You Can Do Anything But Not Everything 1.0

Recently, Dance/USA produced a series of articles about professional choreographers who have turned to working in higher education as a means to keep creating choreography within concert dance and earn a living. Most of the artists interviewed are of notable stature (David Dorfman, Joe Goode,…) and discuss the balancing act required of working in two demanding aspects of the field- choreography and higher education- simultaneously.

I don’t doubt for a moment that their balancing acts are difficult.

I don’t doubt for a moment that they have valuable information and experiences to offer students.

I don’t doubt for a moment that they are qualified to teach.

But I do feel resentment rising in my chest each time I think about the articles.

As someone who has been passed over for others with “better” resumes and not necessarily “better” skills, this touches a nerve.

 Let me be clear, I don’t mean to diminish the depth of artists and the many hats that artists wear as creators, facilitators, curators, teachers, leaders, thinkers, and so on.

However, I start thinking of the underdogs.

  • What about the people that want to teach in higher education because their priority is to teach? 
  • What about the people that are great without having great resumes, and by that I mean as performers or choreographers? 
  • What about the people dedicated to teaching but choose to balance this with having a family and not a full-blown second career?

Underdogs: The people that shape the field of dance in more ways than the stage and the studio.

  • What about the people that guide the critical thought process in the act of creating art in addition to developing ideas, perspectives, and missions leading to non-performance based careers or jobs?
  • What about people that develop critical writing?
  • What about people that explicitly teach dance history and other frames of reference for what and how we communicate in dance and society?
  • What about people that help students translate their experiences from the abstract to the practical foundations that launch them into many types of careers?
  • What about the people that teach the general education classes that can directly impact the support or lack thereof for dance in the local community and into the world beyond college?
  • What about the people that teach the artists to talk about what and how they are creating so they get the jobs the underdogs are seeking?

The problem I see is cyclical.

In the end, the notion of choreographers finding a way to create and earn a living in higher education is a symptom of a larger problem.

Not enough people understand and support dance.

Artists alone don’t seem to be enough to teach the masses about how and why the arts, specifically dance, are important. That is not a comment on the quality or volume of their discussion, simply that we need more people educating about dance than just the practicing artists.

We need people to be promoting the myriad of what dance has to offer in addition to technique and performance. As such, we need to be producing more specialists in more categories under the umbrella of dance- such as arts integrators, theorists, critics, writers, dance scientists, etc.

Higher education is competitive enough.

I also start wondering about the departments that employ the big names from the performance world. I understand the desire to market these people and draw potentially more students.

However, with the teaching loads described in the articles and what I understand from other sources, how often are students truly being mentored by these artists?  Is it ethical?

Other questions arise as I ponder the big name hires:

  • How many programs treat choreography produced in-house as research?
  • What is the culture of the department like?
  • How is the faculty morale as the lesser-knowns may be picking up the less satisfying classes?

Personally, the first thing I would prefer to stop teaching would be straight technique but if a big-name choreographer were hired in my department, I bet that is exactly what I would be saddled with as they chose composition, improvisation, and perhaps theory courses.

  • What does this mean for guest residencies?

Aren’t residencies a better solution in offering students insight to how various artists think and act?  Aren’t residencies more cost effective for colleges and still a means for choreographers to earn a living? Isn’t variety the spice of life?

  • How are the faculty balancing a families expected to compete?

This touches on a separate but related topic of if and how having a family and surviving in academia is a real possibility. In my view, departments that allow for the “how” of that over the “if” are becoming more and more rare.

It is the number one reason that I choose to remain in K-12, where I have plenty of stimulating arts and education problems to solve but can be home at a reasonable hour, leave my work at school (for the most part), and can pace my extra-curricular activities at a digestible rate rather than always operating under the “publish or perish” time frame dictated in the university system.

And on that note, nap-time is over…..more soon.

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2 thoughts on “You Can Do Anything But Not Everything 1.0

  1. I hope Dance/USA reads your article!!! So true, so true. In addition, what about the underdog students, who may be too intimidated to learn from these big name people — or may be too starstruck? I believe that residencies are certainly the way to go.

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