01. PERSONAL INFORMATION
6.) The Dance Program As It Stands, Student Preparedness, and the Context of My Instructional Process
1.) Teaching Philosophy as It Fulfills the Mission of SUNY Potsdam
My teaching resonates with the following experiences: my dance training, performance experiences, the development and trajectory of my creative process, my involvement with educating students, student and peer feedback, collaborations with diverse artists, my commitment toward academia, community, and service, and being an engaging global citizen. With enthusiasm and a positive, constructive spirit, I work with students in a mindful learning environment, and they grow through consistency, encouragement, physical and intellectual challenges, and by expressing themselves, creatively. This is the avenue for their research, understanding, questioning, and envisioning possibility within their bodies and throughout the world. As students advance in dance technique, composition, and performance experiences, they also develop stronger intrapersonal abilities through critical thinking, problem-solving, reflection, and regular practice of interpersonal skills.
This pedagogy is informed by the joy of taking risks and emphasized through courage as a pathway towards vulnerability and creativity. I believe in the capacity of students, and success requires their investment. I encourage students to activate their curiosity and to experiment, question, feel, think, reflect, and communicate their experiences with honesty, compassion, fluidity, and strength. Exercises that support this are embedded in classwork, discussions, assessing discoveries, and writing insightful essays. In so doing, I don't impose my voice on students’ ideas, but rather, I help them to discover and deepen their own voices. I believe that this helps them make sense of the world and the role of artists as citizens.
I have high expectations for students, and I know that those expectations, coupled with my confidence in them can and has led them toward achieving their goals. As I expect students to dance fully and interchange ideas, thoughtfully, I seek to provide meaningful opportunities for them to connect their experiences in dance and education with other aspects of their lives, with other domains of knowledge, and with their perspectives globally, while also giving opportunities for real-world learning. A daily example of this is that I view our physical language (dance) as aspects of our human experiences, and I believe in helping students align emotions, thoughts, and physicality through dance, whether it is for the accomplished dancer, the student new to dance, or anyone in between. By honoring individual perspectives and building a supportive, collaborative learning environment, students will connect beyond the studio walls and through individual, direct, and creative engagements more successfully. It is the idea of teaching with the bigger picture of our world in mind, and in turn, this form of learning has the potential to develop individual insight and opinion.
As an educator, I strive to maintain my own physical practice and seek additional opportunities to hone those needs. I attend professional development courses and dance workshops, including those beyond the United States, and I learn from my students and colleagues on a daily basis as well as with individuals in my creative practice and academic communities. I reinforce my own excitement of movement along with my students during every class, working attentively through the joy of creating and dancing. Observing students as they investigate and discover new ideas reminds me that there is always so much that dance offers. Through teaching, I am able to be a part of a learning culture, providing a nurturing and carefully planned educational environment, while passing on tools of my mentors and from my own discoveries. Additionally, teaching dance helps connect me to the future and with the skills that will be manifested in students, even long after our time together is finished.
2.) Applied Learning in Dance
We all are involved in a fast-paced world that continues to advance every day. It is important to prepare dance students to be a part of it. That is why Applied Learning opportunities are so valuable, including every chance for real-world experiences. Motivation, mastery, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving all rise as a result by offering engaging courses that are active, interactive, appropriately challenging, and connect to the lives of students.
In dance, students learn by doing. Faculty act as mentors, who monitor, reflect on, and evaluate student work, and students receive a grade and credit as a result. Such activities are performance opportunities as early as their freshmen year, choreographing for concert and media dance as early as their sophomore year, and attending a course involving the teaching of dance as juniors. Additionally, our guest artist residencies funded by New York State Dance Force inspire students toward broader possibilities through creative work, further performance opportunities, and internships, giving the Dance Program market value and keeping it current and relevant. These forms of Applied Learning help students align thoughts, physicality, and creative expression, preparing them for such careers as dancers, choreographers, artistic directors, dance teachers, and production designers and supporters. Many students from our program have excelled, working with esteemed dance organizations like Urban Bush Women, American Dance Festival, Bates Summer Dance, Bolshoi Summer Intensive, Jacobs Pillow, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School as well as join graduate programs at, for instance, the University of Buffalo, SUNY Brockport, and Pace.
