Sunday, May 10, 2015

In Appreciation of Teachers and Teaching

There is no doubt in my mind that the single biggest influence in my dance life were my teachers.  By no stretch of the imagination could I have reached the levels I did without them and their impact continues to be with me every time I step inside the studio.  Each teacher gave me exactly what I needed when I was studying under them and the gift of letting me take the next step on my own.  So, as Teacher Appreciation Week draws to an end I would like to highlight four of them in the hopes that by sharing their unique teaching traits we may all grow a little wiser.

Lori Lee Silvaggio
You showed me that dance was about joy and communicating that joy with the world.  Not only did you teach me to love dancing, you instilled in me a righteous purpose and a feeling that what the world needed was dance.  The flame you lit at the age of 7 was so strong that it has yet to fade and I still have "Lori" moments in the studio, moments where I am so blown away by my student's pleasure of movement that I again gain confidence in the future.

Richard Rein
You gave my movement language and taught me how to communicate through dance.  Your classes shaped not only my body, carefully crafting each muscle through rigorous technical training, but also my understanding of what it takes to become a professional.  You never let me weaken or give up, finding opportunities for me to grow amidst doubt and injury.

Benjamin Harkarvy
My time with you was perhaps the most transformative.  Your gift was to help me find my voice and to show me that I had something to say.  You advocated for artistry and instilled a great respect for the concept of process.  I feel so blessed to have studied during your tenure at Juilliard, the program you crafted brought together individuals, teacher and student alike, and placed authenticity above employability.

Julie Nakagawa
Through our time together I rediscovered the notion that dance is a performance art.  You showed me how to share my dancing, to perform.  You also shepherded me into the profession of dancer and taught me to respect dance, not only as a verb, but as a noun.  I will always be thankful for your wisdom, humbleness, and insistence with a shrug that I decide for myself.

These teachers were not only important for my career as a dancer, but were also incredibly important in my decision to teach.  Their actions were decidedly void of ego and while it is perhaps naiveté to assume that their purpose was solely to make me the best dancer possible, what's important is that I felt that desire from them and that support.

I now aim to pass along their knowledge, their gifts to me and as a teacher I am humbled and appreciative of the opportunity I have.  Dancer's place not only their bodies but their hearts into the hands of their teacher, asking for guidance and instruction despite the risk of failure and humiliation.  For this I thank my students and their families for the trust and faith they have in me.

With Appreciation,

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Man on a Mission

I don't remember when I decided I wanted to be a dancer, in fact I don't even know if I ever decided.  I know that I loved dancing from an early age, but I also enjoyed and participated in a lot of activities (except for basketball, I really stunk at basketball).  Saturday mornings were spent playing only the first half of the soccer match so that I could make it to tap at 9:45, Summers were spent with my hair permanently dyed green because there was no time to shower after swimming as I had to get to ballet.  I suppose from all these activities dance was the one I loved the best, and was probably the one I was best at, because as I neared high-school my focus narrowed and the intensity of my dance training increased.

Thinking back, the impetus for this shift, was likely a trip to London with my father at the age of 13.  Upon arrival at Heathrow we saw a poster for the Kirov Ballet which was performing at Covent Garden that night.  Although severely jet-lagged and unaccustomed to Europe's 30 minute intermissions (of which there were three) we made it through the performance and both our lives were changed forever.  Three of our 5 nights in London were spent at the ballet, and when I returned to San Luis Obispo, my future vision and immediate educational track had sharply shifted

At the time, San Luis Obispo was only about half as big as it is now and the surrounding communities seemed, at least at my pre-drivers licensed age, more isolated from the county center.  This isolation was and still is what makes the Central Coast great for being a kid, but for being a male dancer with professional aspirations it was just too limiting.  At 14 I left to study with one of New England's preeminent male dance teachers and this decision, though hard, brought me the opportunities which shaped my life  (namely to meet my beautiful Dutch wife, Maartje).

While becoming a dancer may or may not have been a conscious decision, the choice to give back to community, to share the knowledge I've gained through my education, and to bring, to the best of my ability, the experiences I've had to the dancers of San Luis Obispo most certainly is.

Dance is for everybody. I believe that the dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.  - Alvin Ailey

Our mission at the Movement Arts Center is to provide professional level dance training supported by the ABT® National Training Curriculum.  We also believe that movement is a basic human right and as such have classes in diverse styles of dance including adaptive dance for children and adults who have movement disorders such as Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson's.  Both of these  movement programs aim to enrich the lives of the participants, their families, and our community much in the way that those fateful performances in London one summer enriched and shaped mine.

Dream to dance and dance to dream.