graphic image of footprints

Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in a Dance Studio

When I think back to my time as a Scrippsie, I remember my daily trek to the Richardson Dance Studio, leaving Dorsey Hall and looking back at the San Gabriel Mountains and smelling the dewy scent of the jasmine bushes that surrounded the windows of the romantic Mediterranean architecture. But I don’t think I had any clue then about what I was really learning in that studio. I didn’t know that research, creative thinking, and communication skills were central tenets of a liberal arts education, much less how they would platform me in my career and life.

Now, 40 years later, I see with growing clarity how all those pieces have fit together and informed each other. Their lasting values have become clearer and dearer to me. I find myself drawing upon them today as I plan a class, deal with a problematic student, write a grant proposal, or even when I work through difficult moments with my son. Things I learned in the dance studio those 40 years ago have guided me in all thatI do and know today.

On the day I began to create my first dance and made a commitment to an artistic idea, I found out about courage. I still remember the fear and the tears when I had to find the conviction to embrace an abstraction. As I developed my movement material and began the complex process of piecing ideas together, I learned about differentiating, prioritizing, and editing. Working through complex choreography time and again taught me about persistence. Sometimes during rehearsals a dancer would get injured and need to be replaced; times like these taught me to be adaptable. Creating choreography with other dancers taught me about collaboration and to listen carefully to others.

In that studio I also learned that making dances is hard, filled with challenges and discoveries. Dances, like people, are changeable and not always predictable. I learned that the complexities of dance making are just like the complexities of relationships, with epiphanies and moments of frustration. Both need patient tending. I learned that the deep satisfaction I feel in making a dance that has truth is like making deep, honest connections with a close friend or building the physical and embodied commitments we learn to make with a life partner.