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Student uses dance to promote peace in Iraq

April 16, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University senior dance major Chelsie Jackson is using the skills she developed in her dance management and communication courses to promote peace in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region.

For her senior capstone project, Jackson, of Westland, Mich., is collecting new and gently used ballet clothing and shoes for donation to the Institute of Dance in Suleimaniya, Iraq. Her project is designed to support the unification of heritages and religions in the Kurdistan region through the art of ballet.

Donations are being collected through Friday, May 7.

Items will be accepted between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the WMU Department Dance, located on the third floor of the Dalton Center. Those wishing to give a monetary donation can make checks out to "RAQS: A Fundraiser."

So far, Jackson has collected dance attire valued at $3,578 as well as $235 in monetary donations, which will support shipping, large equipment such as ballet barres and a piano, and resident dance teachers. All donations will be hand delivered to the school by American Voices, a nonprofit organization that gives developing countries and countries at war opportunities to further themselves through the arts.

"Chelsie has undertaken an ambitious project that will truly make a difference in other people's lives," says Dr. Nina Nelson, chair of the WMU Department of Dance. "This project is an excellent example of how it is possible to extend an undergraduate research project into a meaningful service-learning project."

Suleimaniya's new Institute of Dance, which operates solely on donations, admits students on the basis of talent, not religion. This is a progressive divergence from the norm in Iraq--a country where people of different religions have been fighting each other for centuries. Jackson says she sees this progressivism as fertile ground to develop dance as a tool for peace.

In addition to collecting attire and funds, Jackson is working with Sharon Garber, WMU associate professor of dance, to form a beginning ballet curriculum for the institute. Although there are no formally trained dance teachers in the Kurdistan region, Ruhbar Ahamed, the director of the Institute of Dance in Suleimaniya, is currently teaching movement for stage.

John Ferguson of American Voices, who has held past workshops for dance and music in Suleimaniya, reports that the young people in the Kurdistan region are interested in learning ballet as the basis for their dance technique. He feels the study of ballet will help them master other dance forms such as hip-hop, break dancing, jazz, musical theatre and Broadway dancing, tap, and stepping. Jackson's current project focuses on their interest in ballet. Expertise is needed to catalyze the ballet curriculum because ballet is not native to the area.

For more information, contact Ann Armbruster, WMU Department of Dance, at ann.e.armbruster@wmich.edu or (269) 387-5830.

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Media contact: Tonya Durlach, (269) 387-8400, tonya.durlach@wmich.edu

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