Hometown: Cleveland Heights, OH. Born in Boston, MA.
Current city: Salt Lake City
Attended an arts high school? No, but the arts were an integral part in my public, large high school.
College and degree: BFA in Dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a focus on performance, and later certified in Carl Orff’s pedagogy for teaching music and movement at Bloomingdale House of Music in New York City.
Graduate school and degree: MFA in Dance from University of Washington in Seattle with focus on teaching pedagogy and anatomy for dance. I attended graduate school from age 28-30.
Website: University of Utah’s School of Dance (www.dance.utah.edu).
How you pay the bills: Currently as Associate Professor in Modern Dance within the School of Dance at the University of Utah.
All of the dance hats you wear: Mainly I define myself as an artist and educator. My dance hats include: dancer and creative researcher, coordinator of events, grant writer, conference presenter, published author, advisor for students, and community gatherer.
Describe your dance life in your….
20s: I feel as though my 20s were formative in terms of my education: finding mentors, fostering personal and professional relationships that would continue circulating back into my life later, exposing myself to as many performances, exhibits, workshops and festivals as possible and of course, doing many odd jobs to support my artistic endeavors. For most of my 20s I lived in NYC. I finished my undergraduate degree at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and immersed myself in NYC life as a dancer, performer, teacher, and artistic connoisseur. I performed professionally with choreographers including Sara Rudner, David Gordon, Wendy Perron, Fred Darsow, Risa Jaroslow and taught dance and music at many K-12, pre-K, and arts organizations around the city including the Gowanus Arts Exchange (now the Brooklyn Arts Exchange) and the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, advocating for increased funding for dance and music programs in public schools. Between waiting tables, catering, temp jobs in high-end offices in midtown Manhattan, an odd job worth mentioning was working for the Hudson Vagabond Puppet Company in which I was in such roles as the front two legs of Trixie Triceratops, the back two legs of Bessie Brontosaurus and as Gerta in the Snow Queen.
Towards the end of my 20s, I headed to graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle, an MFA program designed specifically for returning professionals. (I’m a strong advocate for grad school, but indeed….don’t do it right after your undergrad degree…immerse yourself in the professional world for awhile.) Heading back to school was the best move of my life at that time, opening the door for new opportunities and further education. I seriously considered medical school rather than an MFA and feel grateful to have ultimately pursued the MFA at UW and getting just the right combination of coursework with medical students and applying information specifically to dance. I realized how much I love academia and continue to be an artist at heart. I continued performing and danced in repertory by Doug Varone, Zvi Gotheiner, Mark Dendy and reconstructions by Vaslav Njinsky, Alwin Nikolais and Doris Humphrey.
30s: My 30s can be summarized as a time in which my own artistic voice was deepening, sharpening in focus, and gaining a clearer vision and purpose. With greater seriousness along with more education and experience, I performed more, choreographed with more regularity, presented regularly at conferences, applied for many grants, coordinated workshops and conferences, continued to take courses and workshops, and taught a ton.
After I finished my MFA degree and began applying for university positions across the US, I feel very lucky to have been asked to interview at several schools, landing a Visiting Assistant Professorship at the University of Oregon in Eugene for two years. I had also been studying Alexander Technique, something that saved my body in graduate school and continued my growing interests in somatic education.
During my second year in at UO, the love of my life joined me after three years of living across the country. Together, we moved to Salt Lake City when I landed my second university position in the Department of Modern Dance at the University of Utah, this time a tenure line. Professional and personal connections, longtime friends and mentors, kept circling back into my life such as David Dorfman, Sara Rudner, Stephen Koester, Irene Dowd, Kitty Daniels, Shelley Senter, Zvi Gotheiner, and Gabri Christa, among others. I quickly realized how Salt Lake City is quite a hub for dance, and I felt incredibly grateful to have landed at the University of Utah. With partner Eric Handman, we commissioned David Dorfman and Susan Marshall for duet choreographies, performing them in several duet concerts. With a group of dance kinesiology educators at various universities, I co-founded the Dance Kinesiology Teachers’ Group (now called the Dance Science and Somatics Educators) with the prime focus to share teaching resources and to host conferences. Nationally and internationally, I regularly presented my own dance science research (mostly focused on integrating teaching pedagogy with anatomy and somatics) at the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science conferences, Performing Arts Medicine Association conferences, and other related events. In my mid-late 30s, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter.
40s: My 40s can be summarized as one of shifting landscapes, inspiring me to prioritize differently, become more serious about self-care, learn how to manage my span of passions and try to be more efficient. I’ve been learning how to say "no" to certain things in order to make space for interests of greater importance.
