By Jake Hahn, Free Press Staff
For some, the art of dance is just part of the background noise of life, just another thing they may see throughout the course of the day. For others, however, much more thought is put into the art. For these people it’s a way of life, not just a side note.
Maria Tzianabos is one of these people. Tzianabos is an instructor of dance, repertory and choreography at the USM Theatre Department. She has worked at USM since 1997. She obtained her BFA and MFA from the Boston Conservatory and Goddard College respectively. Having a friend that lived in Portland allowed her to make the connections needed to begin performing and teaching in the area, and which eventually landed her a job here.
Her passion for dance runs deep, and the list of dances she has performed in and productions that she herself has choreographed is enormous. After finishing her college career, she went on to perform in numerous shows throughout Boston, and became a soloist in the Granite State Ballet. Since 1999, she has choreographed the now bi-annual Dance USM! show. In addition to all of the work she puts into her shows at USM, she also choreographs and performs her own work across Maine, teaches dance at New Dance Studio and at the Portland High School Arts Academy. In 2009, she founded a dance studio for younger kids called Maria’s Danceworks Inc.
What Tzianabos considers to be her crowning achievement is not any of the numerous productions she has been a part of, but is instead her work in introducing a minor in dance here at USM about three years ago. Nothing like that had ever really existed before. If an individual had an interest in dance they could of course pursue it through performances put on by the department and maybe through taking a few theatre classes. Tzianabos wanted to bring the art of dance out of the shadows here on campus; she wanted to attract people from all disciplines who may have an interest in dance.
She said that this year the dance minor program has seen an unprecedented amount of non-theatre majors. It was partly Tzianabos’ intention to get people to take the dance minor who were not already involved in the theatre. Some of the students she has had this year are majoring in business, communication, music and math. She said that her students sometimes refer to her as “the Pied Piper of dance” because of the multitudes of students she attracts. “Some of my students say taking dance has improved their self esteem, others may go on to dance professionally or pursue their master’s degree in dance,” Tzianabos said. Two of her students were even given the honor of marching in the President’s Gala alongside faculty.
Tzianabos is able to attract such a wide array of students mainly because of her intense passion for dance and because of her desire to share that passion with others. She enjoys choreographing new dances as much as she likes performing in them.
“I hope to design more classes like Ballroom and Art of Dance that appeal to all majors and levels, as well as [design] advanced technique and repertory classes for the students who hope to pursue a career in the performing arts,” Tzianabos said.
Tzianabos actually choreographed a dance specifically for one of her star students, Veronica Druchniak. This shows how far she’s willing to go for her pupils. Druchinak is an honors math student with a minor in dance. Druchinak was on track to study at Yale with her stellar high school record, but her love for dance led her to stay in Maine and ultimately attend USM for engineering. Druchinak was given the opportunity to dance professionally with Maine State Ballet. Tzianabos met Druchinak last spring when she took her Art of Dance class. The dance that Tzianabos choreographed for Druchinak was a ballet titled A Dance for One.
Over the 19 years she has been an instructor at USM, Maria Tzianabos has worked tirelessly to bring awareness to the art of dance. She advocates for dance for people of all ages and interests, and she wants everyone who takes her dancing classes to get something of value out of them.
“I truly believe that dance is a universal language and can be something that can enhance your education no matter what your major is,” Tzianabos said.