From my first years as a dancer at Interlochen Arts Academy under program director William Hug, it was assumed that all modern dancers performed lecture-demonstrations as part of a mission to convert the heathen and minister to the vast underserved populations who knew little or nothing of the wonders of modern dance. Most likely influenced by his experiences with the greatest of all dance educators, Martha Hill, and Doris Humphrey and José Limón while at Juilliard, Bill knew how to frame the art form as a fathomless fount of creative expression subject to the compositional tools shared by all the arts. He also knew that art imitates life, or that from the mundane to the metaphysical, movement embodies time, space and energy—mirroring back truths about human behavior and the cosmic dance. As dancers, we are both prime sources—needing no explanation or further illustration—and living, moving illustrators of phenomena occurring everywhere and at every moment.

Presenting lecture-demonstrations in town halls, school gymnasiums and cafeterias, old folks’ homes, living rooms, and on outdoor stages, I found my voice. I discovered that my ability to articulate, inspire and educate sprang quite effortlessly from a fervent desire to share my passion and enthusiasm for my newfound mission in life. This ability followed me into the studio when I began to teach technique, composition and repertory classes on a regular basis and to supplement an erratic income as a performer and choreographer. Having studied anatomy and ideokinesis under Lulu Schweigard while at Juilliard, I incorporated movement imagery and visualization into my teaching and dancing. I let my many years as a violinist and orchestra player inform my understanding of phrasing, form, and musicality. As Martha Hill told me upon my graduation, I had learned how to learn. I was prepared to carry on the legacy of my pioneering mentors to preach what I practiced. And I did so for over a decade, traveling the world with dance companies and as a free-lance artist and artist-in-residence.

Simply stated, informed, expressive movement educates, and the more we educate ourselves, the more informed we are as dance artists. As a Professor of Dance at the University of Michigan, I join with my colleagues in referring to this reciprocal function as “research in action.” For most dance artists, to be supremely gifted as a charismatic performer or brilliantly inventive choreographer is not enough to sustain a life-long career. Dance programs at colleges and universities provide context, content and skill sets that help create careers as well as the training, performance and choreographic experience to make young artists. Since coming to the University of Michigan in 1984, I have taught courses in modern and ballet technique, dance composition, repertory, screendance, cultural concepts/theory, and advanced solo performance. I have chaired the dance program for seven years while carrying a full course load. I have assumed a leadership role as advocate to further legitimize dance and the arts in academia and have served as a consultant for the evaluation of dance programs at other universities. I have championed interdisciplinarity in curricular development, faculty hirings, interdepartmental faculty and student projects and in my own work as dancer, choreographer, writer, and video artist. I have written texts for my own performances, and poems and articles for various journals and publications. I have presented lectures and staged panel discussions and conferences on my own campus and as a guest at other campuses. I learn as I teach, and I shamelessly cross disciplinary boundaries to raid knowledge banks and share my work with other like-minded adventurers.

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Peter Sparling - Educator