SF State Dance Maestro to Retire
December 2, 2004 11:54 PM
Dancers whirl across the stage, music blares and costumes sparkle in the light. Meanwhile, a small figure in the back of the darkened theater takes it all in, making a note of every missed lighting cue, of every misplaced prop, of every flubbed move.
Between each rehearsal, breathless dancers will bound over to consult with Dr. Albirda Rose and listen attentively as she chastises them for an unpointed toe or compliments them on their focus with equal good nature. There are only two rehearsals left until the big show—her last as a full-time professor-- and Rose wants all the dancers to show off their talents.
The rehearsal cycle starts again and the newly implemented advice makes the dancers look even better. But still, Rose sits in the dark, watching.
Rose has been bringing out the best in SF State students for over 30 years. Since she joined the staff at the age of 24, Rose has traveled the world and taken her philosophy to the lives of people of all ages and walks of life. This year will be Rose’s last as a full-time professor at SF State.
In addition to teaching students, Rose is known for her work with underprivileged young people in the community. She knows many of them through the creative dance with children and production class.
Every fall semester, members of Rose’s class go to Visatacion Valley to bring dance to children of the area, many of whom come from lower-income families. Rose said that both the children and students gain a lot from the class.
“Our students are learning and the children and learning so it goes both ways,” Rose said. “Our (SF State) students are being introduced to a cultural context that they are not always familiar with. The other students are introduced to the larger society using dance as a tool. We help socialize them into another reality.”
Rose added that children are dealing with so many other issues. “Some of the kids have seen 4-5 people killed in their families. And you don’t see the fear like you think. But the fact that they don’t listen, the fact that they do lash out at each other, the fact that they don’t know how to take responsibility or is sign to me to me that they are living under that. That’s why we’re out there.”
Rose says nurturing the gifts of under-privileged children is important.
Rose began dancing in classes at Oakland’s Park and Recreation. In her formative years she trained under dancers such as Ruth Beckford, Louise Jorgensen, and Katherine Dunham, about whose philosophy of dance she wrote “Dunham Technique: A Way of Life.”
Rose went on to a life of dance with help from her teachers—and a lot of support from her family who she credits with teaching her the value of determination and faith.
Her faith would lead her to an important milestone in her life—being ordained as a Baptist minister in 1995.
“I think my calling really came when I was about 21-22, but at that time women weren’t in the ministry, weren’t nurtured,” Rose said. “But my master’s thesis was ‘My religion, my faith, my strength’ so I think I was dealing with all of that then. Knowing oneself through the body and movements and relationships with a higher power is very apparent in dance.”
In her over three decades at SF State, Rose has seen the turmoil and change of the years reflected in her students’ work.
“This is a sad show,” Rose reflects from the back of the auditorium as she watches a particularly emotional piece in which two students somberly move to lyrics that speak of drugs and violence. “Even one of my colleagues said, ‘There’s no happy dances this year.’ And I said, 'There’s not a one!'”
Dr. Rose watches another dance in which dancers move in front of a screen showing graphic images of war and poverty.
“Over the years you watch whatever’s going on in society, and student’s choreography reflects that,” Rose said. “Because we’ve got so much war and all of this stuff, a lot of these pieces has taken on sadness… It depends on what’s going on. I’ve always said that art forms reflect what’s going on in society and usually the artists pick up on it first.”
No matter what history has brought to SF State, Rose’s students are enthusiastic about the difference she has made to their craft.
“She was always very personable, down to earth, just like she is now,” said Mertha Muse, a dance instructor and one of Dr. Rose’s first students at SF State. “Not pretentious at all…I’ve learned life-long lessons from her that have extended out of the classroom, out of the university.”
Rose exerts the same influence over her students today.
Serenity Maly, a student of Rose since 2002 and an award-wining choreographer in her own right, agrees.
“She’s absolutely amazing,” Maly said, taking a break from watching a piece she choreographed herself. “She tells you what’s on her mind and she’s not afraid to just tell it like it is, and that’s really wonderful about her. She’s very supportive and very warm and loving and she has a lot to offer and a lot to give and that makes us want to give back. It’s a wonderful blessing to be in her presence."
After three decades of teaching, Rose has chosen to retire in January. Although she will continue to teach fall semester courses at SF State for a few more years, Rose welcomes the change of pace.
“I’m a little burnt out,” Rose said. “I just want some time to myself, and I want to focus differently.”
Rose has many projects in the works, including possibly updating her book on the Dunham technique, or starting work on a new book.
“I miss her already,” Muse said, “but she’s not really giving up dancing. She’s just moving to a different level.”
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