The biggest transition came earlier in my 40s with the birth of my son, a child born with a congenital heart defect and Down syndrome. While some people might respond to this news by apologizing and sympathizing, I prefer to say that I feel completely graced by the presence of such an amazing human in my daily life. This powerful little person changed the course of my own personal, artistic and professional life and bridged us with a broader community. Within my 40s, I have become a strong advocate for inclusion rather than separation between those with special needs and everyone else and an even more committed advocate for arts integration in our educational system. It is through the arts that communities can come together in celebration, honor individual voices, and share experiences and concerns. With fellow parent and writer, Melissa Bond, I co-created Jump Start, a weekly workshop for individuals with Down syndrome and their family members in which we shared dance, story sharing and word play in 2013, creating a documentary film of the process. I have collaborated with a special education professor at the University of Utah, Kristen Paul, developing a teaching methods course that brings dance and special education college students together and heads into the Salt Lake community’s special education classes spanning from pre-K through high school in various settings.
In my 40s, I’ve also rekindled my love of visual art, exploring my own work with oil paints as guided by fellow parent and visual artist, Kindra Fehr. I’ve hosted a couple more conferences, bringing together educators and special guests including Irene Dowd. I’ve choreographed more dances.
Now in my later 40s, I’m wondering about performing again, hoping to fulfill a little bit of that desire. I feel that my own teaching has gotten increasingly clearer, sharper, more detailed, more responsive. I feel that I’m better able to help students find the specifics and yet, relate a focus to larger context and meaning-making.
My parents (artists and educators), those who exposed me to a deep education in music (my family involved with the Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Opera, Cleveland Orchestra Chorus), those who exposed me to a rich education in visual art (my family and friends who introduced me to great museums — I remember heading to a museum or two every week when I lived in NYC), many dance teachers and dance artists (too many to name but here are a few: Sara Rudner, David Dorfman, Susan Marshall, Irene Hultman, Hannah Wiley, Zvi Gotheiner, Christine Wright, Larry Rhodes, Andre Bernard, Irene Dowd, Shelly Senter, Doug Varone, Cherylyn Lavagnino, Wendy Perron…), somatics practitioners (a few including: Jeanne Barrett, Andre Bernard, Pam Matt, Erin Geesaman Rabke and Carl Rabke, Jacque Bell, my dear Tai Chi teacher in NYC Mr. Chen), my incredible colleagues at the University of Utah over 16 years, my students as they inspire me every year, along with my family.
What is on your calendar for the 2016-17 academic year?
I coordinated and hosted a conference for the Dance Science and Somatics Educators this summer at the University of Utah, bringing special guest and honoree, Irene Dowd. Educators gathered from across the US for the event, sharing pedagogical ideas, resources, and collectively brainstormed new teaching strategies. In collaboration with a faculty colleague from the UK, Emma Redding, our chapter on Dance Conditioning was published by Human Kinetics in a new book focused on dance wellness.
I’ve got ongoing teaching at the University of Utah’s Modern Dance Program housed in the School of Dance. We just became a School this summer, hiring a new Director this summer. Moving from back-burner to front-burner is the development of a future workshop and festival centered around definitions of disability, notions of differently-abled bodies, inclusion and artistic representation. More details to come as I write for grants and pull together my local collaborators and resources to make something like this possible.
Last, I’ve had the inspiration to perform again. Over the summer, a friend created a new solo for me. We’ll see where this takes me. And last, we are settling into a new house!
What courses are you teaching this year? Can you share a little about one of your favorite courses, or a course you developed? Is there a course that is new to you this year?
Each year, I’ve taught different levels of contemporary modern dance technique, improvisation or choreography, dance kinesiology, teaching methods, and served as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Modern Dance Program. The last couple of fall semesters, I’ve been collaborating with Kristen Paul, a professor from the Department of Special Education at the University of Utah. We’ve developed a teaching methods course for both dance and special education students who come together to develop creative movement classes that we all take into local special education classrooms in Salt Lake City. This class has become a new favorite of mine, inspiring me hugely. For the past two years, we’ve targeted schools in which the special education classes have very little access to art education and also, are separated from everyone else in their school. We’ve promoted crossover (or “buddy classes”) in which student groups are combined. We’ve also promoted a coaching model so that the University teachers have specific tools by which they can collaborate with the regular classroom teachers. In essence, everyone learns from one another through the pleasure of moving together in a creative, inclusive setting. We’ve reached out to preschools, elementary and high schools totaling about 10 different settings so far. Last year when I called one principal to inquire about their interest, he asked me if I was indeed sure that we wanted to bring dance to their special education classes. “Don’t you want to target our regular classes?” I had to repeat myself that indeed, the special education kids were the ones we were hoping to reach. He was surprised but so pleased. The kids in special education are so often set aside and separated, without access to offerings like this. I watched a group of visually impaired children move with incredible trust and joy. I watched a group of children labeled "behaviorally challenged" take pleasure in responding to movement cues and working collaboratively with their peers as they dance. Honestly, it’s been this type of work that has provided me with inspiration, perspective and purpose. A couple of quotes from our syllabus:
"An arts practice can remake one’s identity and transform preconceptions by re-envisioning the familiar." - Sue Austin (creator of an underwater wheelchair)
"If we are to achieve a culture rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place" - Margaret Mead
Current movement practices and care for the body:
I keep returning to yoga, concepts from Alexander Technique, Tai Chi principles, and conditioning sequences I’ve collected from many sources, developing variations for myself for strength, stability, mobility and when possible, cardiovascular endurance. With a full-time job and family, maintaining a regular practice of self-care is challenging but important. When time allows, I find huge satisfaction in movement improvisation. I have taken a tiny amount of Gaga and am in love with the approach thus far. I’ve never been good at getting enough sleep, so this is my next challenge to address.
