Thursday, April 28, 2011


By Nancy Condit

An exhibit of George Nelson's work is currently on
display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.  Photo provided

            In the second half of the 20th century, George Nelson was a multi-faceted artist responsible for many of the modernist office and home furniture designs through both his designs for his own George Nelson studio and as design director at Herman Miller, a  
US manufacturer of modern furniture designAt Herman Miller, Nelson had a major influence on the product line and public image of the company for over two decades.

Many of those designs are currently on display in George Nelson: Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher, an exhibition organized by the Vitra Design Museum,Weil  am Rhein, Germany, and sponsored by Herman Miller, at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in Oklahoma City through May 8th. The exhibit includes over 120 three-dimensional objects, including examples of chairs, benches, desks, cabinets, lamps, and clocks as well as over 50 historical documents, including drawings, photographs, architectural models, and films. Jennifer Klos is coordinating curator for the exhibit, and associate curator of the museum.

            In the gallery talk earlier this year, Christine Hoehn, assistant professor of interior design and Scott Williams, assistant professor of landscape architecture, both at the University of Oklahoma, noted that Nelson (1908-1986) graduated with a degree in architecture from Yale. He went to the Academy of Rome, and stayed for a couple of years as a journalist. He met some of the greats, including Mies van der Rohe, and Buckminster Fuller, with whom he later became friends.

 Nelson's Storagewall, designed in 1944.
Photo by Nancy Condit

            At the same time that Nelson was negotiating to join Herman Miller, his “Storagewall” was on the pages of Life in 1945. “He thought designs should reflect the way people live, that closets were very inefficient, and designed storage units,” Williams said. Clients could select their own modules. Some were open shelves, and some covered with sliding panels.  Modularization also appeared in his office products.

            Nelson was equally influential in his writing, John Berry, who knew Nelson and was liaison between Nelson, and designers Ray and Charles Eames, said in his April 6th talk at the museum.

            Nelson worked by five principles, which he wrote in 1948:

             What you make is important.
              Design is an integral part of the business.               
             The product must be honest.
             You decide what you will make.
             There is a market for good design.

            Decorative clocks designed by Nelson.  Photo by Nancy Condit

            Berry told of one evening and night Nelson spent drinking and designing with Isamu Naguchi and Buckminster Fuller as the three kept pushing each other to produce  decorative whimsy clocks like the ball clock with extending rays ending in wood balls, and the eye clock with black lashes.

“Nelson detested consumerism and was ashamed of his part in it, but was interested in the intellectual aspect of design – addressing or solving problems using the materials of the time,” Williams and Haynes said.

A model of Nelson’s design of a multi-level house, “The Jungle Gym,” at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959 -- the height of the Cold War -- showed commissioned Americans in the open-sided home, using the fully automated kitchen, showing contemporary furniture, and so forth. The home is credited with spreading the idea of the American way of life to the U.S.S.R.

The furniture is very pared down, very mid-century, Hoehn and Williams said. “The exhibit is a representation of the commercialization of design – the whole team contributes to the design.”

 “Nelson looked at what the user needed,” Williams said. 

Nelson was most well known for his office furniture designs with Herman Miller, Inc., which started with the table-desk as a module in the Storagewall, and continued to the L shaped desk and the action desk. The Pretzel Chair was so light, yet durable, that people brought their pencil, paper and bentwood pretzel chair to meetings.
 Sara Sara Cupcakes  uses Nelson Bubble Lamps.  Photo by Nancy Condit

Nelson’s iconic red “Marshmallow Sofa,” 1956, was made of multiple circles of foam forming the seat and back. The coconut chair’s triangular laid-back form invited loungers to sit any way they chose. The Bubble Lamps were inspired by the silk covered Scandinavian framed lamps. Nelson used sprayable plastic to cover a spinning frame, which created a shell for a much less expensive series of lamps.

 The Coconut Chair, for ease of sitting and lounging.  Photo by Nancy Condit

“He was a student of life – always about improving life,” Barry said.

To illustrate how prolific Nelson was, Berry said that he introduced 77 modernistic new products in his first year with Harold Miller.

