Another Monday! Another start to a great, full week!
Another MFA Monday featuring….
(drum rrrroll please)
Heather Nabors is the Assistant Director of Dance Programs at Rice University. Heather relocated to Houston this summer from North Carolina. Heather has been a teacher and freelance choreographer in NC since 2005. She served as an adjunct faculty member at Catawba College, Greensboro College, Elon University, and UNCG. In 2012, Heather founded ArtsMash, a collaborative arts concert in NC. Her work has been presented at ArtsMash, The Saturday Series, UNCG Dance Department Alumni Concert, Greensboro Fringe Festival and the American Dance Festival’s Acts to Follow. She has choreographed over 14 musicals in NC for community theaters and local high schools including Rent, Oklahoma! ,The King & I, Legally Blonde, Little Shop of Horrors, and Children of Eden. Heather received her MFA in Choreography from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
The “MFA Monday” series features the musings of local Master of Fine Arts holders. Enjoy their thoughts on the process of attaining an MFA!
I Love Jazz Hands
I love modern dance. It is wonderful and fulfilling, but it doesn’t always pay the bills. Prior to moving to Houston, I spent nearly a decade making a living teaching jazz, tap, ballet, modern, and dance for musical theater, and choreographing musicals for community theater.
As a young studio kid, I was a full fledged Jazzerina. I spent my early years studying everything from jazz and tap to ballet and acrobatics. In college, I discovered modern dance and though it felt a little foreign in my body at first, I soon warmed to this new way of moving and developed a deep love and appreciation for modern dance. I was drawn to graduate school by my love of choreography. Once there, I was fully immersed in modern dance up to my eyeballs and I loved every minute of it.
While my graduate program did not openly discourage studying other forms of dance, it was not exactly encouraged either and the pickings were slim. There were a limited number of jazz classes (though none were taught by faculty) and tap was only offered because one of the graduate TAs had the ability to teach the class. Though it was never explicitly stated as such, the message was implicit: modern dance was “high art” while other dance forms were seen as mere entertainment; suitable for commercial pursuits but not worthy of serious study.
In graduate school, I imagined I would land a full-time teaching job within a year of graduating and soon after, would start my own modern dance company. (Totally realistic, right?) However, when I began looking for teaching jobs, I found modern dance jobs scarce and I quickly realized that in my area of North Carolina, the need was for teachers who could teach jazz in theater departments. The reality of life quickly hit me in the face and I dusted off my old jazz shoes in pursuit of a modified career path. I started teaching jazz to beginning theater students and to my surprise and delight, it was awesome! I found them open to everything and completely receptive. They didn’t see dance as commercial vs. artistic, they just wanted to move and learn the basic skills to help them succeed in a musical theater audition. Around the same time, a friend and colleague mentioned that her husband was looking for a choreographer for a musical he was directing and wanted to know if I would be interested. I instantly accepted the opportunity and so began my entrance into choreographing musical theater.
During these intense jazz and musical theater years, I learned many things about myself. I really love jazz. I love musical theater. I love working with beginners who have no formal training. And my love of these things in no way negates my love of modern dance. I don’t care what kind of dance I am teaching – I just want to move!
In graduate school, you may have visions of what you think your career will be like, but these plans may go slightly askew. Be open to every opportunity and don’t be afraid to dive into the “commercial” side of dance. Don’t limit yourself to only working in dance departments and reject teaching classes that are not a level 4 modern technique class. My working colleagues in North Carolina earn their bread and butter from being amazing tap, jazz, and hip hop instructors. In my new position at Rice, I get the best of both worlds. I get to work and train wonderful students who love modern dance. I also get to teach beginning level jazz dancers, some of whom come to me not knowing a jazz square from a square root.
I love dance in all shapes and sizes. It challenges me, awakes my senses and inspires me. I love the shift of weight, curve of the spine and release I get from modern dance. I also love a good jazz hand and tapping out the shim sham on a wood floor. As a student, I felt the need to choose art or entertainment. As an adult, I know it’s all just dance and it rocks.