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September 2, 2007

Dance Diva: Robin Stephens makes her home at ULM as dance director

Even as a child, Robin Stephens choreographed dances in her mother's living room.

The University of Louisiana at Monroe dance director said she would get her sister's friends to be the stars, but the dance moves were all hers.

"Dancing is really something that has been a constant in my life," said Stephens, who is from Oklahoma City. "Almost as long as I can remember I've danced somehow, someway."

A professional dancer since the 1970s, Stephens attended Oklahoma City University and spent summers working at places such as the Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma and Casa Manana in Fort Worth, Texas.

"I sort of drifted into it that way because I was drawn to it, the exposure was a positive exposure for me, and when I auditioned I got hired," Stephens said.

After college, Stephens said she did what seemed most logical — she moved to New York.

"You go to New York and you get a trade paper and there are probably 30 or 40 things you can audition for every day," she said.

"Some of the things you'd never want to do, but there is that kind of opportunity there and that kind of movement in the world there."

Her career in New York led to jobs on Broadway, first in the original company of "42nd Street," which starred Jerry Orbach.

The late Orbach, known for his roles in "Dirty Dancing" and "Law and Order," was a great person to work with, Stephens said.

"He did a lot of stage work and was really a singer; you don't think of him as a singer," she said. "But I got to work with him and he was just like a normal guy. He was very nice."

Stephens was part of the "42nd Street" production for three years.

After "42nd Street," Stephens joined the production, "Dance a Little Closer," which seemed sure to be a success.

Alan Jay Lerner, a lyricist famous for work with "My Fair Lady" and "Paint Your Wagon" was directing the show, and Charles Strouse was writing the music.

Instead, the musical opened in Minskoff Theatre and was closed after one performance. Stephens was left without a back-up plan.

"I had nothing," she said. "I had gone from one long-running show to another show that had all the earmarks of a hit, and when it didn't have any kind of a run, it was like, 'What do I do now?'"

Stephens continued to audition, looking for ways to simply make money and be able to stay in New York.

She eventually got a call and was asked to participate in a national tour of "42nd Street," a request that she accepted.

"I was on the road for two and a half years with '42nd Street,'" she said. "We went to all the major cities, and the shortest amount of time we were in a city was two weeks."

After the tour, Stephens decided not to return to New York. Her path eventually led her to teaching.

"Teaching is a normal progression for someone in the arts — to teach someone what you do," Stephens said.

Before coming to Monroe, Stephens was resident dance teacher and choreographer at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina.

Looking for jobs that would bring her closer to her family in Oklahoma, Stephens was led to ULM.

Since arriving in Monroe in August 2006, Stephens has worked with the Louisiana Lyric Opera, where she recently choreographed

two shows: "Little Shop of Horrors" and "The Pirates of Penzance."

She has also been building the dance department, directing the dance minor.

"What I'm building is an eclectic dance department — not just a ballet department, not just a modern department, not just jazz, but all of those things, because I can do all those things," she said.

"They lend themselves to someone who is well rounded and someone who can work in musical theater and have the kind of career that I had."

Stephens is also a contract choreographer, and this summer she worked with the River City Players in Oklahoma.

"I'm also the resident choreographer for musical theater and opera program that comes out of the division of music," she said. "When they do their pieces I do the dances for them."

Stephens sees her childhood as a catalyst for her love of travel and incredible dance career.

"My father was a professional baseball player, and we were always in Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, traveling a lot," she said. "I've had the opportunity to know there was more than my little world."

She also inherited fantastic athletic genetics, Stephens said.

"The ability to jump up and down and not get tired so fast, all that kind of stuff. I had a lot of freedom to explore and to travel and it really did open the door for me to do that," she said. "And I hope I'm not done doing it."

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