When asked what he took away as his personal memory of Nelson, Berry said, “His intense pleasure in having fun.”

 The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is the first venue for the exhibit.

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By Nancy Condit

 The OVAC recepients of the Art 365 grant at the reception at
[Artspace] at Untitled are, left to right, Geoffrey Hicks, Grace Grothaus,
Liz Rodda, Frank Wick, and Aaron Hauck. Photo by Nancy Condit

            The opening of Art 365 was exhilarating as the yearlong projects of five Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition grant recipients showed their work at [Artspace] at Untitled in Oklahoma City. The artists’ projects were made possible by the by $12,000  grants to each, for a total of $60,000, grant in the second installment of the project.
            The artists were selected from 100 applicants in a statewide call for proposals by guest curator Shannon Fitzgerald, a writer and independent curator and previously Chief Curator at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis.

The public is invited to a closing reception and catalogue release party May 6, from to The exhibit continues at [Artspace] at Untitled through May 7.

            The winners were Grace Grothaus of Tulsa, Aaron Hauck of Ada, Geoffrey Hicks of Tulsa, Liz Rodda of Norman, and Frank Wick of Norman.

            “We look at it as a way to give artists time and space to experiment,” Julia Kurt, executive director of OVAC, said at the reception. “We view the exhibition as an investment in research and development for the artists,” she wrote in the press release.  Art 365 fulfills specific needs for area artists to receive both funding and feedback, allowing them to explore their vision and improve their work.

 “Besides the money, we think the interaction with the curator gives them a knowledgeable resource to talk to about their work. Shannon is exceptional. She has so much focus on the artists and their work.”

            “I worked with five emerging artists at five places in their career,” Shannon Fitzgerald, curator of Art 365. “As curator I helped them move to the next level with help that OVAC provides, and I think the exhibition demonstrates that when you provide worthy and critical curatorial support they excel. I feel that’s achieved in this exhibition.

“The best artists don’t make work in isolation. They need feedback, context, and a sense of criticality. They deserved a sense of curatorial placement.”   

Grace Grothaus’ Synthetic Landscape: The New OK is composed of nine panels of richly colored and textured layered plastics making panoramic abstract paintings of contemporary Oklahoma agro-industrial history. The sites include the luxuriant aqua painting of the Salt Flats, the oil refinery at Ponca City, the tank farm at Cushing, and wind farms across the state. The paintings, 48” by 26” x 6”, were then backlit with LEDs, with sensors cycling the panels through color, light and shadow. 

“Being able to take my ideas and fully execute them through this project allows me to see how mush further I can take it in the future,” Grothaus says. “From the air flight across Oklahoma to the materials and process I work with are very expensive, but what was more important was curatorial feedback in the process of developing my work.” She is donating a percentage of any sales from this series to the non-profit Oklahoma Sustainability Network.

 Grace Grothaus stands between two panels of
Synthetic Landscape: The New Oklahoma.  On the left
is a center pivot irrigation system, and on the right
are the Salt Flats.  Photo by Nancy Condit

            Grothaus, from Tulsa, earned a BFA in interdisciplinary art and art history from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2007. Her work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions including the Tulsa Artists Coalition Gallery, and the Leedy Voulkos Art Center in Kansas City.

            Aaron Hauck, Ada, created Transmutations of the Stone Age and “I Generation” to explore the evolution of culture and consumerism on the Clovis point, an artifact of the earliest human settlement in Oklahoma. In Transmutations three cases of contemporary Clovis points, cast of polyester and polyurethane, are accurate in scale, and presented in cases like arrowheads. They’re individually formed, and “come in a wide variety of colors, textures, opacity,” some resembling rocks and minerals, with one, for example,  painted in hot pink and black zebra stripes, and another painted with the face of a roaring tiger. “The varied appearance is meant to mimic the way that people today seek to individualize everything that we use in public, most specifically our tools used for communication and other social media like smart phones,” Hauck said in his signage. In High Technology Forager, Clovis points, 44” high and brilliantly colored, “are displayed on the wall as if they are commercial signage like those found at box stores or fast food restaurants.”

