U of C prof to teach at Oprah’s school for girls

Oprah-crazy university-goers can now be excited about a new link between the media mogul’s social work and the University of Calgary.

After watching a TV special on the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in March, U of C dance professor Shirley Murray wrote a letter to Oprah. She’s now packing her bags to lead some creative dance workshops with the Academy’s girls, who mainly came from impoverished backgrounds.

“After 40 years in the profession, you think you’ve peaked,” said Murray. “Then an opportunity comes along like this and you think, ‘Holy mackarel! I’m just starting again!'”

Murray’s four decades at the U of C has been filled with numerous accolades including teaching excellence awards from the City of Calgary, the faculty of kinesiology, the Students’ Union and a nomination for the president’s teaching excellence award. On top of founding Dance and Child International, Murray also held the prestigious title of head choreographer for the opening ceremonies in the 1988 Olympic games.

“She’s one of the faculty members that I consistently hear only positive reports about and when we meet with alumni the same thing happens,” said faculty of kineseology dean Wayne Giles. “She’s a very impressive person and we’re very pleased to have her make this trip on behalf us and the University of Calgary.”

Murray’s passion and focus are based on a method of movement analysis called the Laban method, which is quite pedestrian, not requiring much technical knowledge. She said she plans on utilizing this “developmental” method in South Africa, as it helps foster many positive and healthy patterns.

“It allows people to produce little productions in dance that they never thought they were capable of,” she said. “[It helps foster] self confidence, a bit more self knowledge, trust in respectful social interaction because you’re working cooperatively with people to make something happen, and it helps in developing problem solving.”

Murray stressed that her contribution will help in the Academy pursue it’s goal, which is to produce a significant female presence in all aspects of the South African culture, such as the arts, business and professions. However, she does admit she may face little hesitation at first.

“I’m anticipating perhaps a shyness or a bit of a fear because they’re not sure what I’m going to do or what I’m going to ask of them since they haven’t worked in a creative environment before,” she said. “I’m anticipating light bulbs going off.”

Both Murray and Giles also anticipate that the trip will not only increase cultural awareness, but may open up possibilities for teaching practicum opportunities and student exchanges between the U of C and local universities in South Africa.

“To me, the main way in which the university and our faculty will benefit is having her as a positive ambassador,” said Giles. “I would be very surprised if we’re not contacted by people from the places she visits with further questions and with similar opportunities for significant international involvement for our students.”

Giles asserted that Murray would be a great spokesperson for the U of C, due to her remarkable knowledge, positive outlook, and pride in what the university has to offer.

In addition to her boss, Murray also had rave reviews from the other side of her desk.

“One thing that I really want to get across is what a passionate soul she is,” said second-year education student Jackie Luff.

Luft also emphasized Murray’s extreme motivation, constant approachability and helpfulness, as well as her passion and hard work.

Second-year education student Stephanie Mathieson, felt that Murray’s effective teaching style would make a positive impact on the girls of the academy.

“She has an ability to empower many of the people that she teaches,” said Mathieson. “She does this by not only identifying their strengths and abilities, but helps the students to own their positive attributes. She leads by example and believes in her students.”

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