As we stroll into our sixth week of classes, I'm surprised how quickly the semester is already flying by. We are on the brink of October, and I simply can't believe it. We began the first day of classes with a collaborative School of Theatre & Dance performance celebrating TTU's big centennial kickoff, a whirlwind project that was conceived in a few exciting rehearsals. I am grateful for the students who volunteered their time for the project. Seeing President Schovanec watch our students from the wings with such pride and admiration was a wonderful way to start this semester.
This academic year brings new faces to our program. Not only have we welcomed a wonderful, new cohort of incoming students to the dance program from Texas, California, and Mexico, but we also welcomed new dance faculty and instructors. We are thrilled to bring our new Assistant Professor of Practice, Melissa Brading, to our program. A recent graduate of the University of Michigan and former teacher at The José Limón Institute, she brings a wealth of knowledge and professional experience that will greatly benefit our students and dance community. We also welcome instructor Lily Balogh, who will teach contemporary and ballet technique this year. A NYC native who received her training at the School of American Ballet, Lily currently serves as the Assistant Artistic Director for Ballet Lubbock. We are honored to have these incredible teachers in our program.
I recently attended the National Association of Schools of Dance annual meeting, where there we discussed sustainability and resilience, which mirrors discussions we are having in our School. Lots of questions were posed that are still ruminating in mind – Why are we doing this? What do we want to continue doing and what do we want to change? What is our culture going to be moving forward? What has been lost or gained? What can we “not” do? What are we willing to give up? What are actual emergencies?
So many dance administrators discussed the struggle to find a work/life balance since the pandemic. As we shift back to our “normal” routines again, what lessons have we learned to change our habits to address issues of burnout and exhaustion? Dr. Nadine J. Kaslow, Professor and Vice Chair at Emory University and psychologist for the Atlanta Ballet, spoke in length about compassionate care in understanding and addressing the human condition. As a former dancer, Dr. Kaslow discussed the high rates of mental health issues among dancers and how we can work to best address these issues with our students and ourselves. She shared with us a recent study that showed artists who modeled resilience during the pandemic. Levels of psychological distress remained high for artists but were, surprisingly, consistent with pre-pandemic levels. This intimates the pandemic was not the start of this distress, so how can we work to destigmatize mental health for dancers? How can we encourage wellness and self-care strategies to create a resilience culture? And more importantly – how can we, as faculty, model this behavior and self-compassion?
These are questions that our program are considering this year to ensure that our dance culture becomes a value-driven culture that privileges open dialogue, hope, connection, community, creativity, innovation, and anti-racism.