            “I think I learned a lot of processes, like casting resin, that I’ll use for the rest of my life, and that’s just invaluable,” Hauck says. “Without the generous funding from OVAC I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this.” He used the money for buying materials like plastic and different resins.

            The grant has “gotten me a lot of exposure and, hopefully, it will open a lot more doors.”

            Hauck earned an MFA in sculpture from Montana State University in 2007, and has studied in Sweden, Italy and Missouri. He is an assistant professor of art at East Central University who has exhibited nationally in curated, juried and invitational exhibitions.

            Geoffrey Hicks, Tulsa, backed up his statement, “I have always been fascinated by robots and automated technology” by training a six-foot tall, 800 pound repurposed robotic arm – originally used for automobile welding, into “a photographer like myself.”

            “In our daily lives we interact with robots all the time, perhaps at an ATM machine, or while pumping gas… Our culture has trained us to accept this as the new normal.  As a photographer who has taken hundreds of portraits over the past few years, I know how personal the experience of photographing another person can be.This project explores what happens when you remove the human element of a person behind the camera,” he says in his signage.

            “I had been wanting to buy a large robotic arm. I wouldn’t have been able to buy all the software and get the arm I bought on Ebay running without the grant.  The year ‘s worth of curatorial guidance was invaluable,” Hicks says.

            The face detection and tracking technology is licensed from Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition, Pittsburgh. Hicks also used open source software from Openframeworks, an online C+++ library designed to assist the creative process by providing a sample and intuitive framework for experimentation.

            Hicks studied at the University of Oklahoma and the California Institute of the Arts. He is a self-taught computer programmer whose technology-based work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions at the Tulsa Artists Coalition and installed in juried group exhibitions regionally.

            Tomorrows is intended to offer ways of thinking about what is currently indefinite or unknowable,” says Liz Rodda, Norman. “I am interested in what is beyond here and now.”

            To look at this, Rodda created Triple Possibilities, in which three Chinese fortune tellers interpret two of her dreams as representative of her future, each translated from the Chinese on one of three TV monitors. In The Future Is Not What I Used to Think – a four foot long paper and ink flow chart “illustrating the dramatic actions I may take in response to the premonitions,” Rodda says in the signage, “I become pregnant in one, die in another – things that I have no control over,” she says. She wrote on the chart that she would use poetry as a way of dealing with the pain following one thread. 

A friend of Rodda’s told her he became anxious, then meditative for five minutes while watching a video loop of a splendid theater curtain, in Curtains, that moves slightly. She says it “suggests infinite waiting in which viewers anticipate nothing more than anticipation.”

            Rodda chose to do Triple Possibilities in 2009 when she was asked to give a lecture at Renmin University in Beijing. “The money helped give me rent my studio, and choose the best way to do it.  Budget didn’t impede (me).”

 Rodda earned an MFA in the Studio for Interrelated Media Program at Massachusetts College of Art. She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally at such venues as the Domino Gallery, Liverpool, Takt Kunstprojectraum, Berlin, Dumbo Arts Center, Brooklyn, the 808 Gallery, Boston, and the Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga.

Frank Wick stands beside his work New Age Proud,
part of his series Tussin Space, "which refers to Robitussin, a pharmaceutical drug
that is used recreationally by teens and adults," Wick writes in his signage. Photo by Nancy Condit

            Frank Wick, Norman, made Tussin Space a body of work of five or six sculptures to represent something very modern, something science fiction, with objects referencing culture with a 70’s color theme.“I am exploring ideas related to attraction and repulsion and the concept of futility.

 “These objects, made of expanding foam and painted in psychedelic colors, are meant to appear in psychedelic visions reminiscent of science fiction horror movies in which alternative timelines and imagined realities coexist,” Wick writes in his signage.  DEATH DRIVE – a dripping mass of foam standing on a base of repurposed materials – speaks to Sigmund Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle… Freud theorized on the individual drive towards death, self-destruction, and a return to the inorganic. In Pain Killer, swelling tactile pillars conjure images of smoke trails and rocket launches. The hyper-feminine color palette, however, subverts the masculine imagery.”

