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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Twyla Tharp: dancer, author, inspiration

Twyla Tharp. Upon reading this name, some think of a dancer. Others, a choreographer. Yet others, an author. Though she is indeed all of these things, she can also be described in broader terms: artist, innovator and inspiration.

Tharp will be coming to speak as part of the Bryan series on Oct. 27 at the War Memorial Auditorium.

Tharp attended Barnard College in New York City. However, it was in off-campus dance classes that she discovered her true passion for dance and choreography and created a new style of dance blending classical and modern styles. She entered the professional world of dance after graduating from college with an art history degree in 1963.

Tharp danced with the Paul Taylor Dance Company after her graduation. Just two short years later, she struck out on her own and created her own company, Twyla Tharp Dance. Now, with her own company, she was able to not only dance, but also to choreograph.

“The joy of (Tharp’s) beautifully textured and highly informed movement vocabularies shattered the lines between what had been modern dance, and what had been ballet,” said Christa Wellhausen, part-time lecturer in theatre studies and sports studies, in an email interview. “It created entirely new possibilities for each to redefine and explore their respective traditions, and ultimately resulted in the fusion of those forms into what we recognize today as a larger ‘contemporary dance.'”

Tharp’s dance pieces also used music in groundbreaking way. Not only did she set her dances to classics like Mozart, but she also set dances to popular music such as the Beach Boys.

Her many achievements include directing and choreographing four Broadway shows, choreographing five Hollywood movies and over 135 other dances, and winning a Tony Award and two Emmy Awards.

Tharp is also an accomplished writer. She wrote her autobiography, entitled “Push Comes to Shove,” as well as two additional non-fiction books, “The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life,” and “The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together”.

The list of Tharp’s achievements could go on and on, but the real question is, why should non-dancing Guilford students give a hoot?

“I think a lot of the spirit of (Tharp’s) work is really embodied in the spirit of Guilford,” said Mylene Dressler, visiting professor of English. “We can probably gain a lot of insight from her long experience being a creative person … and continuing to flourish and thrive.”

One of the greatest parts of belonging to the Guilford community is that people are accepted for who they are, when much of the time that has not always been the case. Tharp can likely relate.

Guilford strives to impress upon us that creativity and persistent hard work are vital parts of education, no matter what you study. This is also one of the key themes of Tharp’s book, “The Creative Habit”, which, incidentally, is the textbook for Modern Dance II here at Guilford.

“Creativity is not just for artists,” writes Tharp in “The Creative Habit.” “It’s for businesspeople looking for a new way to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.”

Tharp is also expected to speak about her newer book, which is also used as a textbook at Guilford. “The Collaborative Habit” is a subject which Dressler observed is “. . . so beautifully Guilford.”

“She was doing something completely different that people didn’t recognize at first,” said Dressler. “A lot of people were very critical of it, didn’t understand what she was doing. But she persevered. She followed her own rhythm.”¬¬¬¬¬¬

All in all, Tharp’s insights on creativity, collaboration, originality and perseverance are relevant to the Guilford student body and beyond, whether you have been dancing all your life or you were born with two left feet.

“(Tharp’s) visit is important to Guilford’s entire community because she reminds us of the value of creativity … a tool essential for success in whatever field a person practices,” said junior Grace Chafin. “It allows us to exercise our minds in ways that keep us a healthy and unique species.”

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