WADLEY - From Hollywood to Broadway; from Radio City to Disney; from professional ballet companies to the local dance studio, the impact of the dance department of Southern Union State Community College is undeniable.

When the curtain rises on the national tour of Hamilton, SUSCC alumni Desmond Nunn will be onstage. When people tune in to watch Ellen DeGeneres, SU alumni Stephen "tWitch" Boss is smiling at them. As students arrive at college dance programs or private dance studios all over the Southeast, former SU dancers are there to greet and instruct them.

These are just a few examples of the successful students that the Southern Union dance department has produced. Under the direction of Sonja McCord Fincher, who is in her 24th year as the head of the department, the program consistently boasts transfers to four-year colleges such as Chapman, The University of Alabama and Troy University, to name a few.

Former dance students praise Fincher for her leadership and drive to make not only the department as a whole, but the individual, a success.

"Sonja always believes in her students; inspiring us to go beyond our comfort zones; challenging us, pushing us to become better version of ourselves," said Ja'Morris Rivers, a member of the SU Dance Department in 2001-03 and current ballet and jazz instructor at the University of Alabama.

Casey Simmons, who was a SU dancer from 2004-07, and then went on to dance at the University of Alabama, perform on the Royal Caribbean Cruise line and now is a local teacher and choreographer echoed this sentiment, saying, "Sonja and the Southern Union Dance Department together are the crowned jewel of the college, but also the best kept secret of SU. What the public sees and enjoys is simply a taste of the dimensions of the program offered to its students. Her eye for spotting talent and ability to make students see it in themselves is unmatched. Any dancer that spends multiple semesters in Sonja's classes is leaving with personalized coaching in every discipline dance offers."

Alumni of the department celebrate the impact Fincher made on their dance career by giving back to the program to ensure its continued success. On any given day, you will find alumni of the department in the studio teaching a class to current students. Or, if they can't get to the SU studio, alums offer other opportunities for study. This past summer, three SU dancers attended a summer intensive at Sanspointe, a Birmingham-based contemporary dance company, where SU alum Anna Walker Foshee is the artistic director.

Fincher said attending Sanspointe gave students a collaborative learning experience, a catalyst to experiencing the art of dance. "It is a good experience for students to see where our alumni end up and know that they can accomplish their dreams as well," she said.

The theme of giving back and making an impact on the community is ongoing. This fall SU dancers went into 10 schools in five counties in East Alabama and West Georgia to expose elementary students to dance through an outreach program to enhance the study of the arts in elementary schools. The dancers also host "Chance to Dance" each fall as a fundraiser for Children's Miracle Network.

"It's really about encouraging our students to contribute positively to society and to be the best version of themselves that they can," said Fincher.

The dance program is only one of the acclaimed fine arts offerings at Southern Union. Scholarships are available via an audition process in dance, music, theater and technical production. Auditions are scheduled for March 9 and 10. For more information on Southern Union's dance department, contact Fincher at sfincher@suscc.edu.

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