Katie Langan never intended to teach dance—much less run an entire college dance department. Now, with decades of experience under her belt, including more than 15 years as the dance chair at Marymount Manhattan College, Langan is a passionate advocate for higher education.
How did she get where she is? Following early training at North Carolina School of the Arts, American Ballet Theatre and School of American Ballet, and a performance career highlighted by stints with Ballett Zürich and Twyla Tharp Dance, Langan got her BA in art and design at MMC. While a student at the college, she was asked to teach a ballet class. Part-time soon became full-time—and the rest is history.
During her tenure at MMC, Langan has revamped the school's dance curriculum. For example, "Once, there were only two options: The BFA was about performance and choreography, and the BA was about teaching," she says. She broadened the department, adding BA concentrations in body, science and motion; dance and media; teaching dance arts; and dance studies. She also restructured the technique class requirements. "We want there to be a skill set beyond kinesthetic awareness," she says. "Dancers should be able to write about dance, speak about it and negotiate the field on many platforms. The study of dance can be as rigorous and multifaceted as any other discipline."
A normal day for Langan runs the gamut, and it might include hands-on classroom time, administrative work, meetings with students, faculty and staff, and much more. To give you an inside look at the life of a dance department chair, DT shadowed Langan on a typical Friday.
11:30 am–12:30 pm: Teach Ballet V
Langan instructs Ballet V, for advanced students, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. "I've studied Vaganova, Cecchetti, RAD and Balanchine, and they all mesh together into the style I teach: more American, less romantic," she says. "It's most important to me that movement is aligned and anatomically correct." In the classroom, she runs a tight ship and frequently calls on students to articulate what they're working on in a given exercise: "What's one place you'd like to be better?" At the same time, she isn't afraid to joke around, shouting, "Wow, that was hard!" after a particularly strenuous adagio. Her dancers leave sweating and smiling.