Today we have with us Meg Mahoney, a dance educator…
1. Can you tell readers how you became involved in dance and a bit about your background?
I started dancing late (18), when I was at Carleton College, an academically-focused school, majoring in Asian Studies. Dance was part of the PE department, but it was an inspiring class — taught by a professional dancer, Linda Osborne, who commuted from the Twin Cities. Linda danced in a company lead by Margret Dietz, a fabulously inspiring woman who had danced with Mary Wigman in Germany, and whose circle of students I joined. Unfortunately, Margret died in ’72, just after I graduated. I spent some time soaking up inspiration from her company while they were still together, but from there I moved to an artists’ community in Washington State, where I taught, choreographed & did some performing.
Think early 70s… a picturesque little town, an artsy community, funky jobs, bartering garden produce & art for food & services… add some hippie-looking folks to the picture & you’ll get the idea. I took classes and workshops wherever I was and whenever I could. Eventually I emerged & spent a year in NYC getting certified as a movement analyst at the Laban/Bartenieff Institute and then moved to Seattle, where I spent ~7 years teaching creative movement, modern, tap & what-have-you at private studios & preschools in Seattle.
Just after we started a family, my husband & I took a 2-year hiatus in Japan (oh my gosh, we’ve settled down?). After returning, I decided to give up teaching dance and get certified as a teacher (health benefits… consistent pay… school-schedule vacations…). I was a classroom teacher for 4 years, and then I found myself happily building a dance program in my current location, where I’ve been the only full-time dance specialist in Seattle School District for the last 10 years or so.
2. Do you have a “dance philosophy”?
Hmmm… not really! Dance is a prism with a kajillion facets, all of them fascinating… But at various decision-making junctures, I’ve found it valuable to identify my mission & a vision for my work. For a number of years, my mission has been thus: to build relationships, experiences, and exposure for children that guide them to learn, love learning, and live richer lives. That mission has played out in my professional vision — to build a dance program which uses dance as a basic component of education, supporting academic, social, emotional, and physical growth in children, and to expand the program by aiming for excellence, supported by contact with professional colleagues and my own professional development. Although both mission & vision are realities now, the “aiming for excellence” part makes for a forever-journey of growth & change, moving closer & never arriving.
3. You work in the public school system. Can you share a bit about the rewards and challenges?
Rewards: Watching the magic of dance work for all kinds of kids; seeing kids grow as dancers from kindergarten through 5th grade; empowering them to experience themselves as dancers & choreographers by the time they leave. And of course… a steady job; a salary; health benefits, insurance & retirement; a generous helping of vacations throughout the year that fit with a family’s schedule…
Challenges: Classroom management – I like bringing dance to every child in a school, but they’re not all there by choice or easy to reach! Isolation is a challenge – other teachers are great colleagues, but it’s different from collaborating with other artists. A full-time schedule is very consuming & less than ideal. Given a full schedule of teaching & other school responsibilities, it can be hard to take care of yourself physically (providing your own body with the warm-up it needs)!
4. How is working in a school different from teaching in a studio?
So many ways! I get to/have to work with everyone, regardless of their personal interest in dance. I get to/have to integrate other content areas. I get to/have to teach 30-40 classes per week, depending upon the schedule worked out by the school. I get to/have to work with boys & girls from many different cultures & income levels. The choice between “get to” & “have to” really depends upon your personality & goals. Working in a public school is the right place for me, because it gives me a chance to introduce dance to kids & families that wouldn’t have it otherwise.
5. Do you have any tips for those who will be teaching in a school?
Work on pedagogy & management! Understand the conceptual approach to teaching dance (a la Rudolf Laban, Anne Green Gilbert, Dance Education Laboratory at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center). Cultivate your knowledge, skills & an appreciation for hiphop. Plan on building your own position…
6. Can you tell readers a bit about your blog—how it came to be and what type of content it has?
I started it as a way of reflecting on (and improving) my teaching through reflection – and in order to connect with professional colleagues – both of which are aspects of my professional vision (question 2).
7. Would you share a highlight from your dance life with readers?
All of my best memories have to do with moments of exploring new territory:
- venturing into the world of hoofers in an upstairs tap studio at Carnegie Hall;
- exploring authenticity in a workshop with Bill T. Jones;
- taking the subway to East Harlem after losing myself in the passion drive (the efforts of time, weight & flow, with no space attention) at the Laban Institute of Movement Studies;
- my first time performing my own choreograhy (a dance with a broom as a partner);
- my last time performing my own choreography (a lovely collaboration with musicians & a dancer/friend).
The common thread is the growing/learning I’ve always found in dance.
8. What has made dance such a central part of your life?
I’ll defer to the “Why Dance Matters” entries on my blog!
9. Do you have any favorite dance figures? If so, who—and why?
When I’m watching professional dance, I’m looking for great choreography & dancers who can bring it to life. A few choreographers that come to mind are Alvin Ailey (Revelations is exhilarating every time I see it), Mark Morris (he devises fabulous patterns with multiple dancers), Pat Graney (quirky, original, thoughtful), Paul Taylor (I’ll never forget the first time I saw Esplanade). And it’s for the choreography that I watch SYTYCD (once the audition part is over).
As for memorable dancers, they’re not necessarily trained & they don’t do tricks. What they have is commitment! I think of Elijio, the 6-year-old who drives me crazy in class but totally nailed a full-out performance with his 1st grade class last week… of a stately couple dancing on an outdoor stage one Sunday in Merida in the Yucatan last year… of my friend’s son Josh who totally stole the show when he took the stage in his high school production of Beauty & the Beast last week!
10. What’s coming up on the horizon for you?
I’m investigating knee surgery. Medial compartment osteoarthritis has pretty much side-lined me over the last few years, and I’m hopeful that a partial knee replacement is going to put me back on my feet this summer.
As for my teaching life, I’m always looking for ways to accomplish more with my students: more dance styles, better technique, greater comprehension, more videos of dance, dances from more countries…
Meg Robson Mahoney has been a full-time Dance Specialist at Wing Luke Elementary School in the Seattle School District since 1996. Previous incarnations include: reading and math specialist; 5th-6th grade classroom teacher; English teacher in Japanese middle and high schools; Movement Educator in private schools and studios. Honored by the KCTS Golden Apple Award in 2006 and as NW District AAHPERD Dance Educator of the Year in 2002, she served on the Board of Dance Educators Association of Washington for 10 years and continues work with the Arts Assessment Leadership Team of the Office of Public Instruction. Degrees include a MIT from Seattle University, Certificate of Movement Analysis from Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies NYC, and a BA in Asian Studies, Carleton College. A mother of two, she lives in Seattle, maintaining a garden and a blog: http://dancepulse.wordpress.com.