Sydney Daniels dances for diversity in Peace Walls

Sydney Daniels, a UMSL senior majoring in theatre and dance

Sydney Daniels, a UMSL senior majoring in theatre and dance, rehearses for the spring dance concert Peace Walls. (Photos by August Jennewein)

For Sydney Daniels, this week’s Peace Walls dance concert is not just about showing off her great technique. This year’s concert has a message that she hopes comes across to the audience.

“It’s not just a beautiful dance concert,” said Daniels, a senior majoring in theatre and dance at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “This is going to make people think and feel.”

For the past year, her dancing has contributed to the message of the concert. Daniels joined dancers from the Common Thread Contemporary Dance Co. in St. Louis to develop a dance component for the DisAbility Project, which performs at area schools to create awareness on disability issues. The Peace Walls concert is this year’s spring dance concert by the UMSL Department of Theatre, Dance and Media Studies, choreographed by Jennifer Medina, assistant professor of dance.

As co-president of UMSL’s Jewish Student Association, Daniels also works with other student religious or cultural groups to produce diversity events. Events often use music and food to celebrate diversity, but dance remains Daniels’ favorite way of breaking barriers.

Dance has been a common thread in Daniels’ life. She’s taken lessons since the age of 3 and performed in musical theater as well.

“I like dance because, like music, it transcends barriers,” Daniels said. “Dance can communicate something that everybody can understand.”

Daniels has made significant contributions to Peace Walls, said Medina who developed the theme after being inspired by the Peace Walls that separate Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland. The name has a symbolic duality, representing both physical and non-physical walls in today’s society.

“Sydney is a wonderful student, and an agent of peace,” Medina said. “I am ever grateful to have her as a student this year, and I honor her contributions to this concert.”

In addition to the DisAbility Project and Common Thread, some pieces will represent dances from specific cultures, such as the Afro-Haitian and Brazilian traditions. Washington University Professor Christine Knoblauch O’Neal will give a special performance. Assistant Professor Glen Anderson and Associate Professor Jim Fay, both of the Department of Theatre, Dance and Media Studies, designed media to contribute to the look of the show.

Daniels hopes that she’ll be able to continue making a difference in St. Louis once she graduates. In addition to studying at UMSL, Daniels also works for the Tesseract Theatre Co., in University City, Mo.

“A lot of people want to go to Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, but I feel like I should help build up the arts community in St. Louis,” Daniels said. “I don’t want to take all the knowledge that I got here some place else.”

Peace Walls will take place at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, in the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Theatre at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for the general public.

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