Speaking of the grant, he says, “I was able to afford a studio – a large space, which I hadn’t been able to do in a long time. This allowed me to experiment, allowed me to create a cohesive body of work for the show, and, in doing that, allowed me to make more work in the same vein.
“Doing more allowed me to organize my thoughts. I’ve signed for two more years on my studio.  I wouldn’t have been able to afford a studio comfortably. I’m not studied in the ways of marketing. I’m going to try to figure out what professionals did before me.”

Wick earned an MFA in sculpture from the University of Miami. He has shown both in the United States and abroad in such venues as Projektraum M54, Basel, Switzerland, Twenty-Twenty Projects, Miami, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami.
            The exhibition is funded in part by OVAC founder John McNeese & John Richardson, Jean Ann Fausser, the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, which provides funds for catalogues, the Kirkpatrick Foundation, which gave general support, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which helped support the two artists from Tulsa, the Oklahoma Humanities Council, which paid an honorarium for the curator and writers of the catalogue, the National Endowment for the Humanities, which gave general support, the Oklahoma Arts Council, and Allied Arts.

              Art 365 will travel to Living Arts in Tulsa, July 1-22, with an opening reception on July 8.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011


"Threshold," 2011 is a flow of plaster or gypsum dust on the
wood floored gallery.  Photo by Joseph Mills

By Nancy Condit

            In sculptor Jill Downen’s current show Counterparts at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Downen continues to explore the concept she’s been interested in for over 20 years: the symbiosis between the human body and architecture. Her exhibit is part of the NEW FRONTIERS Series for Contemporary Art that “underscores the museum’s commitment to the art of our time and to recognizing contemporary art as a critical and dynamic part of our daily lives,” writes Glen Gentele, exhibit curator, and museum president and chief executive officer, in the exhibit brochure. The exhibit continues through May 1 in Oklahoma City.

            A “Plumb Line with Spot of Threshold,” 2011 in the center of the gallery, pointing to a pool of plaster dust on the wood floor, drew this writer’s most continual attention, perhaps because of its placement, the shine of light off the brass, or an absolute line it sets, while the sculpted body parts are in differing stages of age. It’s a “meditative center, a center of being” placed over the material the artist used to fabricate the other parts of the exhibit, Downen says in her video on the OKCMOA website,
"Plumb Line with a Spot of Threshold," 2011 is Counterparts'
"meditative center, a center of being," says Downen.
Photo by Joseph Mills
            The other most attention-drawing piece was “Threshold,” 2011, a flow of plaster or gypsum dust on the wood floor against a 60’ white wall. “’Threshold’ signals the edge of a void, a zone between the material and immaterial, inviting viewers to an edge of being,” Downen said by phone

            The exhibit is set up as a workspace, with sculptured abstract plaster body parts, some purposely cracked, like “Torso,” 2011 mounted on a high workman’s support pedestal or sagging, like long strands of “Architectural Cartilage on Rack,” 2011, were allowed to slump as they would with age, and were stored on wooden storage racks like those Downen had seen at the Louvre.

            The most elegant piece is the “Tendon on Pallet,” 2009, which at first glimpse looks like a sail. The “Breast Blocks on Pallet,” 2009 extend back from the breasts into squared rectangles so they can be stacked and used as building blocks, like bricks. 

            “I consider all of the installation parts as acting as counter balances.  The entire space becomes a one,” Downen writes by email of the exhibit’s title, Counterparts, by email.

            The honey colored floor boards of the gallery was a good foil for the stark white plaster, and became part of the exhibit.  How would the flow of plaster or the breast blocks on the wood pallet have been seen on a white tiled floor, on a black linoleum one?

            In an email interview, asked Downen how architecture and the human body are symbiotic, noting her point that people need food, shelter and clothing.

            “The symbiotic relationship between architecture and the human body touches all aspects of being. Beyond its function as a second skin, which provides the basic need of human shelter, architecture permeates our senses through its physical and non-physical presence, spatial dimensions, materials and quality of light. The human body is the vehicle for understanding and creating the world around us. The built environment is a prolongation of the self.”

How did this idea start, or how did it approach you?

