Tuesday, September 28, 2010

UMKC Sig Ep Makes Unusual Career Choice

Dance is an unusual choice

Gavin Stewart dances, as Bill Shapiro, KCUR-FM Radio host, looks on during the rehearsal for Wylliams/Henry’s Cyprus Avenue Concert to the Leonard Cohen song “Tower of Song.”

Gavin Stewart dances, as Bill Shapiro, KCUR-FM Radio host, looks on during the rehearsal for Wylliams/Henry’s Cyprus Avenue Concert to the Leonard Cohen song “Tower of Song.”

Majoring in dance may seem like an unusual choice for an athletic student from Tulsa, Okla., but it suits Gavin Stewart.

Now in his third year in the conservatory, Stewart initially came to UMKC as a piano student, but found his options were better in the dance division when they offered him a fellowship during his first summer in Kansas City.

“While I was deciding what I wanted to major in, I took the Kansas City Ballet Summer Intensive Workshop,” Stewart said. “Paula Weber approached me about majoring in dance at the conservatory, and I am really glad I did. The faculty have been great. They have really shaped my life.”

Coming from an artistic family, Stewart’s parents supported his decision to pursue music and dance as a field of study and as a career.

In fact, Stewart’s father studied and danced with several well-known modern dance companies in his youth, including Martha Graham in San Francisco and Merce Cunningham in New York.

“My parents encouraged me and were delighted when I became interested in music and dance,” Stewart said. “They never pushed or forced the decision on me, but rather let me make up my own mind.”

In 2005, Stewart started training with the Tulsa Youth Ballet, a division of the Oklahoma Performing Arts, where he trained in ballet, jazz, tap, acting and music for three years before coming to the conservatory.

Stewart also studied at the Joffrey Ballet Workshop in San Antonio and the Tulsa Ballet.

While at UMKC, Stewart remained active in music, composing music for dance and continuing to play piano.

Off to a good start in his academic dance career, Stewart has received the Ann Dickinson Ovation Award, UMKC’s top dance scholarship (2010-2011), the Chancellor’s Scholar Award (2008-2010) and the Tatiana Dokoudovska Award, a UMKC talent scholarship (2008-2010).

In his young dance career, Stewart performed with a number of professional companies, including Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, Owen/Cox Dance Group and Vancouver’s MOVE: the Company.

Vice-president of his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon which is known for pursuit of athletic excellence, Stewart feels part of the appeal of dance life is the challenging physical discipline required to master the material.

“Although I like doing music, I find I really enjoy working my body hard in dance,” Stewart said.

Stewart plans to seek out auditions after graduation and do some social networking to find a position in a contemporary ballet company. Although the arts make for uncertain careers, Stewart is optimistic about the future.

“What is most important in life is finding what you love doing in life and sometimes that thing is unconventional,” Gavin said. “Being unconventional should not deter others from trying different things. You don’t know until you try it, if you like it or not. So, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Instead, it is important that you find something you like doing, then work hard at it, even if it is unconventional.”

nenglish@unews.com