MSUM taps former dance pro as new prof

Lewis E. Whitlock III instructs the dance production and tap classes.

Lewis E. Whitlock III instructs the dance production and tap classes.

As a new adjunct professor, Lewis E. Whitlock III said he hopes to bring his expertise in directing dance and music to the theater department at MSUM.

A Minnesota native, Whitlock fell in love with dance at the wee age of 4 in Minneapolis and hasn’t lost his passion since. Although he quit dancing professionally at age 33, Whitlock continues to teach and direct in areas of dance, music and theater. Whitlock was initially working toward a degree in history. It wasn’t until he was auditioning for a play that one of his professors noticed his major and convinced him to switch his focus to speech, due to the fact that theater didn’t have its own department yet.

“It was the right thing for me,” Whitlock said. “It tapped into all the things that I was interested in.”

Not having a degree in dance has never held Whitlock back as he has studied, directed and danced in productions in more than 10 countries, as well as traveled throughout the United States. Whitlock found himself as a cultural envoy for the U.S. embassy in Kazakhstan, a country he claimed is similar to Minnesota. Before teaching in Kazakhstan, Whitlock was in Latvia, which he found intriguing culturally and significantly different from America.

“It really helped me appreciate who and what the United States really is,” Whitlock said.

Coming back to America, Whitlock became a part of the national center of African American artists in Roxbury, Mich. While there, he started getting into doing more television productions, mainly educational programs. From there he went to New York to work with George Faison’s dance company and he toured across the United States. After touring with that company he took his talents to the national company of the hit musical “The Wiz.” Working with prominent people such as Ossie Davis and Ruby D., Whitlock not only gained even more experience but he began making a name for himself.

“That was truly wonderful, watching Ruby D. work on a day-to-day basis is amazing,” Whitlock said.

After that work he got into a production called “Zoot Suite” that ran on Broadway. Upon closing of the show the director contacted Whitlock about bringing him to a work in another company in Los Angeles but because of the gas crisis it instead closed. Things weren’t looking so well for the production of the company until Whitlock received a call one day asking to be a part of a movie that they were making in honor of “Zoot Suite”.

“I remember the director said to me while we were doing the show that he didn’t like the costumes made for me,” Whitlock said. “I just thought: Well I am a dancer and the only thing you can ever say when you’re a dancer is ‘Does it fit?’ and if it didn’t that was the only time you could say anything.”

Being an assistant to directors and choreographers, Whitlock got the experience he needed to finally become one himself. He found that his degree in speech was most helpful when dealing with directors and actors; helping the communication between them was his strong point. Although he has taught a range of classes, he admits that directing is his favorite.

“You get to be all the characters, you must investigate it like that,” Whitlock said. “Your focus is what’s being communicated to the audience and what are all the images, symbols all those things have to be coordinated as well.”

After finally relocating back to Minneapolis, Whitlock found a passion in teaching and had the opportunity to teach without needing his license. Teaching three classes and a wide range of students from freshman to seniors at MSUM, he likes how interested and involved his students are in class. Whitlock said his biggest accomplishment was a production that he created that went on for 14 years before finally ending. He said he hopes to stay at MSUM and continue teaching while getting involved as much as he can in the dance community around the area.



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