“The idea first approached me in childhood. Without my awareness, a deep understanding of the body in space was taking shape in my identity. I learned from parents, who continually labored to modify the architecture of our home for the family’s growing needs, that architecture, like flesh, expands and contracts.”

Was there a particular point or event or funding that enabled you to pursue this idea?

“Over recent years I’ve been fortunate to experience support at key points in my development. This includes a grant and 2004 exhibition from Contemporary Art Museum and Gateway Foundation in St. Louis, a National Endowment for the Arts residency at the MacDowell Colony in 2009, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010.”

What is your next project, or expansion of this idea?

“For the Guggenheim Fellowship project. I am working in St. Louis and New York City to produce a new site-specific installation titled ‘Temporal Bodies.’  The project will culminate in an exhibition in New York that will address the temporal nature of the human body, and a heightened awareness of internal and external space.”

Born in 1967 in Belleville, Illinois, Downen maintains her studio in St. Louis, Missouri. She holds a BFA  from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA as a Danforth Scholar from Washington University.  Since the completion of an appointment at Washington University as the Wallace Herndon-Smith Distinguished Visiting Assistant Professor in 2008, Downen has pursued an art practice full-time. 

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet
6 p.m., Thursday, April 14


Join us in the theater at City Arts Center 6 p.m., Thursday, April 14, for a presentation of the independent film La Danse, The Paris Opera Ballet.   Tickets are $5 each and includes a complimentary glass of wine and popcorn!
The Paris Opera Ballet is one of the world’s great ballet companies. The film follows the rehearsals and performances of seven ballets: Genus by Wayne McGregor, Le Songe de Medée by Angelin Preljocaj, La Maison de Bernarda by Mats Ek, Paquita by Pierre Lacotte, Casse Noisette by Rudolph Nureyev, Orphée and Eurydice by Pina Bausch, and Romeo and Juliette by Sasha Waltz. The film shows the work involved in administering the company and the coordinated and collaborative work of choreographers, ballet masters, dancers, musicians, and costume, set, and lighting designers.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


 Three young ladies nicely performed a small class for
young people, and many adults, before the afternoon's matinee. Photo by Nancy Condit

By Nancy Condit

Last Sunday at the Civic Center, OKC Ballet ended its 2010-11 season with a the lovely classic “Paquita Grand pas Classique,” choreographed by Marius Petipa, restaged by ballet master Jacob Sparso, with music by Delibes, Drigo, and Minkus, and the monumental world premiere of the collaboration of “Mozart’s Requiem,” conceived, choreographed and directed by artistic Robert Mills, also performed with the Canterbury Choral Society and the OKC Philharmonic, both under the direction of Dr. Randi Von Ellefson. 

 “Paquita” was a series of dances in the grand 19th century style.  The series of dances were precise and generally well-executed. Miki Kawamura performed beautifully and exquisitely, and was well-partnered by Ronnie Underwood.  Soloists Stephanie Foraker Pitts and Grace Medaugh were also very good. The piece was well staged by Dale Hall with candelabra, chandeliers, and a swag of pink and rose fabric across a light backdrop.
The company has a good feel for this style of ballet. With the technique and style of  classic ballet well in hand, this reviewer is looking forward to a little more grace in the corps.

Mills’ huge “Requiem” celebrated a person’s going to heaven in a requiem mass – mass of rest, said for the dead by joining over 150 members of the Canterbury Choral Society, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and the OKC Ballet.  Dr. Randi Von Ellefson, who went to Mills about the possibility of such a collaboration in ’09, conducted both Canterbury and the Philharmonic in 18th century dress. The program also featured mezzo-soprano Lori Bade, bass Terrance Brown, soprano Emily Grunstad, and tenor Bradley Williams.

The ballet performed Mills’ enjoyable choreography well in a piece that celebrates the ultimate goal of Christianity.  The program quoted Mozart,” …death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness.”

The symphony was at the front of the stage, with the Canterbury Choral Society at the back.  As the musicians were lowered, somewhat noisily, into the orchestra pit, they revealed the ballet sitting with their backs to the audience, white wigged heads nodding in time to the music, and black caped clad figures, as a few angled white tighted and toe shoed legs and feet appeared to the side of the figures.

