Guiding undergrads through career preparation

 

It’s 10 a.m. on a Friday at Barnard College in upper Manhattan, where the looming stress of finals week is the only obstacle separating students from summer break. One walks forward to teach a pirouette combination created for a ballet assignment. She looks anxious and timid, and for assistant chair of the dance department Katie Glasner, this will not do. “It’s okay to be nervous, but this is a women’s college!” declares the former Twyla Tharp dancer. “We stand up for ourselves and what we believe in.”

Mottos like these run strong at Barnard, an all-women’s private school affiliated with Columbia University, where Glasner has counseled countless students who teeter between studying dance and traditional academics. As someone who attended an arts conservatory (North Carolina School of the Arts) and college (University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee), and worked in concert dance (with Tharp from 1977 to 1987) and on Broadway (Singin’ in the Rain), she knows the realities of professional life. It’s why her classroom isn’t just a technique lesson, but a place to discover how dance fits into an individual’s goals. Glasner sees the potential in each student and feels that she deserves the highest level of training, regardless of whether that young woman will become a professional dancer, an arts historian or a patron.

One student who has benefited from Glasner’s personal approach is Sydnie Mosley, a dance and Africana studies BA who graduated in 2007. “I’m not a ballet dancer, but Katie and I set goals. With her help I became fearless, even though I wasn’t to the level of the other dancers in the room.”

Today, Mosley choreographs and teaches dance at a high school in the Bronx. Glasner helped her through the unguided and always difficult transition between collegiate life and the working world. The two continue to keep in touch through e-mail and meetings, and Glasner weighs in on Mosley’s choreography and frequents her performances. “Katie is more than a professor. She’s an advisor, lecturer, mentor and friend. That’s what any student could ever want.”

Though she’s helped shape many careers, Glasner is modest in crediting herself and instead raves about her students. “There’s an old Chinese proverb that a teacher opens the door and the student walks through it. And that’s my job—to give as much information as I can, and they will do with it as is relevant to them,” she says. It’s her students, colleagues and downright love of dance that keeps this educator going. “My mother once told me, ‘You only get to keep what you give away,’ and that never made sense to me until I started teaching.”

Photo by Matthew Murphy

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