The job of dance teacher is as varied as where it is practiced.
Ever wondered what it would be like to walk in a colleague’s shoes? There might be few professions where the basic job description varies as greatly as that of dance teacher. The tasks and objectives can be as different as the settings where they are practiced: studio, high school, university, conservatory, company, festival, summer intensive, community rec center. Here, five educators talk about the challenges and rewards of their particular career paths.
Linda Kent is one of the few modern dancers who have been members of both Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Paul Taylor Dance Company. Today, in addition to her faculty position at The Juilliard School in New York, Kent has just completed a decade as director of dance for Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the oldest performing arts camp in the country. The two teaching environments are about as different from each other as dancing for Ailey is from Taylor. Even a spark plug like Kent admits it’s a lot to juggle.
She first heard about the Perry-Mansfield opportunity through a mutual friend. A passionate advocate for the history of modern dance, she found the idea of being part of an organization that had nurtured the dance greats of the past intriguing. Founded in 1913, legendary former students included Merce Cunningham, Hanya Holm, Agnes de Mille, Doris Humphrey and José Limón. “I had always heard of Perry-Mansfield,” says Kent, who has experience teaching in seven different summer programs. “It was a natural fit for me.”
She took over the dance program in 2001 and put a world-class faculty in place, including both rising and established choreographers like Antonio Brown of Bill T. Jones and Ernesta Corvino, ballet mistress for Pina Bausch. She added composition and repertory classes, and perform-ances by rising choreographers.
“The students need to see professional dance to know what they are working toward,” says Kent, who has permission to set excerpts from Taylor’s Esplanade, Cloven Kingdom, Company B and other works.
“They learn sections of real dances,” she says. “They also have an amazing variety of work created on them. My philosophy is to do both. Give them good work and they will rise to it.”
Kent also tweaked the age divisions based on social and physical development. “Ten-year-olds should not be with 14-year-olds,” she says. Four program tracks give young artists a chance to grow during the summer months: one-week Discovery Camp (ages 8–10); two-week Junior Camp (ages 10–12); four-week Young Artist Intensive (ages 13–15); and the six-week Pre-professional Intensive (ages 16 and up). It’s the pre-professional division that Kent considers her baby. “I had the freedom to create this program from scratch,” she says. Last summer it had a record enrollment of 43 students.
Kent spends June through August onsite, but she’s busy year-round, with recruiting activities and getting everything in place. She particularly enjoys the curatorial aspect of her job. Her eye for choreographers on the threshold of big careers is evident in her selection of Robert Battle, Camille A. Brown and Kyle Abraham, all of whom have participated in the Perry-Mansfield New Works Festival. She balances it all with teaching at Juilliard and other activities, including setting work at Montclair State University and for Ailey’s BFA program, and teaching for the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
“It’s a three-ring circus, and I have to keep the balls in the air,” she says. She manages a summer faculty of 15–17, and her teaching load consists of two levels of modern, repertory, partnering and drama, some of which she does not teach at Juilliard. “I get to teach somewhat younger and less trained students,” she says. “I love widening their horizons as to what dance can be.”
And then there is the pastoral setting that provides a needed respite from Manhattan. “As I walk down to the studio, I can see mountains and horses. Once there was a deer behind me. Last summer we saw a moose,” says Kent. “It is great to wake up in the Rockies, walk to the studio checking the snow on faraway peaks, hearing the horses snort as you pass and throw your whole being into space.” DT
Also in “Five Teachers, Five Venues”:
Photo by Richard Finkelstein, courtesy of Perry-Mansfield