One of the goals of the University Honors Program is to provide students with a well-rounded college experience – little did some of them know that might require them to tap into tap dancing.
Theatre Professor and Honors Faculty Fellow John Staniunas is teaching an Honors seminar this fall that covers the social, cultural and economic aspects that make tap dancing truly American.
“We are looking at not only the dance form itself, but why the dance form exists and what it means,” he says.
John’s approach to his Honors seminar shows that learning does not always have to fall into strict categories – bringing together multiple disciplines can equal more than the sum of their parts.
His spring seminar takes a similar multidisciplinary tack, but with different subjects: theater and science, as in, how science has been portrayed in plays.
“What does it mean when we represent science as truth to the audience? Are playwrights responsible for the representation of science?” he asks.
John has hit the ground running as a Faculty Fellow, eager to demonstrate to Honors students the importance of the arts to their education and careers.
“You are a much more well-rounded individual when the arts are part of your life. One of the reasons I wanted to become part of Honors is I feel that the arts are underrepresented,” he says.
But sharing his knowledge with Honors students is only part of the reason he wanted to be involved.
“We as faculty can get so tunnel-visioned, and I think every now and then a professor needs to broaden their own horizons and work with students from a variety of disciplines,” he says. “One thing I’ve learned is it’s prestigious to be a part of the Honors Program, and it’s a very inviting and friendly world, Honors at KU.”
John is in his 17th year teaching at KU, specializing in musical theater. He has helped with the Honors Program before, having worked to make theater available and accessible to Honors students in a variety of ways. Now, he is eager to have the opportunity to interact with Honors students regularly, both in advising and in the classroom.
“I want to make sure it’s a very rich intellectual experience. I want it to be fun also, but I want them to be able to be versed in the subject. The conversation is more stimulating with the Honors students,” he says.
He also hopes to start up an open mic night again, to give Honors students a chance to enjoy one another and come out of their shells.
When he is not teaching, John is involved with creative work outside the University. He enjoys cooking as an art form – and sometimes doesn’t even require a recipe. When he retires someday, he plans to be an “old actor” for as long as he can be.