Alumni address social issues and disabilities through dance

FIU Stempel College alumni, Pioneer Winter '08 and @Marjorie Layne Burnett '99

Pioneer Winter and Marjorie Layne Burnett

Two FIU Stempel College alumni, Marjorie Layne Burnett ’99 and Pioneer Winter ’08, were featured in a story by WLRN’s Nadege Green on their dance collaboration, Gimp Gait, which was performed as part of the dance concert, Identity, on May 12 and 13 at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium.

As an undergraduate, Burnett saw dance audition posters for Karen Peterson and Dancers, so she decided to give it a try. The decision wasn’t made on a lark—being a dancer was a childhood dream for the woman with cerebral palsy, and an audition for Karen Peterson and Dancers was her first real opportunity to pursue it.

“If it weren’t Karen Peterson, I wouldn’t be doing this at all. She will always be my mentor and one of my closest friends,” says Burnett.

Now, about thirty years and many dance performances later, Burnett will be debuting a new piece, Gimp Gait, which aims to show the audience something they wouldn’t usually see: Burnett without her wheelchair dealing with issues of autonomy, sexuality and self-expression. She is assisted in this by choreographer and fellow dancer, Pioneer Winter, who was commissioned to create the piece for Burnett by Karen Peterson and Dancers.

“I think it will be a bit of a shock for the audience, but an important take away is that even though dancers have disabilities, they can express themselves and take part in the creative process,” says Karen Peterson.

Burnett came to FIU Stempel College as an undergraduate, earning a Bachelor in Social Work. Due to various obstacles, it took her five years to graduate. But she was determined. “The best advice I can give anybody is to always fight for what you want. Don’t give up,” says Burnett.

Pioneer Winter came to FIU as a junior after graduating early from the accelerated program at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School near Aventura. An academic overachiever, Winter took on course loads of 25-27 credits per semester as an undergraduate in order to complete his Bachelor of Science in Psychology within a year. Afterwards, he joined FIU Stempel College where he earned a Master of Public Health with a Specialization in Epidemiology by the age of 21. More recently, he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Choreography from Jacksonville University/White Oak.

Although Winter is an adjunct professor at the FIU Honors College, he underscores the importance of his dance work. “Art is not my hobby. That’s why I sought out ways to join my education and my work,” says Winter.

As a dancer and choreographer, Winter aims to bring a global awareness to all his work. “I’m interested in art having answers. Art is meant to make us think. That’s the difference between ballet and what I do.” About Gimp Gate, he adds, “This is research. This is an acknowledgement that there are people that live differently than us.”

Gimp Gait is the first time that Winter performs with a person who has a disability, and he sees the possibility of future collaborations. “This piece will lead to more work with this population for me. I definitely see myself performing with Marjorie again.”





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