BY: ROBYN JUTSUM, CONTRIBUTING REPORTER
Marek Cholewa, a Butler University dance professor, strives to share the historical and pedagogical culture of dance in Poland and Russia with his Butler students.
Cholewa began his training at the National School of Ballet in Poznan, Poland, and from there was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of Poland to work at the Mariinsky Theatre and the Rimsky-Korsakov Music Conservatory in St. Petersburg, Russia.
He said that due to the Polish political climate, it was not favorable to return to Poland long-term after completing his studies.
While in St. Petersburg he met his wife, and together they were invited to Panama by renowned ballerina Margot Fonteyn to work with the National Central American Ballet.
They remained in Central America until 1988 when he was offered his current position at Butler.
“I never thought I would be at Butler so long,” Cholewa said. “I kind of thought a few years would be a good statement and a good way to start working here in the U.S.”
He said the opportunity to work with the students and international opportunities for choreographic projects has kept him connected to the university.
“(Professors) are definitely touching (students’) lives by not only doing exercises daily, but having contact with them and discussing on the different levels if they come to seek advice,” Cholewa said.
Cholewa said he was surprised by the lack of historical preservation in the U.S.
“In Europe, you are always preserving the history,” Cholewa said. “We (in the U.S.) are always moving, stepping to the new.”
Despite this difference, Cholewa said he likes being in Indianapolis and at Butler.
Cholewa said the university has been supportive of his international endeavors, which is why he is able to offer the dancers a chance to travel to Poland and St. Petersburg for a three- to four-week study abroad trip at the end of the spring semester.
“The major benefits of the trip are to see other dancers, see how they work, see performances, learn about other cultures, and see a part of the world that is not yet as easily accessible as Western Europe,” Cholewa said.
Susan McGuire, another dance professor at Butler, said the trip is a tremendous opportunity for students to be in a different country as well as to see the level of work that is obtained there.
“The students come back with so much more than just a dance experience, so much more than just the culture. It’s all of it. They’re different when they come back. It’s a life-changer,” McGuire said.
The dancers are also excited for the trip.
Senior dance pedagogy major Carly Hambridge went to Poland and St. Petersburg at the end of her freshman year.
“I think the fact that we can study abroad while here being a dance major is really important because we don’t really have that opportunity any other time in college,” Hambridge said.
She said Cholewa is a great tour guide because he knows so much about everywhere they go.
Zachary Tuazon, a junior in the program, said the trip offers experience and valuable resources.
“It is also helpful, too, if only to understand our teacher and understand where he comes from,” Tuazon said.
Cholewa said he thinks that traveling is the best way to learn.
“Meeting people constantly and learning from their experiences teaches me a lot of things,” Cholewa said.
“It teaches you not only as an artist but as a human being, and I feel the learning of their tradition and learning, of course, their language is and always will be very important to me.”
Cholewa said he feels that being a professor is a big responsibility.
McGuire said Cholewa is aware of what it takes to be a dancer of a high caliber, so his expectations are high for students in the department.
McGuire said she thinks students sometimes have difficulty meeting that challenge, but he will not lower his standards.
“For a student who is willing to meet that challenge, there is so much they can get from his coaching and teaching,” McGuire said.
His high expectations have lent him the reputation of being tough and stern if need be.
Hambridge said he is a father figure to Butler Ballet.
“He doesn’t always give you the ‘good job’ because he wants you to do better and better and there’s always more,” Hambridge said.
“He’s like a dad, very set in his ways, and doesn’t really change that necessarily.”
Tuazon said Cholewa demands respect where it’s deserved.
“He’s very good about keeping us on our game, keeping us honest about the work,” Tuazon said.
While Cholewa sets the bar high, Tuazon said people generally have a positive impression of him.
“He really tries to understand the students, and he is very understanding of injuries and if people have outside life problems,” Tuazon said.
Although his work corresponds directly with training the next generation of professional dancers, his knowledge can extend to areas outside the realm of dance.
“The better way to talk about his importance to the department, I think, would be to think about the department without him,” said Larry Attaway, chair of the dance department.
“There would be a huge void.”