Dr. Killian Manning places two worlds in one. She is a communication studies professor here at UNCG, while also doubling as a dance instructor at a studio in Chapel Hill.
Manning has a fair amount of experience with her craft. Her dance journey all started when she was 8 years old. She danced until she was 15 or 16, but her parents made her stop. Like any other parent, they wanted her to go to college. At the time, there were no dance classes taught in college, so she left it and studied many different things, but then she came back to it.
Manning had been working as a choreographer when someone suggested majoring in communication studies. This caused her to move into Communications with a focus in performance studies.
Manning danced professionally in Boston from 1980 to 1988. She taught at Radcliffe, Boston Conservatory and other professional companies, and managed to perform with some touring companies. Afterwards, she came to North Carolina for the American Dance Festival while on scholarship to learn how to dance for video. Finding a new home in North Carolina, Manning stayed from 1988-1995, and acquired her master’s in Communication Studies at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.
After Chapel Hill, she earned her Ph.D. in performance studies from the University of Utah. She came back to North Carolina to work at UNCG and started teaching in the communication studies department, and to teach dance at all levels in studio. She currently teaches pre-ballet to small children, contemporary and advanced modern. Manning has also taught jazz and ballet.
Every fall she teaches a group performance class, CST 460, focusing on a special topic, or “issue” in today’s news. Last year, her course topic was racism and titled “Color in Between the Lines,” and two years ago the topic was the ‘American dream,’titled “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” In the latter class she discussed what the ‘American Dream’ was and if it existed anymore.
In the spring, she teaches a performance studies class called “Performing Sexual Identity,” and her students make solo performances based on the theme.
“We look at messages in the communication studies that we get from the world from advertising, books, The Bible, our parents… And how do those things form who we become,” Dr. Manning said in a previous interview.
This year, she immediately thought of performing on the topic of patriotism because of what is going on currently in the news. She was so excited about her idea that she thought about having her dance company perform it too.
Manning’s contemporary dance company has been working on the patriotic piece since June. Her class has done research on topics like NFL’s San Francisco 49ers ex-football player, Colin Kaepernick, and kneeling during the National Anthem. “Is that patriotic or is that not patriotic?” Manning asked.
Her dance company has even done research on patriotism in capitalism. They have created a series of skits from the research that talks about what it means to be patriotic.
She has a total of 25 students, 14 people are performing and 11 people are behind the scenes working on publicity. Each dancer is assigned to someone else for rehearsal.
Dr. Manning teaches through movement and text. She tries to combine both of her worlds — being a professor at a university and a dance instructor at a studio as often as she can.
“It has been really interesting to have a topic explored by two different groups,” Manning said. “My dance company who does do spoken word has sort of taken a different route.”
She then explained the work her CST 460 class has been doing.
“Their premise is ‘Sam’s Bar on the 4th of July.’ People come in at different times, getting into bar fights, or having conversations after work. Uncle Sam is the bartender watching it all happen,” Manning said.
These topics are relevant and this is what we are seeing on the news, and for it to be playing out on stage is important. It gets people to think.
The number that her dance company is performing is premiering on Nov. 1-5 in Durham, but the piece that her class is performing is on UNCG’s reading day, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. in Ferguson 100. It is strongly encouraged for UNCG students to come out and support.