Alumni and Friends

Connections Through Dance Lead Honors Alumna to Pursue Positive Change in the Community as well as her Profession

hannah box dancing
It was a dance connection that led Hannah Box, a Canadian who grew up in Alabama, to Tampa, FL to study at the University of South Florida. “I was participating in the Next Generation Ballet’s Summer Intensive program as a high school student when I met USF professor Andrew Carroll,” says Box. “Professor Carroll asked me if I had considered USF for college and I decided to tour the campus.

“It felt like home immediately,” she says. “Meeting the high quality and incredibly thoughtful professors in the dance department was what set the program apart from all of the other programs I was considering. I also enjoyed the addition of the Honors College and its courses which I knew could expand my mind and education in an exciting and new way. It fit together so well and I appreciated how I could participate in both high level dance performance/artistry as well as research.”

Once accepted to USF, Box applied to the Judy Genshaft Honors College. “I was so happy to get into Honors,” she says. “It really solidified my decision to go to USF. I was even able to participate in an Honors summer study away trip to Asheville, North Carolina before my first semester. Interacting with my classmates and professors gave me a glimpse of Honors learning and I felt so lucky to be a part of it.”

Box received another opportunity to study away, this time globally, when she was accepted to the USF Dance in Paris summer program. And it was this experience that inspired her Honors thesis. “I felt so at home in Paris that I felt alienated within myself once I returned to Tampa,” she says. “I wanted to explore that more to see if others felt the same so my thesis focused on a sense of place within the dancing body.”

Box went back to Paris to perform field case study work with the next group of USF Dance in Paris Summer program students. “I administered surveys and completed in-class observations and then journaled my experiences going back to Paris a second time,” says Box. “I did extensive thesis writing and was also able to use snippets from this research as inspiration for my choreographed work for my BFA requirement.”

Box graduated from USF in 2019 as a King O’Neal Scholar with a perfect 4.0. “I believe I was able to accomplish that because of the supportive educational environment in both the Honors College and the School of Theatre and Dance,” she says. In addition to maintaining her impressive grades, during her time at USF Box performed in more than 20 university dance concerts and performances, studied abroad twice, conducted research, performed at academic conferences, made professional connections, and participated in arts programs for veterans. “To do all of that in only three and a half years is something really special,” she says. “I sincerely do not believe that I would have been able to explore all of these avenues within myself as a scholar and an artist at any other university.”

After graduation Box continued work as both a member of the Dance Faculty at Tampa’s Patel Conservatory and an Arts Outreach Instructor with the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. She teaches ballet technique in the Conservatory’s after-school courses and works with the Straz Center’s program to support local youth who are experiencing homelessness or displacement of some type. “In that program I focus on finding joy within one’s body,” she says. “I am not focused on students being a perfect dancer or ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ We talk about how moving and dance can be fun and we accept ourselves how we are. We also connect dance to literacy and storytelling.”

The group discusses a special book each year. The most recent tale was about a family of mice who run out of food and a protagonist who uses his artistry to uplift the family. “This sparks the students’ imagination and uplifts them,” says Box. “I cannot control their situation, but I can give them the tool of artistic expression to add to their toolbox.” At the end of the program the students perform the story in a special concert for their teachers and families.

Box faced a forced gap year during COVID in which she researched and decided to apply for Wayne State University's Theatre and Dance department’s Teaching Artistry master’s program. “It is the only program of its kind in the country and is led by prolific dance education researcher, Dr. Doug Risner, whom I met through one of my USF professors,” says Box. “I fell in love with research during my USF Honors thesis and the program at Wayne State is incredibly research focused. Dr. Risner’s work is in humanizing pedagogy and inclusivity in dance education as well as ethical teaching practices. Working with him in this area has opened up my world to a whole new area of possibility.”

Box’s goal is to become a published researcher on the topic of improving ballet inclusivity and pedagogy. “Things cannot change for the better in the professional field until we as ballet educators address how we are teaching children within this realm,” she says. “I put that into action myself. I take steps every day in my own classroom to make teaching better for my students. 

“In my classes I allow students to occasionally create their own choreography and participate in dialogue, which is different from the traditional silent student atmosphere. I also focus on asking them how something feels instead of just how it looks. I ask them how it feels within their body and if it’s not right then we adjust. This gives students a voice in an environment where speaking up is not always celebrated. Small changes like these are allowing the students to blossom.”

After completing her master’s degree Box aims to take her education even further.

“My long-term goal is to pursue a doctorate and move into higher education,” says Box. “I think it is an incredibly powerful setting to create change. We have the opportunity to improve our practices that can support children when they are developing their sense of self.”