Alumna Launches Conversion Dance Project

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Crystal Lewis

Alumna Crystal Lewis of Sikeston, Mo., is the founder and director of the Conversion Dance Project in Phoenix, Ariz. On June 21, she will present a solo work at the BETA Dance Festival in Phoenix, Ariz.

“I consider most of my choreographies, especially in the early stages, to be projects,” Crystal says. “I also really liked the word conversion. It symbolizes a change in attitude or emotion or perhaps even a viewpoint. I also liked the notion of different things converging together to form something entirely new. So I came up with the name Conversion Dance Project. I hope to form into more of a functioning dance company one day.”

Crystal invented Conversion Dance Project to continue to create and showcase her work in a professional manner after she graduated from graduate school.

These works have been showcased in venues such as the Arizona Dance Festival, the Genesis Dance Project, the Miami Open Stage and the Dance Gathering at The Barn in Houston.

“I had the opportunity to work with a friend of mine co-creating a solo work long distance,” Crystal says. “She was living in Miami and I was living in Maricopa, Ariz. Over several months we were able to create a solo together long distance via video exchange. We exchanged video footage of ourselves dancing, lengthy emails, Skype dates and telephone calls for the process of choreographing this work.

“She eventually flew out to Arizona from Florida and performed the solo in the Genesis Dance Project hosted by Desert Dance Theatre at the Tempe Center for the Arts. We received a lot of positive feedback on the work,” Crystal says.

In addition to her position as director of the Conversion Dance Project, she is an adjunct dance faculty at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix and Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Chandler, Ariz.

“As an adjunct instructor I teach various classes including modern and ballet technique as well as dance performance courses. I have also taught dance history and dance appreciation lecture courses in the past.

“I also set work on the dance students which is subsequently performed in the faculty dance showcase at the end of each semester. One of my current duties as an adjunct is to advise dance majors within an Applied Associate of Fine Arts in dance at a two-year college,” Crystal says.

While obtaining her master’s degree, she realized she enjoyed teaching more than performing. She had worked as a teaching assistant in graduate school, and she realized how teaching gave her more pleasure than performing. She began to see herself more as a teacher than a performer.

“As a dance educator, I get excited when I’m able to broaden students’ horizons and expand the realm of what they consider dance to be. Watching my students grow in knowledge and ability is one of the most rewarding things about teaching. Having the pleasure of being a small part of their artistic journey is so humbling. I just want my students to get excited about dance,” Crystal says.

The classes she took while attending Southeast Missouri State University, such as Principles of Teaching, Dance History, etc., helped her to be an informed educator as well as an accomplished dancer.

“The performance opportunities I had, as well as working with the various guest artists, also contributed to my overall success. I was given real professional experiences while I was there, which I am extremely grateful for,” Crystal says.

Crystal graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in performance and choreography from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. She graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2012.

While at Southeast, she attended a two-week professional dance intensive in New York City. She participated in the American Dance Festival New York Winter Intensive, where she took master classes by leading and well-respected artists in the dance community.

“I personally feel the training and instruction I received while there was absolutely vital to my growth as an artist. Allowing me to complete my internship in such a professional environment enabled me to not only grow as a dancer but also as a person,” Crystal says.

She was raised in Sikeston, Mo., and moved to Arizona when she was a child. She returned to Missouri from Arizona during her college career. She decided to finish her undergraduate degree at Southeast for financial reasons, as well as the fact that the River Campus had just opened, “creating a wonderful environment for the visual and performing arts,” she says.

At the University, she enjoyed the rehearsal process the most.

“I loved being a part of the creativeness that goes on in a rehearsal. I especially loved being in rehearsals with Sean Curran and Robert Battle. Having the opportunity to interact with these phenomenal artists and dance in their works was by far my most memorable moments from my time at Southeast. I am so grateful for the faculty that brought these guest artists in granting us such a tremendous opportunity as students,” Crystal says.

To see samples of her work, visit http://www.conversiondanceproject.net/.

To students, she says, “The most practical advice I could pass on is the knowledge that it is okay to fail. Sometimes you learn more from your failures than you do your successes. Also, it doesn’t make you a failure if you don’t achieve great success fresh out of college. Give yourself time after college to continue learning, growing and evolving. Success will eventually come, but not without hard work first. Give yourself the time to put the work in. I think remembering this sometimes helps to take the pressure off. In fact one of my favorite quotes about failure is by Benjamin Franklin who stated, ‘Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.’”