University of Pittsburgh

commons room

Move Groove

Written by AR

A dance instructor enters a large room in Trees Hall, shooing away two wrestlers who are grappling on a nearby floor mat. Then, the real action begins. A line of high school girls wearing metal-tipped shoes files into the room. Soon, the space reverberates with the hard clacks and soft spiffs of rhythmic tap dancers.

The high school group is part of the University’s third-annual “Love to Dance” program, a day of dance workshops taught by Pitt students who are studying dance or are Pitt Dance Ensemble members. Education instructor Susan Gillis Kruman oversees the event. Her role entails everything from observing Pitt students’ teaching skills to preventing wrestlers from encroaching onto dance territory.

After the tap-dancing workshop, a hip-hop session begins. Sophomore Ben Labe presses “play” on a portable boom box, and some beats pump out. Gillis Kruman watches as Labe—a double major in mathematics-economics and philosophy with a minor in dance—demonstrates a fast hip-hop move, then repeats it in slow motion.

What looks like a simple turn becomes a quick squat, a shifting of weight from one leg to the other, and a pivot rising to his full height. It’s easy for Labe, who has been dancing seriously since junior high. “After periods of high stress,” he says, “I put on my headphones, and I freestyle. I find it liberating.”

When the high school students try the move, they get lost. Labe patiently stops the boom box and asks everyone to try it again. Satisfied that Labe has everything under control, Gillis Kruman heads down the hall and leans in the doorway of a dance studio where a belly dancing class is under way.

In two lines, students are swaying with lacey red, blue, or purple scarves. The teacher is Carine Bou-Abboud, a senior neuroscience major and dance minor, who has been teaching community outreach dance classes through Pitt’s Department of Health and Physical Activity for several years.

“Hip, hip, and belly dancing walk,” Bou-Abboud calls out. Then she shows the students how to exaggerate the snapping of their hips. “Okay? Wanna add that one on?” The students repeat the steps, each time dancing a little more confidently and a little more gracefully than before.

Tomorrow, Bou-Abboud and Labe will return to their science coursework, and Gillis Kruman will prepare for the education classes she’s teaching this term. But while the music plays, everyone at the Trees Hall event has cleared some space in life to dance.