A tortoise tale

Balinda Craig-Quijada matures into an academic career in dance

Assistant Professor of Dance Balinda Craig-Quijada has been dancing since she was a child, but she was never blinded by dreams of Broadway or Juilliard. Instead, the pace of her career has been more akin to that of her five South American red-footed tortoises. Arriving at Kenyon in a tenure-track position in the fall of 2000, Craig-Quijada has won the race.

"I kind of matured into the idea of dance as an academic career," says Craig-Quijada. "My interest in performance wasn't enough to sustain me. I've never been enamored by the stage lights and the audience. I'm more in love with the craft of choreography."

The native of Oklahoma, who spent eight years of her childhood in Venezuela, has found her niche in Ohio, living in Gambier and thriving on the arts scene in Columbus. The energetic (not to be confused with perky) Craig-Quijada recently became a first-time home owner along with her husband of nine years, Philip Brooks. Life is good for this self-described optimist who handles a teaching load of as many as four-courses, serves on Campus Senate, performs in productions around the state, takes dance classes, and, according to her colleagues, makes it all seem effortless.

A 1987 graduate of the University of Iowa, thirty-five-year-old Craig-Quijada majored in religion with plans to obtain an advanced degree in that field after graduation.

"I wanted to do it, not study it," she says of her involvement in dance during her college days. After a five-year stint in Chicago, Illinois, Craig-Quijada had "matured" into the idea of studying dance and moved to Ohio, where she earned an M.F.A. in choreography and dance from Ohio State University. Not long after, Craig-Quijada was asked to join the faculty there, in one of the country's top-rated programs.

Craig-Quijada, who specializes in post-modern dance, says she first thought she might be serious about dance at the age of eleven when she began taking ballet lessons. "Eventually, I realized that being five-two and squatty probably wouldn't cut it," she says with a laugh at her diminished childhood dream of becoming a ballerina.

Craig-Quijada's introduction to Kenyon was as a visiting professor of dance from 1995 to 1997. That positive experience led her to apply for the position she holds now as head of the dance program. Her drive and energy come through in her classes, where her occasional whoops electrify the atmosphere.

Since purchasing a large house in Gambier previously owned by Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies Donald Rogan and his wife, Sally, Craig-Quijada says she's been developing her skills as a homeowner. The house, known to most Gambier residents as the Rogan House, has served as a bed-and-breakfast for many years, and Craig-Quijada and Brooks may continue the tradition by opening their home to visiting artists or students' parents. "The house will always be the Rogan House to me," she says. "I still feel like I'm house sitting.

The five pet tortoises Craig-Quijada nurtures are part of her Venezuelan heritage. She grew up playing with them before moving back to Oklahoma with her mother after her parents' divorce. The tortoises, which Craig-Quijada says will outlive her, have been collected over the years on return trips to Venezuela, where her father still lives. "The turtles are like my children," quips Craig-Quijada, whose surname is a combination of her parents' last names.

During a brief stint living in Seattle, Wash-ington, not long before her return to Kenyon in the fall of 2000, Craig-Quijada says she realized her heart belongs to the Midwest. Affectionately referring to herself as an "Okie," Craig-Quijada considers the arts scene in Columbus to be cutting edge. "Most of what I saw in Seattle, I'd already seen in Columbus," she says. "I'm probably biased, but there's so much happening in Columbus. I have to live near a thriving dance community, and what I've found in Columbus is wonderful."

Craig-Quijada doesn't worry about aging as a dancer. "You can have a lifelong relationship with dance," she says. "To me, it's so inspiring to see how a person's passion and relationship to their career changes." Just as Craig-Quijada took a low-key approach to establishing her own career, even waiting as long as she could to declare a major in college, she encourages her students to be open to many possibilities. "No practical parent encourages their child to dance. My mother still thinks I'm going to turn into an English major," she says.

--Shawn Presley

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