Dance Teachers Trending

Tiffany Mills Offers a Fresh Perspective About Being a Guest Artist at Muhlenberg College

Photo by Julie Lemberger, courtesy of Tiffany MIlls Company

Guest artist residencies let college dancers explore new movement styles and interact with working professionals. But the students aren't the only ones who benefit from the experience. Visiting a university to teach and set work gives choreographers a unique chance to connect with the next generation of performers and creators. To get more insight into the perks—and challenges—a residency can offer, DT spoke to New York City–based choreographer Tiffany Mills about her time as Baker Artist-in-Residence at Muhlenberg College, in Allentown, Pennsylvania.


Nuts and Bolts

Mills, who launched Tiffany Mills Company in 2000, has an extensive CV when it comes to college dance experience: alumna of the University of Oregon honors college (BA) and Ohio State University (MFA), with guest artist residencies at Temple University, Boston University, Kenyon College, Goucher College and Reed College, among other schools. "Residencies feed me in so many ways," she says. "I always come back feeling energized."

And Muhlenberg is almost a second home—she previously guest-taught there, from 2004 to 2006, and has returned a handful of times for lecture-demonstrations and workshops.

In October 2017, Mills' Baker residency featured an informal performance by her company and a Q&A; that let students learn more about her work. Then, Mills spent three days teaching technique, partnering, composition and pedagogy. (The Baker grant also took the company to nearby DeSales University and the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts.) At Muhlenberg, the company was given time and studio space to work on a new piece, and students were invited to watch and give feedback. And finally, in four jam-packed rehearsal days, Mills restaged with the students her piece It Only Happens Once…Yesterday and Tomorrow.

Muhlenberg students perform Mills' "It Only Happens Once...Yesterday and Tomorrow." Photo by Matthew Wright, Fig Tree Photography, courtesy of Tiffany Mills Company

If it sounds like a whirlwind week, it was. But for Mills, the condensed time frame of a typical residency is part of the draw. "With my company, we might take a year or two to create a work," she explains. "At a college, we often have seven days or less. It's refreshing to see how quickly we can put something meaningful together."

Creative Process

"One current that runs through much of my work is human relationships—how we communicate with each other, or don't," Mills says. "I'm interested in the differences between people, so I always try to bring out the uniqueness within each dancer." She accomplishes this by having dancers generate their own material. She'll often assign a task or share an image to get the ball rolling. "Then," she says, "I'll edit their phrases, or I'll pick out interesting parts and have them explore those further."

The work she chose for Muhlenberg is one she's set several times before, including at Boston University and Temple University, at Seattle's Velocity Dance Center, and on the contemporary company 10 Hairy Legs. She's done the piece with all-female, all-male and mixed-gender casts, and with anywhere from 5 to 12 performers. "It Only Happens Once…Yesterday and Tomorrow is very versatile," Mills says. "It has some constants: It's always in three sections, it always starts with the same image, and there are a few landmarks along the way. But how it develops is unique to each version and each cast. We build the piece collaboratively."

Challenges

Mills was pleased to find that her Muhlenberg group seemed ready to handle everything she threw their way. "This cast was hungry," she says. "They arrived warmed up and ready. They took direction and ran with it. Unfortunately, that's not always the case." They were even able to spend the fourth rehearsal day cleaning and video taping, which meant Mills was able to head home confident in what they'd made together.

Still, leaving is one of the hardest parts of any residency. After her week at Muhlenberg, Mills wasn't able to return to check in with her cast, although she did Skype into a few rehearsals. "It's hard, as the creator, not to be there all the way to the end," she says. "I have to let the piece live on its own." Also, due to scheduling conflicts, she wasn't able to attend the performance. "One dancer got ill at dress rehearsal," she says, "so the cast downsized. Then, on opening night, the girl felt better and came back. The dancers had to deal with that curveball without me."

Perks

"My company is small—six dancers—and we know each other very well," Mills says. "When I do a residency, I'm getting fresh perspectives." She often comes home with new tools and imagery to bring to company rehearsals, as well as to her classes going forward. "I might have found a better way of teaching a certain partnering move, or I'll have had a spark of an idea that will eventually lead to a new piece," she explains. The push to work quickly also sometimes has lingering effects: "I'll walk into company rehearsals and say, 'Today, we're not going to talk so much. We're going to be efficient.'"

Aside from the impact residencies can have on her own artistic endeavors, Mills enjoys the sense of satisfaction that comes from watching dancers blossom. "College students are young and eager," she says. "They're curious. They're sponges. In only a week, you can see them grow."

Related Articles Around the Web
Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Dance teachers are just as apt to fall into the trap of perfectionism and self-criticism as the students they teach. The high-pressure environment that is the dance world today makes it difficult to endure while keeping a healthy perspective on who we truly are.

To help you quiet your inner critic, and by extension set an example of self-love for your students, we caught up with sports psychologist Caroline Silby. Here she shares strategies for managing what she calls "neurotic perfectionism." "Self-attacking puts teachers and athletes in a constant state of stress, often making them rigid, inflexible and ultimately fueling high anxiety rather than high levels of performance," Silby says. "Perfectionistic teachers, dancers and athletes can learn to set emotional boundaries. They can use doubt, frustration and worry about missing expectations as cues to take actions that align with what they do when teaching/performing well and feeling in-control. Being relentless about applying a solution-oriented approach can help the perfectionist move through intense emotional states more efficiently."

Check out those strategies below!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Since the dawn of time, performers have had to deal with annoying, constant blisters. As every dance teacher knows (and every student is sure to find out), blisters are a fact of life, and we all need to figure out a plan of action for how to deal with them.

Instead of bleeding through pointe shoes and begging you to let them sit out, your students should know these tricks for how to prevent/deal with their skin when it starts to sting.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox