As the founder and artistic director of the Umoja Dance Company, Karen Love ’94 incorporates the skills and strategies she learned at Montclair State every day. She works on routines with dancers and teaches modern and African dance to kids and adults alike.
“I’m always going back to what I learned and teaching it to my students,” she said. In addition to teaching, Love choreographs dances and performs, often collaborating with other artists.
Umoja Dance Company got its start right here at Montclair State. Love started it during her senior year with four other Montclair State dance majors and two dance students from another university. Lori Katterhenry, Deputy Chair for the Department of Theater and Dance, encouraged Love and her friends to develop their talents through staging performances with the group.
“I always wanted to create,” Love said, “and have that experience of seeing the finished product.” An art major friend designed the company’s logo, which is still in use today.
Prior to starting the company, Love was an involved student. During her freshman and sophomore years, Love worked in the Dean’s office. She complemented her Dance major with a minor in African American Studies.
Love was also an active dancer outside of class. She was in charge of the dance club portion of the Organization of Students for African Unity, OSAU and participated in dance festivals. One of the most influential of these was the American Dance Festival held at Duke University in Durham ,North Carolina.
“It was great!” Love said. “People from everywhere, not just the US, come for six weeks of training.” She attended the six-week dance residency 2 summers in a row, where she took classes and worked with other dancers, performing in student and professional work at the end. “You get to meet so many different people from all over the world.” She’s still in contact with many of the people she met at the festival. “Everyone’s doing really amazing things,” she said.
Through the years, Umoja grew. African dance found its way into the company’s repertoire, which had originally focused on modern dance. It eventually outgrew its home at Montclair State University. In 2012, the Umoja Dance Company opened in its new studio in Vaux Hall, NJ. Check it out on the web at www.umojadancestudio.org.
Love and her company started Wofabe, New Jersey’s first African Dance and Drum Festival, in 2006 at Newark Arts High School. The festival is now in its eighth year.
Love credits Montclair State with helping to get her to where she is now. She recalls Professor Katterhenry coming to her high school to see a dance show and offering her scholarships to pursue dance further at the University.
“Montclair State was my foundation,” she said. “Take the opportunity to do what you want to do before you leave. Be in the moment, learning and growing. Take advantage of the resources.” Love also stressed the importance of building a supportive peer circle. “Network,” she said. “You’re going to need each other.”