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."


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."


"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
Related Articles From Your Site
    The Conversation
    Dance Teachers Trending
    Photo courtesy of Hightower

    The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

    Keep reading... Show less
    Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
    Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

    Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

    No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

    Keep reading... Show less
    Studio Owners
    Getty Images

    Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

    Keep reading... Show less
    Sponsored by Insure Fitness
    AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

    As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

    You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

    Keep reading... Show less
    Studio Owners
    Getty Images

    In 2019, dance parents are more eager than ever to observe their child's progress, and stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of what's happening in the classroom. That means yearly recitals aren't always enough to keep them satisfied—especially if you have rules against visitors observing class from week to week. The solution? Visitor observation weeks. Trust us, the guardians and loved ones of your students will love you for it!

    We caught up with Suzanne Blake Gerety, vice president of Kathy Blake Dance Studios and regular contributor to Dance Teacher's "Ask The Experts" column, to hear her tips on how to have a successful visitor observation week.

    Keep reading... Show less
    Studio Success with Just for Kix
    Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

    Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

    Keep reading... Show less
    Dancer Health
    Adequate dorsiflexion mobility is needed to find a supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely. Getty Images

    Dancers are trained to think often about the range of motion, stability and power of their extended lines: the point of the foot, the reach of the penché, the explosion of the sauté in the air. But finding that same mix of flexibility and strength in the flexed foot is just as integral to technique and injury prevention. Without adequate dorsiflexion mobility, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely.

    Keep reading... Show less
    Sponsored by World Class Vacations
    David Galindo Photography

    New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

    Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

    Keep reading... Show less
    Site Network
    Irina Kolpakova in the studio with Katherine Williams. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe

    Being coached by a treasure like former Kirov prima Irina Kolpakova is an experience most dancers only dream of. But company members at American Ballet Theatre have been the lucky beneficiaries of her wisdom since 1990. Thanks to Instagram, where pros like Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside share snippets of their sessions with Kolpakova, any ballet lover can be a fly on the wall during rehearsals with the famed ballet mistress.

    Keep reading... Show less
    Dance Teachers Trending
    Photo by The Fleet, courtesy of Lion's Jaw Festival

    Growing up in New Jersey, Lisa Race trained with a memorable dance teacher: Fred Kelly, the younger brother of famous tapper Gene. "Fred would introduce our recitals," she says. "He would always cartwheel down the stairs." It wasn't until years later, when Race was pursuing her master's degree and chose to write a research paper on Kelly, that she realized there was a clear connection between her own movement style—improvisational and floor-based—and his. "In this television clip I watched, Fred jumps up to the piano, then jumps off it—he's going up and down and around," she says. "I thought, 'Oh, wow, all this time, I've thought of my dancing as my own, but that's where it started!' Moving upside-down and into the floor. There's a thread there. I rerouted it in different ways, but there's a connection."

    Now, as a professor at Connecticut College, she concentrates on how to introduce her students to that love and freedom of upside-down work—and how to best prepare them for life after graduation, no matter what dance path they take.

    Keep reading... Show less
    Studio Owners
    Getty Images

    It's summertime, which means we're all starting to feel HOT! HOT! HOT!

    While a warm room is certainly better than a cold room when it comes to dancing, you don't want your students to get heat stroke at your studio. To help you survive this sweaty time of year, here are tips and tricks that will keep your classrooms comfortable for an excellent class.


    Keep reading... Show less


    Get DanceTeacher in your inbox