What is the role of somatics in your dance life? How does it influence your teaching as well as choreography?
A HUGE influence! I have studied several discrete somatic forms, the principles from which permeate every class I teach from studio to classroom. My own teaching philosophy assumes a somatic approach.
What does the phrase “teaching artist” mean to you?
As I’ve mentioned above, I think of myself as an artist and educator. My teaching is deeper when the artist in me (my artistic concerns, my creative inquiries, my imagination) permeate. The artist in me has greater purpose when I can reach out to others through teaching. The two are linked; they inform and enhance one another.
On the topic of setbacks and sacrifices:
Some people might suggest that their method for overcoming obstacles and setbacks is to allow for a certain amount of grit. Their mantra might be to be bold, be brave and rise above a challenge. For me, I can only be bold, brave and forthcoming when there’s love involved. I love these two quotes by Maya Angelou: “Have enough courage to trust love one more time, and always one more time.” And also - “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” I also love the following Zen saying: "Find what has heart and meaning for you. Follow where it takes you but do not be too attached to any particular outcome."
How do you find balance between family and dancing?
For a long time, I was seeking balance between the various aspects of my life, professional and personal. I have come to the conclusion that balance is nearly impossible. Instead, I think of this process as managing the falling and while doing so, keeping a sense of humor and humility. Over time, I think that I’ve gotten better at being efficient, at prioritizing, at saying “no” when needed and in all honesty, I feel that my professional life is richer because of my family at home. I think I teach with greater empathy, patience and attention to individual differences. The opposite is true as well—that my family life is richer because I’m engaged in a profession about which I’m passionate. I strive to model passionate and committed work for my children. I am fully engaged in both aspects of my life. I only hope to gain more sleep one day.
Please describe the dance scene in Salt Lake City these days:
I’ve just now entered my 17th year in Salt Lake City! The time has flown. The dance scene here is so rich with history. I feel incredibly humbled and inspired when I reflect upon all of the amazing individuals who’ve contributed to that history and impacted my artistic life. There has been lots of change in the last several years including several retirements for longstanding Modern Dance Professors at the University of Utah and just this summer, becoming a School of Dance that houses both the Modern Dance and Ballet Programs. The longstanding professional dance companies in Salt Lake City are expanding their own repertory, offering something new and more contemporary work to SLC audiences. The presence of smaller, pick-up companies and “collectives” has been growing in recent years, showing choreography in smaller theaters, galleries, plazas, libraries, and random outdoor spaces. Near the beautiful Rose Wagner Theater downtown (home of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and Repertory Dance Theater), a new theater space is opening next week: The Eccles. This is a brand new theater that will house larger touring companies and shows (including several touring companies for Broadway shows) as well as major speakers. There continues to be several Utah colleges and universities that offer degrees in dance too. Dance classes in Salt Lake City’s K-12 public schools are still being offered for many. This is quite amazing to me as someone who moved from out-of-state where dance wasn’t included in public education.
Last performances you saw that really inspired you:
Recent choreography that has inspired me — Crystal Pite, Ohad Naharin and Danielle Agami’s work. Recent musical performances that have inspired me — Joshua Bell performing at Tanglewood, MA, and one I will always remember hugely (from awhile ago) was the Cleveland Orchestra at Carnegie Hall (NYC) performing Mahler’s 9th.
Final thoughts - Hope/belief/love of the profession:
A wonderful Feldenkrais practitioner and friend, Erin Geesaman Rabke, said:
"I want a being touched-by-life life….not a drive-by-life." She also led me to the following quote: "Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually." (Abraham Joshua Heschel)
I add the following:
"Let your curiosity be greater than your fear." (Pema Chodron)
"Whoever wants to understand much must play much." (Gottfried Benn)
In Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, she talks about “cultivating authenticity….cultivating self compassion…cultivating gratitude….cultivating meaningful work (letting go of self-doubt and "supposed to")…and cultivating laughter…"
Parker Palmer, author of Courage to Teach, talks about the consequences of making a division where life’s options are mutually exclusive. I feel this is particularly relevant when we measure the value of art in comparison to other things.
- We separate head from heart. Result: minds that do not know how to feel and hearts that do not know how to think.
- We separate facts from feelings. Result: bloodless facts that make the world distant and remote and ignorant emotions that reduce truth to how one feels today.
- We separate theory from practice. Result: theories that have little to do with life and practice that is uninformed by understanding.
- We separate teaching from learning. Result: teachers who talk but do not listen and students who listen but do not talk.
I believe in the value of art-making and art-doing.