As it stands, the Dance Program currently has set out to make dance accessible to campus-wide liberal arts students. We have many talented dance students whose shared discipline is science, graphic design, art, education, music business, or criminal justice as well as those who create Student-Initiated Interdepartmental Majors (SIIM) between dance and psychology, community health, exercise science, or arts management, for example. We encourage students to develop through their own experiences to build a wider future, so they can go into professions involving dance therapy, physical therapy, arts administration, fitness instruction, dance videography/photography, the music/dance industry, early childhood creative arts education, or business ownership.
3.) Leadership and Innovation in Dance
As leaders, the Dance Program along with the full department work in conjunction across campus programs and departments, depending on students’ career objectives, to present an educational path to learning in classrooms, studios, on stage, as well as in practical environments. We provide multi-disciplinary education, including internship and service experiences for students to obtain hands-on performing and behind-the-scenes opportunities.
The Dance Program has been innovative by creating a dance company for the first time in its history. During the fall semester, this pilot company called the SUNY Potsdam Dancers established itself by aligning with coursework and collaborating with the Crane School of Music on performances at the North Country Arts Festival with the Latin Jazz Ensemble, the Peace and Love: Crane Wind Ensemble/Choir Concert, and the Lonel Woods Memorial Celebration. In April, the company will also be featured in the Black Opera Symposium, MOTO, a collaboration led by Donald George that includes William Lake, Erin Brooks, Christopher Sierra, and me. The company plans to travel to local schools in the future to do outreach and recruitment, increasing the visibility of the Dance Program and providing our students with opportunities to work as artists for the community.
During these times, faculty across the globe have been forced to be innovative, especially those who taught hands-on courses, for example, in the performing arts. Below is my reflection on this experience.
2020 Hindsight on Remote Education: This section includes the impact that the pandemic had on teaching and students, my response to the impact, and lessons learned for future teaching. SEE MORE
4.) Thoughts About Retention
The closure of schools related to the pandemic has meant that students, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, have been more at risk of increased vulnerability and less likely to receive the support they needed. Further, many of our students have had to quit school and go to work to support their families, assist with ill family members, and/or care for younger siblings who were attending school from home. The gap between students experiencing additional life barriers and those who have not has widened. The Dance Program traditionally has held the highest percentage of BIPOC students and, during the pandemic, we witnessed how some of them were more vulnerable to these life barriers than students from more privileged socio-economic backgrounds. Before the pandemic, our approach to teaching addressed the learning, social, and emotional needs of students and our enrollment continued to grow. In fact, there was a considerable imbalance between student and teacher ratios, and we requested and received an additional dance faculty member as a result.
In the last year, isolation through quarantining has also had considerable effects on students and their sense of belonging and feelings of self-worth, which are key for inclusion in education. When inclusion requires relationships, shared experiences, advocacy, a sense of identity, and transparency, we were forced to ask students to stay in their dorms for two weeks at a time. One disheartening incident that I recall from spring 2021 was a first-year student remarked, who since has left campus, “It was just me and Harrold. Harrold was my pet spider, but then he even left me behind.” I advised this student to stay on multiple occasions, but like this student, many suffered similar issues, feeling locked up, punished, afraid, and very much alone.
When students are still in their formative years, when their personalities are developing, they seek input from their peers in important life decisions. Students communicate their experiences and collectively, make decisions based on them like to leave school. That is why it is so important to build a strong sense of community and belonging in the Program and campus at large, as for example, an audition component. Once a student has secured a position, they are less likely to give it up. That is my guess, in part, why Crane has a higher retention rate.
When young people simply can't afford to attend college, and we still find ourselves adapting to a higher education landscape under change, it has been challenging to recruit. There is also something to be said about the impending demographic cliff and shifts our country is facing as college admissions have seen fewer and more substandard applications. As student shortages, alongside budgetary woes continue to exist, the Dance Program, as well as the Department, has understood the need for increased and diversifying efforts to recruit.
