Taking a Break

How three associate professors spent their sabbaticals

James Hansen choreographed "Lovely" during his sabbatical in Chile.

For full-time university faculty, sabbaticals are a welcome vacation. Deciding how they should be spent though, can be difficult. The possibilities seem infinite—some work on research projects, choreograph or travel. Regardless of plans, the time off can be exhausting, jam-packed and entirely exhilarating.

Applying for a sabbatical can be very involved. The leave is usually reserved for faculty on tenure and is typically offered every 7 to 10 years. Restrictions and requirements—including the trip’s length, timing, objectives and funding—will vary depending on the employer. Because of these stipulations, initial planning may begin years ahead, giving professors ample time to create personal goals and find funding to achieve them. DT talked to three associate professors about how their sabbaticals developed and what their experiences did for them.

James Hansen

The College at Brockport, State University of New York

Choreographed in Chile

“The most important thing, I think, is to define the terms of your sabbatical not by who you are now, but by where you would like to go,” says James Hansen, who was invited to choreograph a new work for Chilean dance company Cuerpo Escrito. “I was turning 45 years old and starting to think, ‘What’s next for me?’”

Applying for his sabbatical was lengthy. Hansen had to submit a proposal a year in advance with several rounds of approvals by the chair, dean, provost, department faculty and president of the college. SUNY paid his full salary during the semester-length leave, while grants helped cover some of his travel expenses. Cuerpo Escrito provided housing and per diem in Santiago, along with a small stipend.

The final 20-minute piece, Lovely, that Hansen created for the 11 dancers and actors of the company allowed him to more intensively investigate his process, and different ways to engage in it. “The biggest revelation was working with the actors,” he says. “They embraced risk so easily—it was almost as if that was their driving force, while the dancers embraced their technical skill. The overarching idea that I came back with was the necessity of instilling a love of risk in your students.”

Bonnie Brooks

Columbia College Chicago

Documented the Merce Cunningham Legacy Tour

Bonnie Brooks has been a scholar with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company since 2003, speaking on panels, leading lectures and occasionally joining tours to help with residency activities. When Cunningham died in 2009, she knew she wanted to continue her involvement. In 2011, the Cunningham Dance Foundation offered her a stipend to document the company’s Legacy Tour for seven months. (Columbia College Chicago paid her full salary while on sabbatical.)

A portion of Brooks’ time was spent working as a contributing editor for the iPad app of company archivist David Vaughan, Merce Cunningham: 65 Years. She also helped write the foundation’s final report on the effectiveness of the Legacy Plan. Brooks had planned to work on personal writing during her leave, but the tour consumed her full attention. Ultimately, she hopes to publish her own account of the company’s final days.

Brooks says the experience was productive and satisfying. “It was incredible first-person observation and research, engaging so deeply with Merce’s aesthetic,” she says. “Looking night after night at sets made by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg and watching those dancers—the last dancers that Merce trained himself.”

Jennifer Salk

University of Washington

Taught dance in Istanbul, Turkey

Jennifer Salk spent six weeks teaching at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University’s State Conservatory of Modern Dance in Istanbul. She could have taken up to three quarters of leave, but UW only offered Salk her full salary for one. She received a grant from the Fulbright Specialist Program, which provided airfare and a $200 daily stipend.

Salk’s teaching schedule in Turkey was very different from UW, where she divides her time between studio and dance-related courses. In Istanbul, she spent four to eight hours a day teaching modern dance technique to first- and second-year students and staging a work on fourth-year seniors. She also mentored MFA and PhD candidates and conferred with faculty about curriculum. “I was exhausted because I was teaching so much, but I was engaged, and when I came back I had all this energy,” says Salk. The experience reaffirmed her teaching strategies. “You wonder, am I teaching in a way that’s lively and engaging to other people? This trip confirmed that what I’m doing is useful.” DT

Mary Ellen Hunt, a former dancer, writes about dance and the arts for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Photo courtesy of James Hansen

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