Michael Manley's photography studies the emotion and movement of dance.
As the dancer expresses beauty through movement, Michael Manley's camera captures this artistry on paper.
The upstairs corridor at the Lawrence Arts Center's Dance Annex is a testimony of what Manley describes as a "life's passion." The hallway is covered with hundreds of his photos, all reflecting the diversity of Lawrence-area dancers.
Entirely self-taught, Manley has taken more than a million photographs of Lawrence and Kansas City dancers since the early 1970s.
The Lawrence resident first encountered dance when a friend invited him to a performance by Sigma Tau, a former Kansas University dance club, in 1972. The concert sparked his interest in exploring how to artistically depict dance.
Manley, who earned a KU chemical engineering degree in 1972 and comes from a family of engineers in Shawnee Mission, had painted and drawn as a teen-ager. The concert led him to wonder how to capture a dancer's movement using photography.
Manley modestly describes himself as having "no skill at the time," but his earliest black-and-white photos of Dana Faust, a Tau Sigma dancer and theater student in the early 1970s, sharply convey the subject's poignant emotion.
The photos also capture ballet's visual elegance.
"Everything is so pretty," he said. "The dancers are trying to make as beautiful a line as possible."
Manley's credits include the former Kaw Valley Ballet Dance Theatre, Kansas City Ballet (now the State Ballet of Missouri), the University Dance Company, Prairie Wind Dancers, Troupe Raghsidad, the former Lawrence School of Ballet, the Missouri Dance Theatre and the Lawrence Arts Center's dance programs.
In 1980, his photographs of Kansas City native David Parsons, formerly of New York's Paul Taylor Dance Company, were published in Dance Magazine.
Despite this national exposure, Manley's focus is Lawrence dance. Deborah Bettinger, the Lawrence Arts Center's director of ballet, met Manley as a Kaw Valley dancer in the late 1970s.
Bettinger said she is impressed by Manley's ability to capture the graceful peak of ballet movement.
"He really sees the person," Bettinger said. "And as far as dance goes, he has the ability to approach movement."
Manley's art affirms the area's dance talent. Candi Baker, director of the Lawrence Arts Center's dance program and the Prairie Wind Dancers' artistic director, uses his photos for publicity.
"We have excellent photos because Mike's always been there for us," Baker said.
Manley's strikingly beautiful images result from years of practice. A familiar presence at the arts center's dance concerts, rehearsals and classes, he moves quietly around the studio in search of the desired image. His presence is so attuned with the dance that the students often don't know he's there.
In his photographs of children, Manley said he especially tries to include the least confident dancers.
A software engineering consultant, Manley pays for his own camera equipment, film and developing costs. He uses no digital equipment, and instead manipulates any unusual images by hand.
"When I get into something, I really get into it," Manley said.
Dancers, he said, can purchase photos for a small fee.
"I'm not doing it for the money," he said.
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