A well-kept secret is within the walls of the USF Dance department. Four walls, in particular, keep the secret amidst the sound of drums playing to a definite beat, feet sliding across the floor and rhythms counted out by a deep voice.
The voice belongs to John Parks, and he is a secret of the Dance department. Although students and faculty may not have seen him walking around campus, they may have caught him on film in Malcolm X or on stage in the The Wiz. Or it’s possible they may have seen him on Bill Cosby’s 1989 Christmas Special, where Parks appeared alongside Alvin Ailey as a group member of current and former dancers in Ailey’s company.
That same year, Parks began his relationship with USF. Parks, who the New York Post once said could “fill the stage with his arm”, has been a lecturing professor of modern, jazz, African and tap dance ever since.
“Teaching at USF has been a joy. I love it,” Parks said. “I came to USF from New York City after performing professionally for many years. It was my interest to pass on some of the training and knowledge I gained throughout those years to young, eager dancers. And I feel the same now as I felt 13 years ago — that the School of Theatre and Dance is just the place to move forward the education of young dancers.”
In addition to his teaching, film and television work, Parks lists training at the Julliard School of Music, teaching at the Harvard Summer Dance School, and teaching at the University of Michigan, where Madonna once danced, as some of his accomplishments.
The stories behind the references come out when Parks teaches a class, as well as other facts not listed on his vitae. For instance, Parks doesn’t list that he was flown in to dance at Ailey’s funeral. Yet, after a few weeks of playing with movement in his classroom, he’ll gladly offer the story to his students.
“People can sometimes remember stories better than any other form of information,” Parks said. “If a student can remember the stories, even if they do not understand them, hopefully, years later, it may offer some meaning to them.”
Parks has also expanded his modern dance training to include African dance. He teaches students the dances such as those of the African Watutsi people in his World Dance Topics class one semester each academic year. His endeavors with Africa’s dance culture also include performing with the National Ballet Company of Zimbabwe in 1991.
In the United States, Parks has danced mostly in New York, Michigan and Florida. Much of his time in New York was spent with The Wiz on Broadway for five years, where he served as assistant to the choreographer, dance captain, rehearsal director,and swing dancer. He also created his own repertory theater “out of the need for artists to perform works that reflect their own culture.”