Recently named Dean of Point Park’s Conservatory of Performing Arts
Take a trek to Downtown Pittsburgh, and you’ll notice tall skyscrapers, slightly cooler temperatures due to the three rivers, and if you look close enough, you’ll see one of the top collegiate dance programs in all of America.
Point Park University’s dance program is the real deal — ranked No. 5 in the U.S. in 2018 by OnStage Blog, and among the top 25 Dance programs for 2020-21 by DanceUS.org.
At the helm of the heralded Point Park dance program is Garfield Lemonius, the Jamaica-born, Canada-raised man of many moves who recently became Dean of the school’s Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA). The department of dance is included in COPA, along with theatre and cinema arts. Lemonius is also artistic director of Pittsburgh Playhouse, the university’s performing arts space that is now located Downtown, adjoining Point Park.
“It is hard to describe what it is about dance that I enjoy so much to make me choose it as a professional career,” Lemonius, who first joined Point Park as a guest artist in 2009 and became a full-time faculty member in 2011, told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “The training to become a dancer is extremely arduous and incredibly taxing both mentally and physically. I sometimes asked whether I chose dance or did dance choose me, but the feeling I get from dancing is indescribable — insatiable. How can I explain how movement feels palpable, almost visceral, so that someone understands? I know that when I dance, and while it is work, let’s be clear, I cannot fathom doing anything else. I love art and how art is expressed through movement; it’s social commentary; it can transform, heals and brings community together.”
Lemonius received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance and a Bachelor of Education from York University in Toronto, Canada. He earned a Master of Fine Arts in Dance from Southern Methodist University, in Texas.
Lemonius has been a principal dancer with the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and a master teacher for programs like The Debbie Allen Dance Institute Summer Intensive, in addition to a teacher of dance for many schools. Lemonius was a faculty member at the nationally-acclaimed Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, in Dallas, when officials at Pittsburgh’s Downtown university came calling.
After years as an associate professor in Point Park’s department of dance, Lemonius became chair of the dance department in 2018. He was named acting dean of COPA and artistic director of the Pittsburgh Playhouse in June, and the university officially appointed Lemonius dean in September.
“Garfield’s permanent appointment should surprise no one,” said Michael Soto, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Point Park, in a statement provided to the Courier. “His talents as a leader on the Point Park University campus and in the artistic community speak for themselves.”
Soto added that Lemonius is a “natural bridge-builder, and in his short time at the helm he has fostered partnerships among COPA programs, between the Playhouse and community organizations, the university’s schools, and with external partners in the arts and industry.”
“Garfield has shown a tremendous ability to lead a diverse group of faculty and to understand what our COPA students need to learn and thrive,” voiced Don Green, Ed.D., president of Point Park University, in a statement. “I am thrilled to have Garfield established as a leader at Point Park University.”
In the Conservatory of Performing Arts, there are currently 913 students enrolled, including 305 theatre majors, 344 in dance, 243 in cinema arts, and 21 in the Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting/playwriting program.
When pursuing a career in the performing arts, Lemonius said students study various forms of style and movement, but there’s also a study of choreography, music, art, literature, history, body science and “courses in aesthetics and criticism,” he said. “Essentially, how to look at, talk about and write about art,” Lemonius said.
Lemonius told the Courier that dance techniques in the Hip-Hop genre have become “so rooted in many areas of the dance industry, and dancers are realizing that this very sophisticated, textured and rich movement has permanence and permeates most areas of the industry.” He said it will “forever be a part of the story of American dance tradition and art.”
Hip-Hop, most experts say, was born on Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc and his friend, Coke La Rock, hosted a back-to-school party in the Bronx (New York City). “Rappers Delight” was the first commercially successful Hip-Hop song, by the Sugarhill Gang, in 1979.
Those in the dance industry that are learning the Hip-Hop dance techniques are largely non-African Americans. While it’s applaudable that those of all ethnicities in the performing arts industry are learning these movements, Lemonius said that the “dance industry still has some ways to go as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. Specifically, diversity and representation in some dance forms continue to be a challenge. This is not because Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) artists are not proficient in these dance forms, but mainly because there have been systemic issues that prevent PIBOC dancers from participating in some companies where specific genres of dance are practiced. However, we continue to make strides thanks to many folks who have fought for inclusivity, and those who continue the struggle. African American dancers continue to demonstrate that they, too, are skilled in all dance forms, and the industry will need to change to welcome us onto all stages, and into companies and learning institutions.”
Specifically at Point Park University, Lemonius said COPA’s department of dance has created programs aimed at addressing the inequity in the dance industry, by highlighting BIPOC choreographers and their contributions to the art form. One of the choreographers highlighted last year was Dr. Brenda Dixon-Gottschild, also a renowned author and dance critic, who discussed issues surrounding Blacks in dance, particularly ballet, Lemonius said.
“While we are proud that in the Conservatory we have a diverse student body,” Lemonius told the Courier, “we also recognize that there is still room for more representation in faculty, staff and students of diverse backgrounds…I am confident that we are taking steps to create an equitable and inclusive environment at Point Park University.”