January 4, 2011 Last summer I had the long-delayed pleasure of taking a dance class with Gerri Houlihan, a dancer, choreographer, and teacher whose influence on Miami’s dance scene I had only heard about in legend. While on the faculty at the New World School of the Arts in the late 80s and throughout the 90s, Houlihan inspired many soon-to-be-pros while also directing her own company, Gerri Houlihan dancers. As a master teacher at the American Dance Festival, Houlihan had the dubious honor of leading a “movement” workshop for dance critics. Though some of my peers were themselves once professional dancers, others, like me, are much better at describing dance moves than executing them. But no matter, Houlihan rewarded our efforts with her trademark, delighted “Oh, my god!”
So I eagerly made my way to the retrospective of Houlihan’s work presented by the Florida Dance Festival’s Winter Fest and saw for the first time the pure, classical choreography I’d heard so much about. The program showed off Houlihan students old and new, starting with a serene solo by now renowned choreographer and dancer Jennifer Nugent and building in both the number of dancers and the intensity of the gestures to a hilarious finale with 20 rapturous bodies on stage. My favorite moments were the simplest, where Houlihan seemed more sculptor than choreographer, not because the dancers were still, but because she somehow seemed to carve away everything in excess of a clear, intimate connection between the audience and the dance.