To say that dance professor Tauna Hunter has had a successful career would be an understatement.
With a 20-year performance career, 25 years leading the Mercyhurst Dance department and involvement in numerous other arts organizations, Hunter has distinguished herself as a leader in the artistic community, earning her a Lifetime Achievement Award from Erie Arts & Culture.
“She is unquestionably an outstanding educator that has positively impacted our community on many levels,” said Solveig Santillano, associate professor of Dance.
Junior Dance major Megan Carnuche added to the praise of Hunter.
“I understand first-hand why Ms. Tauna Hunter is deserving of this Lifetime Achievement Award,” Carnuche said. “Under her direction in the Mercyhurst University Dance department, I have grown tremendously as a dancer, student and person.”
Hunter will be accepting her award at the 2018 Fall for Arts & Culture event on Nov. 7 at the Erie Playhouse. The Arts & Culture Appreciation Awards are part of a 30-year tradition recognizing both businesses and individuals who have contributed to the larger artistic community as volunteers, leaders, arts and educators, which Hunter has certainly done at Mercyhurst and beyond.
She came to the school with an arsenal of experience in the professional dance industry. A University of Utah graduate, she has certainly made her way around the country, performing with Ballet West as one of their leading ballerinas and nationally/internationally as a guest artist with various other regional companies.
Hunter said that her years of performance and being a principal dancer are some of the greatest accomplishments of her career.
Another accomplishment is the creation of DANSOURCE, a national networking service for dancers that she founded with her husband, Michael Gleason.
Hunter believes that Gleason is also deserving of this award.
“He and I are a team, and always have been,” Hunter said.
In addition to connecting dancer with companies, DANSOURCE also granted Hunter the connection that later led her to Mercyhurst. In 1994, Hunter took charge of the dance program, and in years following exponentially increased the size, reputation and caliber of the department.
“It’s more than doubled in size, and the quality of the program is much more competitive,” Hunter said. “We have new facilities, two studios and are no longer in the library. We also are nationally accredited, which is a huge stamp of approval by our peers in higher education.”
This growth within the program would not be possible without Gleason, Hunter said.
“He has been a major faculty member that has contributed to the technique of the dancers, the mentoring of male dancers, and a huge contribution of his is being the technical director and resident designer for 22 years,” Hunter said. “We would not have the quality of productions with regards to sets and costumes and lighting if it hadn’t been for him.”
Beyond their work on the department itself, Hunter is also proud to have generated leaders who have used their skills far beyond the gates of Mercyhurst.
“My mission has always been generating leadership, and I feel very successful with that based on the enormous amount of impact our alums have made in the field as dancers, teachers, choreographers, scholars, administrators,” Hunter said. “They are also working in related fields that support our field like the medical field, physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors; also people who are serving on boards, and even on national boards. I’m very, very proud of that.”
According to Santillano, Hunter has instilled leadership within her students through the addition of numerous classes and other educational opportunities.
“By creating foundation to summative courses and curriculum design from Dance Essentials (a course that provides students with step-by-step practical guidance for success through organization, positive self-talk, imagery and more) to résumé, portfolio, website building, thesis capstone projects/performances (Senior Seminar and Senior Pro Seminar), students are provided the opportunity to find and focus their career goals and share unique skill sets within the community,” Santillano said.
Carnuche explained that Hunter also leads by example, showing students what it truly means to be a leader and modeling skills to emulate.
“Through all that I’ve learned and observed, Ms. Hunter remains the epitome of a true leader in the dance world and beyond,” Carnuche said. “Throughout her career she has dedicated herself to all of her students, and has provided each of us with the necessary tools to succeed in the real world.”
More recently, Hunter has stepped down as the chair of the department, continuing to work as a professor before her retirement in the spring of 2019.
In what she calls her “third spring,” Hunter hopes this time in her life will be filled with creativity, less administrative work and stress, and more time enjoying life with her husband. She hopes to remain involved with Mercyhurst and other dance programs, staging works, teaching, choreographing and continuing to leave her mark on the artistic community.
“Her dedication extends far past the realm of her job at Mercyhurst,” senior Dance major Meg Rebuzzini said. “She has incorporated her love for dance as a lifestyle and spends her free time not only educating the dance majors at Mercyhurst but traveling across the country to pass on her knowledge to others. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to train with her everyday.”
Carnuche shared similar sentiments about the impact Hunter has had on her life and the lives of all of her students.
“She inspires me more than she knows, in dance, but more-so in life,” said Carnuche. “I am honored to be a student of Ms. Hunter’s, and I will cherish my time learning from her forever.”