SUNY Potsdam Assistant Professor Cynthia DuFault’s true love is dance. She has been on the move for most of her career as a dance instructor, working in seven different states as well as Guanajuato, Mexico. She has been trained in everything from modern dance to ballet and has built her life around the pedagogy of dance—bringing extensive knowledge to her students since joining the College two years ago.
“I actually started as a gymnast when I was a little tiny tot. That’s what kind of led me into discovering and learning about dance. I did gymnastics until I was about 16, but I started dancing probably when I was about 10 years old. I did tap, jazz and ballet. I experimented with everything and loved it all—never really picking just one thing to do. Then I went into high school and discovered musical theatre and layered that on top of it all,” DuFault said.
Her career as a dancer has had a snowball effect, with each new technique she learned building off of the last. In high school, she worked with a director who taught her how to choreograph musical theatre and she started doing choreography for community and children’s theatre. From those formative years, she went on to get her BFA and MFA in dance from Arizona State University, where she really started to focus on modern dance with an emphasis on choreography. At ASU, she also trained under a Prima ballerina from Russia, a former dancer in the Kirov Ballet who had attended the world famous Vaganova Academy of Ballet before defecting to the U.S.
After graduating from ASU, DuFault connected with the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp—the oldest continuously operating dance and theater school in America. The prestigious dance school, established in 1913, is located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, at 6,732 feet above sea level. Mountain horse pastures and open-air studios provide a connection to nature that dovetails perfectly with the spirit of the dancers at the school. DuFault taught there for one summer and loved it so much that she stayed on as the director for the year-round dance program and helped to create the school’s first winterized dance studio.
“It’s pretty spectacular! I have so much love for the place. I did that for about six years and then I got the itch to go back into academia again,” DuFault said.
She went on to teach at the University of Northern Colorado, Miami-Dade Community College in Florida, Universidad de Guanajuato in Mexico, the New World School of the Arts in Florida and the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, before coming to SUNY Potsdam in the fall of 2016—a decision largely influenced by the College’s new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center. “Really my selling point to come here was this building. There’s just nothing better than working in a beautiful atmosphere,” DuFault said.
DuFault has been teaching modern dance, ballet, tap, choreography and musical theatre dance forms on campus. She tries to create a sense of community in her classes and she pushes her students to strive for excellence. “Dancing is so different in a classroom compared to any other class. We’re being physical, we’re being vulnerable, we’re expressing ourselves in many ways. I like working with these students! It’s like a clean canvas. You can really get them excited about dance,” she said.
She’s quickly making an impact on campus. Last spring, DuFault oversaw auditions for the Perry Mansfield College Dance Intensive. She held auditions in the PAC, and selected three students (Caitlyn Lane, Sarah Olsen and Genevieve Ortiz, an exchange student from Puerto Rico) to attend the program—the first time any SUNY Potsdam students have ever attended the school.
The three students received a scholarship from Perry Mansfield, and DuFault helped them create a fundraising plan for their tuition. They set up a crowdfunding account, sold water, roses and baked goods at performances on campus, and also received funding from The School of Arts and Sciences. “The school really helped out a lot. It was spectacular. I was blown away by that,” DuFault said.
“What makes it such a cool program in the summer is that everybody is coming from somewhere else. So, you have a quick sense of community amongst the students and amongst the faculty—and that’s my favorite part about it. You’ll hear the students talk about how nice everybody is, and there’s no real competition or anything like that. Everyone is really supportive because they’re all coming from different places,” DuFault said.
After traveling around the country with her two sons for most of her career, DuFault plans to make SUNY Potsdam her permanent teaching appointment. Her oldest son is a sophomore at the College, pursuing a double major in graphic design and new media, as well as arts management, with a minor in theatre. “I guess you could say the arts are in my family,” she said.
This semester, DuFault is busy teaching beginning and intermediate ballet, upper-level modern dance techniques and composition I. She will be choreographing the production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” performed at the PAC's Proscenium Theatre on Nov. 15-18 and directed by Lecturer Joshua Vink. She will also be choreographing and performing in "The Soldier's Tale," a collaboration between The Department of Theatre and Dance faculty and The Crane School of Music, which will be staged on Oct. 11 at 7:30 pm in the PAC's Proscenium Theater. Additionally, she will be choreographing the musical, "Spring Awakening," which will be performed on Nov. 7-11 at St. Lawrence University's Gulick Theatre. The musical will be directed by SLU Associate Professor Jennifer Thomas, and musically directed by former Crane student, Heather Ferlo.
In the spring, she will teach modern dance, intermediate ballet and musical theatre. She will also be choreographing dancers in “Wiley and the Hairy Man,” a play directed by Associate Professor Jay Pecora.
For more information about The Department of Theatre and Dance, visit: www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/TheatreDance
Article and photos by Jason Hunter