We have done individual on-campus recruitment, attended A Major Affair and Open House events, and met with prospective students individually, where they were invited to attend classes and events. We have worked with alumni as liaisons to set up meetings and events for prospective students. In collaboration with Terry Francis, Director of Admissions, we have contacted New York State high school arts programs for visits, including with Chair Dr. Jay Pecora our most recent visit to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music, Art, and Performing Arts, Dr. Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts, Millennium Art Academy, and the Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts.
We have additionally attended college fairs like Dancewave – Through College & Beyond (DTCB) and built community visibility through collaborating with the Crane School of Music, hosting the annual TEDx SUNY Potsdam, developing SUNY Potsdam Dancers company, doing readers theatre with the local library, and working on comprehensive summer arts programming that will bring together the local community and various other stakeholders on campus. We are arts people. We will continue to be creative on this front to overcome these times and thrive again.
6.) The Dance Program As It Stands, Student Preparedness, and the Context of My Instructional Process
In the past, I have worked with students who entered school already having a strong understanding of the demands and rigor of dance, and serious students found their way as principal dancers into renowned companies. If this could be our students, this notion, alone, would make dancers want to leap to Potsdam and study. Over the past twenty-five years, artists have realized that good education doesn't just come from New York City, as top higher education dance is sprinkled across the whole United States. In fact, my alma mater, Arizona State University was one of ten top schools to study dance when I was a student. Inspired by where I was trained and where I have taught, especially the topnotch Dance Division of New World School of the Arts, I feel ready to assume a leadership role as a tenured faculty member and work toward a place where it is no surprise that our Dance Program and its Performing Arts Center (PAC) could represent serious dancers with high standards.
As of now, the Dance Program has no audition for entry, and combining more serious dancers with the less motivated raises a whole range of issues. Those who truly commit to dance have a clear sense of determination and the right mindset to advance and succeed, while other students are starting out at a beginning level and some dreaming of fame without full knowledge of the commitment involved. Some students even select dance because they assume it will be easy. Dance is far from that and certainly not for the ill-disciplined. I don't think it's impossible to train this type of student if they are eager and motivated to learn; however, currently, a great amount of my energy flows into resupplying some students with what should be social skills learned in high school, including mutual respect, basic etiquette, ability to accept and act on constructive feedback, working communally in a studio setting, and regarding the learning needs of others.
The combination of non-auditioned access with the potential to grow would build a stronger reputation for SUNY Potsdam’s dance offering. Of the SUNY schools that offer dance, notice below where Potsdam stands with the others:
Brockport (BA, BS, BFA - audition required)
University at Buffalo (BA, BFA - audition required)
Fredonia (BFA- audition required)
Purchase (BFA- audition required)
SUNY.edu defines dance at the above schools through this proclamation, "Programs of study offer the serious and dedicated student professional training in classical ballet and contemporary modern dance, as well as composition and theory." By upholding this as well as Potsdam's claim of "leadership in the performing and visual arts," it is clear where our next steps need to be, and I am ready to accept my responsibility in this process as expected from a tenured faculty member.
The BA plus the BFA offering through an audition process could strengthen the program on two paths instead of only one, and whichever the student's path, they can work at their desired level of intention. Typically, each has its advantages—the BFA usually provides more performance opportunities and studio time, while the BA allows students to explore the academic side of dance as well as other liberal arts subjects. Interestingly enough, our program offers courses that comply with the offerings of a BFA, so it would simply be a matter of setting it up. Doing so will join Potsdam in the competitive market with the advantage of the new PAC facility, and it would give us an additional angle for recruitment. The Dance Program would establish a higher level of prestige, and it would set a precedence that would establish a pattern of standards and policies for students as well as recognize achievement. Serious dance students could find their way toward a higher level of advancement and be rewarded for above-average achievement through acceptance into the BFA program. Students who have to work toward acceptance tend to stay in the program, so retention would also improve.
If we don't move forward with this idea, the rest of the world will, and we will miss out. I have evidence of 20+ potential students at a single dance recruitment fair, who walked away from our current program, as it stands when they learned that we don’t hold an audition and don’t have a BFA in dance. To them, this reflects an assumed lower standard, even if it is explained that SUNY Potsdam offers all that a liberal arts school could.
The above gives an outline of my involvement with, and passion for the Department, which I hope will also reflect at a detailed level from all of the materials presented in my portfolio. (Back to top)