from Texas and I felt like either Los Angeles or New York would be the best place as an artist. I got a full scholarship to go to UCLA and I thought Los Angeles would be a good place to experience as a young dancer, or choreographer. It was a horrible experience. It’s very commercial oriented…I had an agent. The agency was putting me in Hispanic halls and Asian halls. I’m a mix. So I don’t really fit the Hispanic or Asian look, because I’m a mixture of the two. It just didn’t work out. At the end of the whole year I was with this agency, the agency had told me, ‘the reason you’re not getting a lot of work is because you need to do plastic surgery,’ and I was like, ‘this is ridiculous.’ That was my experience with the commercial aspect of the arts

How did you end up in Germany?

LC: My first international tour was with Bill T. Jones. My first tour was in Germany and we had a two-month residency. That’s how I got my first feeling of Europe…This famous choreographer — who passed away two years ago — her name is Pina Bausch, I saw her on tour when we were on tour (in Germany) and met her for the first time. After I left Bill for five years, I auditioned for her in Germany and she took me as a guest.

Were you in Germany before coming to St. Louis?

LC: I came back to get my Ph.D in urban education…I’m doing my research study here at the college school with one teacher. We’re researching dance methodology (Laban Movement Analysis) that transformed just for normal teachers to use in regular instruction. Hopefully I’ll be done in May.

Was it hard being a military brat?

LC: It was hard for my dad to think that one of his sons wanted to be an artist, a dancer. My family went (to my performance at the Kennedy Center). The ceremony was on the White House lawn. After that he (Cruz’s dad) kept quiet. Dads, especially military dads, tend to be very clear-cut.

What made you decide to study urban education?

LC: I was raised in one of the poorest school districts in San Antonio. It’s always harder to support the arts and creativity in school districts that are very poor. I think the arts are so important for everyone. In an urban school and in an urban school district, the first to be cut are the arts. Mostly these kids (in inner-city schools) are not doing well on standardized testing.

 

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