Sunday, July 4, 2010


for the last 2 days I have been thinking about Karen's "Mentors" post and it has inspired me to acknowledge three people who have impacted my thinking about dance, teaching and artists. The first is Deborah Jowitt, a dance scholar and professor at the Tisch School/New York University who I learned from and think about every time I stand in front of a group of students. She combines generosity, intelligence and creativity in ways that are exceptional.

The second is Susan Shields (pictured above at GMU), not only for her breathtaking choreography and her performances with artists like Lar Lubovitch and Mikhail Baryshnikov, but also for her course called Senior Synthesis. When I watched this year's graduating dancers from GMU deliver speeches that had been crafted in Susan's class, I wrote her a message that said "Tonight's presentations were personal and poignant. I am impressed by how deeply each senior explores own strengths and weaknesses and is able to acknowledge what they love and what they strive for without embarrassment or entitlement. Your Synthesis course is truly magnificent - it seems to emphasize what I hold as the most important aspect of teaching: that the students start to know themselves - honestly and lovingly - thank you for a wonderful evening."

And then there is Philippa Hughes who combines these traits from Deborah and Susan - she is smart, innovative, encouraging - and applies them to DC where she has created an environment for artists that is supportive and explorative. When I asked her recently why she created The Pink Line Project she replied: "I started it because I was looking for resources to help me navigate the DC art scene as an art collector and art enthusiast and couldn't find anything that inspired me and that was easy to use and comprehensive. So I did it myself." In spite of our technology-savvy world, Philippa recognizes that face-to-face conversation can never be replaced by a website or webcam. She holds events that are social gatherings, bringing people together to look at art, performance, interviews with creators, and to discuss their ideas and points of view. She adds "At the end of the day, people use social media so that they can improve and facilitate their ability to interact with other humans face-to-face. It's more satisfying to sit down and talk to someone than it is to email/tweet/Facebook message/comment/like/etc. Even a webcam is missing some basic and necessary human elements - smell, touch - plus it's harder to pick up on subtle visual cues. The ever so slightly raised eyebrow. The quick and sly smirk... I don't have any hard evidence for this. I do know that I have over 3,000 Facebook friends, 90% of whom I don't really know. But one of them sees me in public, they light up and I feel a palpable energy from them. I also know that Salon Contra has been wildly popular and many tell me how much they enjoy meeting other like-minded people and being able to interact with them socially."

Philippa has a point: we write about how mentors impacted us on the web, but the moments when we were in contact - talking, listening, sharing and learning - were the times that left the longest-lasting impressions.

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