Excellence comes from realizing one’s personal capacity combined with selfless teamwork.
Teaching dancers is a privilege. It is exhausting. And it is rewarding. It requires you to model strength and vulnerability, addressing the bodies’ athletic prowess and sexual fear. Teaching demands you attend to the psychology of each artist with patience and grace as they overcome personal obstacles and learn how to work as a team. It necessitates you dispel the marginalization of artists in the culture, empowering them to see the urgent political and social relevancy of their work. And to inspire each dancer to connect to the inherent spirituality that comes from the grapple of being an artist.
Like those before me, I am a product of my own teachers, mentors and colleagues. And I was very lucky. I have carried certain lessons forward into my own teaching. I am honored to tell you about some of the people who made a profound difference in my life as an artist and teacher, and the philosophies they imparted that now imbue my own teaching.
I was a choral singer from age 6-16 and my director’s name was Mr. Wolf. Fitting, as he was an old school dictator. Controlling of us and a little out of control of himself, he provoked a giddy mixture fear and desire. He believed excellence came from realizing one’s personal capacity combined with selfless teamwork. Choir was where I became conscious of my own potential. I learned collaboration, precision, ethic and rigor. It was also where I first felt the power of art, singing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with 100 other vocalists and the Denver Symphony, so swept away I could barely bring my own voice forward for the emotion welling in my throat.
Laurie DeVito was my first dance teacher. She was instinctually musical, weaving her body into the composition as another instrument. She loved dancing to female pop stars with serious chops. As a vocalist myself, I had a visceral connection to their belting, brassy sound. My first class with Laurie cut me to the knees and I knew I would have to to learn to dance.
Be an unapologetic, powerful woman.
Lynn Simonson taught me to be an unapologetic, powerful woman. She started late, too, and by example showed me I could start training at 20 and join the professional dance field. She was a force. An entrepreneur. A brazen leader. A guru.
Joy Kellman taught me that from discipline comes freedom. I learned in order to be a dancer you have to TRAIN. Blood, sweat, tears, pain, determination and dragging yourself out of bed every single day is what creates incremental change. Through slow and steady progress you chisel out the heroic facility of a dancer. And in this body you get to experience the feeling of invincibility. You earn the privilege of shedding the assumed differentiation of your molecules from the molecules of the world around you, inhabiting the corporal shell like no other human being can.
Nina Martin taught me the power of imparting knowledge from a singular truth. I experienced the clarity that comes from presenting a singular point of view and requesting your students just say “yes”. And when the work is over, demanding that every student put their smart, critical minds to task and pick the material apart, taking only what feels true, and tossing the rest.
Leave out the preamble and just get to the work.
Katie Duck taught me to just get busy. Leave out the preamble, the forward, the “what we are going to do” speech and just get to the work. That students want to experience and assimilate and benefit from a certain amount of chaos. Especially dancers. It is richer territory for them to be simultaneously in action and full of questions. And how the thrill of putting a puzzle together is much more exciting than getting both the questions and answers straight out of the gate.
Bebe Miller taught me to “see what is really there, not what you imagine could be there.” Teaching is about removing your own agenda and opening up to the dancer before you and their translation of material. And by teaching from this place you provide the greatest love you can give to a student.
My closest friend and colleague Amii LeGendre taught me “people, not projects”. A dancer is a PERSON. And contemporary dance is dead cool because it is about the cultivation of that person in all their unique glory. She also taught me knowledge is universal property. Our job is to gift what we have and empower every dancer to take it, fix it, mold it, modify it, teach it and give it away again. Branded knowledge is stingy and stops the flow of the collective conscious.
The Good Body. Phenomenal Dancing. Transcend to Magic.