Guest Artist Spotlight: Teena Marie Custer

By Paige St. John (BFA '19)

Teena Marie Custer, an MFA alumna in dance performance at Ohio State, continues to make a name for herself in the world of street dance. Custer is a b-girl and hip-hop dance theatre artist, solo performer and member of several street dance crews, including the Get Down Gang and Venus Fly Trap Crew. A faculty member at Slippery Rock College, Custer works with fellow OSU Dance alumna Ursula Payne, chair of the department. Custer’s ability to span both academic and artistic realms provides a broad platform for what she terms “Hip Hop Dance Theater,” an abstraction of the socio-economic context in which the culture of hip hop exists (street dance for social purposes).

Custer maintains connections with her alma mater, returning this academic year to teach master classes and restage an original work on Department of Dance students who traveled to Brazil in March.  Her piece, The Shadow Walk, explores mourning and loss through the language of movement. She explained, “I was mostly finding a way of grieving personal loss, but most interested in creating a new ritual that captures how I might want to be celebrated through movement after my own passing. For re-staging purposes it’s getting the dancers to transcend the physical body, and connect to something outside of themselves, mourn their own personal losses and support one another.”

Rehearsal director Josh Manculich said Custer is “passionate, kind and knowledgeable,” noting that her choreography challenged and inspired the cast artistically, intellectually and emotionally. Dancer Callie Lacinski said Custer “pours so much wisdom from first-hand experience with a level perspective that inspires curiosity.” Susan Hadley, chair of the department and director of the Brazil Dance Tour Group, recalled that The Shadow Walk spoke powerfully to audiences.

As guest artist for the 2016 OhioDance Spring Festival and Conference, Custer’s street-dance background brings new movement vocabulary to the dance community in Columbus. Executive director of OhioDance Jane D’Angelo said “festival participants were energized by Custer’s career success as a female hip hop artist in a male-dominated dance form that emphasizes athleticism, rhythm, and competition.” Participants shared that her classes were a “breath of fresh air,” pushing them to escape comfort zones while opening their eyes to new lenses of dance training. Ohio State dancers performing The Shadow Walk in the festival provided opportunities for audiences to have an “up close and personal” interaction with Custer’s Hip Hop Dance Theatre.

Video and images by Cailin Manning (BFA '16) and Kimberly Wilczak (MA ‘17)