Meet A.J. Paug: Drenched in danceBy Gina Gareri-Watkins
Photograph by Melissa Ray
Dale Browne and A.J. Paug
Photograph by Robert Pack
Sophomore dance major Allan “A.J.” Paug juggles classes, showcases and studio work while balancing the daily roles of student, teacher, and professional performer. Dance has been a central part of A.J.’s life since childhood. As a young boy in the Philippines, A.J. performed for family and friends as a hip-hop and freestyle dancer. “I didn’t really get into dancing until I moved to the U.S. at age 5,” he said. “When I was about 12, my mom would take me to Filipino parties, and I would go and just start doing stuff. Her friends told her to put me in a dance class.”
At age 15, A.J. performed in a local talent show for what would be his future employers at the Great Gig Dance Company in Kennesaw. “My studio director and assistant directors were all judging the show. They saw me and offered me classes at their studio and to maybe teach one day. I’ve been dancing there for five years, and I’ve been teaching for around four.”
A.J. discovered Kennesaw’s dance program after graduating from Woodstock’s Etowa High School and after experiencing both the rigors of ballet and the possibilities of modern dance during a summer dance program. “One of the choreographers there was Emily Kent, Matt Kent’s wife. Emily and Matt have both been involved with Pilobolus Dance Theatre for a long, long time, and her improv class changed my whole perspective on dance and what it can be. It’s just something I saw and said, ‘Wow! That’s going to be me some day.’”
As for KSU, “I decided to check out Kennesaw. I was going in there to see what they could do with me, and I was just blown away by the program. How quick and fast it was growing, and how interested everyone was.”
A.J. has performed in the KSU spring dance concert, “Adumbration,” as well as in the student showcase pieces choreographed by KSU dancers Tai Courtney and Morgan Carlisle. In addition, he performed in the dance showcase at the 2009 Panoply Arts Festival in Huntsville, Alabama. But his biggest performance was this past spring as A.J. was cast as a background dancer for the Atlanta Ballet’s May production of “Don Quixote.” He recalled his casting as somewhat unexpected.
“Atlanta Ballet asked Kennesaw if they could send dancers over to fill in as townspeople,” explained A.J. “John McFall, the artistic director, already knew my name. He said, ‘A.J.! Are you going to be at all the performances?’ I answered, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Okay. So learn a part!’ I ended up dancing on stage. It was great to be part of it.”
A.J. has been a member of the KSU Dance Company since his freshman year and is also a member of rEVOLUTION, an independent dance company founded by fellow KSU dance major Myles Johnson. “This year the KSU Dance Company went to the American College Dance Festival, and we had two pieces go in, ‘Metastasis,’ a piece by our director, and ‘rEVOLUTION,’ a student-choreographed piece by Myles Johnson. Both of our pieces made it into the gala, which is something hardly any of the colleges ever do. It was really exciting.”
A.J. attributes part of his success to the university and its supportive setting. “I love it. They push me. Everyone has the same drive and passion that you really look for in a dance company or in a group—where you know these people are ready to work hard to get work done—and they are just as passionate as you are about dance. That really helps me to keep pursuing it.”
According to Ivan Pulinkala, director of the dance program, “A.J. is one of the most promising students we have in the dance program at KSU. He is a passionate performer on stage, technically strong, with a unique sensitivity to the elements of time and dynamics.” A.J. has equal praise for KSU’s dance faculty and staff. “Ivan is one of the best people I’ve worked with so far because he’s just so personal with us,” he observed. “He cares about us and wants us to succeed, and he’s just brilliant to work with. It’s refreshing.”
After graduation, A.J. hopes “to come back to the area and continue teaching and choreographing.” Pulinkala firmly believes in A.J.’s capabilities and talent. “I have no doubt that A.J. will graduate from KSU and be very successful in the professional world of dance."