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Dance Department director: Anyone can do it!
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By CHELSEA KISELA
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Until 1980, Clarence Leroy Brooks Jr. wanted to be a professor of mathematics or an anthropology researcher. Yet to his parents’ surprise, there he sat in front of them, 20 years old, nervously explaining his new passion for dancing.

Walking into his first dance class, he was told, “You’re too old to start dancing,” and “You’re too short to be a dancer.” Despite these early setbacks, 29 years later, Brooks is not only an assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University, but also the director of dance of the dance department.

Throughout his cluttered, dimly lit office, yoga mats and pilates balls litter the floor around his tiny desk. Books such as “Who ISN’T Afraid of Marsha Graham?” and “The Spirit Moves” fill his shelves. Across from his well-worn bicycle are the immense tomes of his dance history, amassed in a large, grey cabinet. Hands folded and eyes smiling, Brooks sits behind his desk, his long braids swept into a low ponytail.

“My parents have always been behind my dancing, but I did have numerous struggles along the way,” says Brooks, sweeping his braids off his right shoulder. “I started late. I didn’t really find out about dancing until I was 20.” Brooks was born in Baltimore, Md., but went to 11 different schools because his father’s job with the Air Force required frequent relocations.

“We moved around a lot, so it was difficult to start activities. I didn’t even complete high school because of it,” Brooks says. Eventually, though, Brooks received his General Educational Development certificate and later finished his bachelor of performing arts at Oklahoma City University and his master of fine arts at the University of Washington – both in dance. Even so, getting his dance career started was challenging.

“It was difficult to get the dance sequences and names. By age 20, dance students usually know the French terms like the back of their hands,” he says. “Acting the roles came natural to me, but developing core strength, getting the body to repeat something more than once, it was difficult. I practiced. I got better and better.”

However, he didn’t merely have personal struggles.

“I’ve been with more than 50 companies. Now, some would say that is a bad thing,” Brooks says. “When I was performing, I wouldn’t tell people how many companies I had been with. It sounded like I was company hopping. It was hard times to keep a dancing job – especially for people of color."

"Around the mid-1980s, companies were downsizing and folding left and right. I’d hear comments such as, ‘We already have an African American dancer; we don’t need another.’ I even injured my back and could only work for short periods of time.” However, Brooks eventually championed multiple dance genres.

“I have been at FAU for three years and not once, in all the times I have encountered Professor Brooks, seen him with anything but a smile. He’s always friendly, even if he’s sick,” says Richard Grove, a junior.

“He just seems like a person you’d want to be around; he cares. Some professors I’ve had are good teachers but they don’t really seem to support their students. Clarence goes above and beyond for his students,” Grove says.

Walking from his office to his Appreciation of Dance classroom in Room113 of the nursing building, Brooks strides with an elegant grace. Greeting each familiar face with a smile and a vivacious wave, he steps in front of the class and says, “Welcome! I hope you are having a wonderful day!”

Speaking of the legends of dance, he shows films of his own dance history. When discussing dance techniques, he demonstrates them to the class with ease.

Brooks constantly tries to improve the quality of the dance department and provide more opportunities for his dancers. In all his dance classes, he tries to incorporate what he has learned from his mentors and surprises to inspire his students.

“When I teach, I’ll often go back to the material I learned and performed. I’ll use exercises and combinations my artistic directors would have used and adapt it to the student,” Brooks says with a smile.

“I also bring guest artists in to do master classes with them. Chuck Davis was one of the big names. He’s considered one of the 100 living treasures by the National Association of Dance.”

He adds: “I look to get the students involved. ‘The Dances We Dance’ showcase is a show we have at the end of every year and it is an opportunity for my students to show their FAU community what they have been working on all year. And you know, you don’t have to be a senior or junior to participate; freshman and sophomores have equal opportunities,” Brooks says.

He also wants to bring something completely new to the dance department.

“As of right now, you cannot minor in dance. I am trying to persuade the college to allow students to do just that. This would open up our department to so many more students. Not all people want to dance professionally, so if you want to study dance you wouldn’t have to take 68 credits to receive your degree,” Brooks says.

He also believes this would give late dance bloomers, like himself, an opportunity to pursue the art.

“It’s never too late to start dancing,” Brooks says. “You can dance for recreation, or for a job.”

For those out there who want to dance, Brooks is always willing to give advice. “Come and see me! There is so much you can do,” he says.

“Get into a dance class. It doesn’t matter where; just get started. And take yoga!” I swear by it. It brings a mind-body connection to dancers.

“Also, never imitate the instructor. Get your own integrity, rhythm and sequence. Find out what you do well and what you don’t. Improve your low points. Expand your knowledge of art. Visit museums and galleries. Last, always remember this: Anyone can dance.”

 

 
 

 
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