With cloaks and wigs abandoned to reveal broadly horizontally banded black, red and white short unitards, the dancers performed a contemporary ballet on point.  Fluid moves, even through the hands, in the first part of the ballet emphasized that each dancer was a person. Except for their shoes, no one danced an identifiable male or female role.

The first part effectively gathered everyone into a community as the dancers danced with arms on each others’ shoulders, in a line from classical ballet with their arms crossing in front of each other, danced as partners, and then danced in a line, simply hand in hand.  It was reminiscent of author Arthur C. Clark’s Childhood’s End, as people throw off the divisions of the current world, and join together for the new one to come.  When a person was left without a hand to hold, they shook it humorously, but the humor was not carried out long enough to be effective.

For much of the ballet the dancers performed in groups of three or seven – running, leaping, and partnering each other in classical turns, sometimes sitting, and then standing to join the dancers behind or beside them.  The emphasis was on joining,

Amanda Herd performed well on the black silks that were lowered from the top of the stage, climbing them, dancing where they were knotted, including an upside down split, and sliding down the symbol of death, swirling the fabric around her, and then swinging around the stage.

The program gave special thanks to Perpetual Motion Dance, the first company in Oklahoma to perform aerial dance.

Towards the end, very effective choreographically, the dancers changed into flesh colored leotards, the stage light became mottled, and the dancers, terrified, undulated their arms and upper torsos.  Eventually they reached a state of peace as they felt accepted, and well chosen flecks of gold dropped down over them.  At the end, one of the male dancers sprouted a full set of wings, and was raised to heaven on a sling of red silk.

The one big disappointment was the difference between the advertisement, with what appeared to be a winged angel offering solace to a woman, perhaps for whom the mass was written, which implied interaction between the angels and humans.  This did not occur in the ballet.     

Next season the ballet celebrates its 40th anniversary..
 c. Nancy Condit


Dancers from Ailey II spoke to the audience after the performance.
From left to right are Jacqueline Green, Solomon Dumas, associate director
Troy Powell, Brittany Engel-Adams, and Renaldo Gardner.  Photo by Nancy Condit

By Nancy Condit

Ailley II’s performance March 26th,  presented by BLAC, INC. at the new Douglass High School’s new auditorium – a great venue, was wonderful, with exceptional pieces, and well prepared dancers who are obviously on their way to more senior companies. It played to a sold out house of 1,200.  The performance was followed by a short talk with four of the dancers.

Kyle Abraham’s seamless “The Corner,” music by “Various Artists,” was performed with sass, energy and community, as small groups of people met, talked in dances, and moved on, talking and laughing with each other on the street corner, against the background of a heavily populated city with people walking by.  

The demi-point balletic contemporary dance, “Echoes,” choreographed by Thang Dao, with music by Ezio Bosso, was not seen by this reviewer.  Part of the piece by Ailey II can be viewed on

The classic “Revelations,” choreographed by Alvin Ailey, with traditional music, in 1960, in it’s 60th year, is now a community experience as well as an extraordinary dance chronicling African American music and experience from slavery to modern times.  Ailey II performed the dance with great verve, especially the section “Take Me to the Water,” with the circular sweeps of women’s legs in long 19th century summer white party dresses.  Technical quality was excellent.  Occasionally, as in “Run Sinner Man,” projection of emotion was a problem.  This reviewer feels that this will come with experience.

Troy Powell, assistant artistic director, introduced the dancers in the post-performance talk, noting that education was an important part of the purpose of Ailey II’s dancers.  He did note that in June, Judith Jamison, artistic director of Alvin Ailey for 31 years, will be retiring and doing more public speaking.

“Ailey II celebrates the black experience through modern dance,” but its auditions are interracial.  There are 12 dancers in the company, and 17 dances in Ailey IIs repertoire. “Ailey wanted his dancers to know what it was like to work with a company and work with choreographers.  The workshop company turned into Ailey II.”

Dancer Solomon Dumas said, “I was 12 when I was exposed to dance, and a man who looked like me danced – Derrick Minter (now assistant professor of modern dance at the University of Oklahoma), and I kept up the contact.” 
c. Nancy Condit