For Duane Cyrus, becoming the director of the School of Dance is another step in his career of influence, artistry and brilliance in the dance community. A graduate of the Julliard School and an award-winning artist, educator, curator and producer, Cyrus has worked in many sectors of the dance world and believes that the School of Dance is the perfect place for him to continue his legacy.
Unlike most collegiate dance programs in the country, Cyrus says, UArizona focuses heavily on introducing students to performance. This was one of the key factors for him when choosing Arizona.
“What makes the dance program here so great is that the students get to have an intensive, conservatory experience,” he says. “This means that they get to perform incredible works and learn how to be performers and choreographers, so they understand the practical parts of dance. All these elements came together to show me that this is the ideal place for me to advance my leadership.”
Before coming to UArizona, Cyrus was a dance professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for 17 years, spearheading many projects and programs. “One of my proudest accomplishments at UNCG was exposing students to professional legacy choreographies,” Cyrus says.
Although Cyrus has been involved in dance education for many years, he also has impressive performance accomplishments, including performing as a soloist with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, being a guest artist with the Tokyo Ballet Group and being a featured dancer in the original London production of Disney’s “The Lion King.”
“What I want people to walk away with when they see my creative work is the idea that difference is possible,” Cyrus says. “Being open to difference means you can also dispel and mitigate expectations. That is what art is: someone else’s perspective on something. For people to approach work with the openness of accepting difference is essential. It is why art is important — art applies difference.”
Cyrus also acknowledges his identity as an Afro Caribbean man through his artistic works, not only to offer relatability to people who share the same identities but also to educate those who don’t. “I want to make works that are taking my perspective and translating them in a way that is accessible to everyone,” he says.
Though Cyrus is an accomplished professional dancer, he believes working in higher education is exactly where he is supposed to be at this time in his career.
“By being in this position, I can reach young people at a very important stage in their artistic lives,” he says. “They are mature enough so they can absorb sophisticated ideas, but they are young enough to where they are still malleable and able to change.”
He also has plans to implement new programs. “I want to advance how research takes place at the School of Dance,” he says. “One initiative that I am in the process of developing is graduate-level research in choreography so that we are bringing in strong professionals who want to explore their voice as creatives and expand their research options as graduate students.”
Cyrus has identified three critical areas to ensure the values of the School of Dance are a top priority under his new leadership: transparency and accountability, organizational alignment, and mentorship. He also makes sure he is accessible to students and their needs. “It’s all about letting people know what is going on and allowing everyone in the School of Dance the ability to learn and grow in their respective areas, whether that be student, faculty or staff,” he says.
Cyrus will be the second director of the School of Dance, following Jory Hancock, and he is excited to add to the foundation laid down by his predecessor. “Jory focused on legacy works, which are works that professional companies perform and are funded by donors,” he explains.
“We are currently in negotiation for new works. I want to continue to build on and expand the diversity of what is considered a legacy work by looking for choreographers of color and nontraditional choreographers. I want to expand the canon for what is considered a legacy work and bring that excellence to the program.”