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Interview with Hannah Celinski

By Carolyne Clare 

May 27, 2016

Hannah Celinski is completing a Masters in English at SFU, and is the winner of the Three Minute Thesis competition for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. The Three Minute Thesis contest challenges participants to convey the importance of their research (in three minutes or less) to an audience of non-specialists. Hannah presented her research about dance and technology, which she developed within the Department of English at SFU. On March 14th, Hannah will move onto the second round of the contest, where she will compete against SFU finalists from five other Faculties. The Three Minute Thesis contest culminates with a national competition. We wish Hannah the best of luck!

When did you start dancing?

I started late, when I was 12. I went to a summer camp, and had a dance teacher that worked at the Stratford Theatre Festival. One class, she asked us to run across the studio. I misunderstood, and did leaps across the classroom instead. After class, the teacher pulled me aside, and suggested that I begin studying dance more seriously. I registered for a jazz class, and immediately knew that dance felt perfect for me.

Who were your dance teachers?

I was lucky to have a lot of amazing dance teachers. I went to an arts high school in Kitchener-Waterloo where we danced daily. Janis Price, a Graham trained dancer, led the dance program and taught our modern and contemporary classes. Scott Kufske was my competitive teacher in the evenings, and he taught jazz and music theatre. I enjoyed two well-balanced programs that explored technical, performative, and athletic aspects of dance.

Can you share some highlights from your career?

I’ve performed in musicals, infomercials, music videos, and on cruise ships. For Canada’s 150th anniversary, I did a national tour. We got to open for Celine Dion, and on Canada day we performed for the Queen of England in the afternoon, then with David Foster and Roch Voisine in the evening. It was a magical day.

Looking back on my entire career, I especially loved extended contracts such as three-month runs of musicals or working on the cruise ship. With an extended contract, you learn your role so well that you feel comfortable owning the role, which means you can potentially be more creative.

How does your dance experience inform your research?

I spent a summer working with Gwen Verdon, on what eventually became the musical Fosse. After Bob Fosse’s death, Verdon was the closest you could get to training with Fosse himself. Verdon had us study tiny movements in what many call the Fosse walk, for hours and hours. The level of detail she sought to impart to us was mind-boggling, but her humility and talent gave us confidence, and determination.

My experience working with Verdon led me to value the intimate process of transferring dance information personally from one generation of dancers to the next. My academic research is allowing me to study the process further.

How have your studies in the Department of English at SFU helped your dance research?

It all started in Dr. Paul Budra’s Shakespeare and Consciousness class. We examined the cognitive ecology of an audience in Shakespeare’s time, and I was then exposed to how mirror neurons function within that dynamic. I am now enrolled in Dr. Peter Dickinson and Dr. Dara Culhane’s Performance Theory course. We examined the embodiment of dance technique through our readings, and I was able to connect all these threads to my past experiences and observations as a dance instructor. My studies in the English department made this entire line of research possible, and I feel fortunate to have discovered so much inspirational material.