MFA Monday: Amanda McCorkle

MFA rightI got knocked up three months after I graduated with my MFA. Three months to feel like a fully formed, academically validated Artist before my priorities were completely and totally turned upside down. What did I do with those three months, you ask? Netflix. Maybe a little wine (okay, maybe more than a little). I made myself go to yoga so that I wouldn’t get fat from the aforementioned lounging and drinking, but that pretty much sums up my experience as an unencumbered, independent artist. The next year of my life was made up of two equally daunting challenges: figuring out how to make a living as an adjunct professor, and growing/birthing a tiny human. Both of these things were simultaneously terrifying, frustrating, exhausting, and totally awesome. Needless to say, my post grad school life seemed pretty far removed from my grad school experience, and ultimately, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. of the biggest surprises for me upon graduation was the reality of being an adjunct professor. I thought that I was prepared for the low pay and the hectic schedules. I thought that my experience as a Graduate Teaching Assistant would directly translate to my experience as a professor. I thought that I would be rejoining the life I had put on pause for grad school. I was so wrong! In order to cobble together enough money to pay the bills, I now work at three different colleges and a studio. On a typical day, I drive an average of 3-4 hours depending on traffic, I hold office hours on a bench outside of the classrooms I teach in, I eat lunch in my car (often while driving and praying I don’t hit traffic), and I check my four different email accounts from my phone as I sit in one of the many parking lots I pay to park in. To reward me for all of my hard work, I make approximately half of what I was making before I quit my dream job to go back to school. But, I’m happy. I love my many jobs. This crazy life provides me with a sense of satisfaction that I never found in my previous career. This is not to say that I would be happy as an adjunct forever. It is good job for my life at this moment, but it is not a position that I see myself pursuing for years on end.

My experience in grad school indirectly gave me the skills I needed to fully embrace the chaotic nature of life as an adjunct. I learned to be flexible with my time, and strict with my deadlines. I learned to just say yes and then freak out later (hey, want to teach hip-hop during your third trimester?). I learned what it means to really collaborate with my peers, and I gained a strong network of those peers that I reach out to on a regular basis. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, these skills gave me a new sense of professionalism that was different from the professionalism I’d acquired in my previous career.

All of these things are important as an adjunct, because you are ultimately on your own. I was unprepared for the sense of isolation that I felt when I began teaching. There was no one to tell me what I needed to do, to see if I was doing it right or wrong, or even to know if I came to work each day. My network was where I went when I needed ideas or solutions during that first year of teaching. The fact that I met my deadlines and volunteered to help the department set me apart from the rest of the adjuncts and ensured that I’d be offered classes for the next semester. Having the tools I learned in grad school at my fingertips has made my first year of teaching manageable and enjoyable, and it helped me to connect with my colleagues in an environment that does not necessarily foster connectivity.

When I was immersed in the intense atmosphere of my program, I was concerned about falling into THE RUT Megan spoke of in her earlier article. Since I was returning to school after 10 years in a non-dance related career, I was painfully aware of how hard it is to maintain a dance life that is separate from one’s professional life. I tried to treasure the daily technique classes, the free and beautiful studio space, and the abundance of creative minds and technically brilliant bodies to collaborate with. I took advantage of all that my program had to offer, and in the end, I desperately needed a break. Rather than seeing my year of artistic unproductivity as falling into the dreaded RUT, I believe that the past year has provided me with the opportunity to marinate in the experiences I acquired in school in order to shape the artist I was into the artist I am now.

The artist I am now is one who is excited about learning and growing as I figure out how to incorporate my grad school experience into my actual life. I’ve developed my teaching self, but my artistic self is still emerging from a haze of stiff muscles and pregnancy hormones. Because I got pregnant so soon after graduating, I spent the last year too sick or too big to effectively create or perform. I’m just now feeling the urge to choreograph again, and I enjoy that it’s on my own terms. The freedom of creating a dance because I have an inspiring idea is something that I didn’t have during school. You create because you have to fulfill a class requirement, or because you want to get into the prestigious show at the end of the semester, but not because you’re driven by an idea that you can’t get out of your head until you illustrate it with your body.

There is a pure joy in that kind of dance making for me. Not to discount the value and necessity of making a dance on a deadline, but I relish the open possibilities.

My message to dancers in graduate programs now who are contemplating life after MFA is simple. Be easy on yourself. Allow yourself time to decompress from what is likely a very emotionally and physically intense situation. Don’t stress about finding the perfect job, or creating the most amazing work of your life straight out of school. You might spend a while doing nothing dance related, but as long as you don’t let a while turn into forever you’ll be fine. Listen to your gut, and you’ll know when it’s time to get yourself back in the studio. Life will be completely different post graduation, and that’s okay.

Amanda McCorkle is a choreographer, performer and teacher from Austin, Texas, who currently resides in North Texas. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Dance from Texas State University, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Dance from Texas Woman’s University.  After taking traditional dance classes for most of her life, Amanda was first introduced to modern dance through a college dance class taught by Darla Johnson, who she went on to study with for several years. Amanda has worked with many choreographers such as: Caroline Sutton-Clark, Andrea Ariel, Sally Jacques, Katherine Duke, Kathy Dunn Hamrick, Jose Bustamante, D. Chase Angier, and Sarah Gamblin. In 2006 she became a founding member of the Shay Ishii Dance Company. Through her involvement with SIDC she has performed in concerts and festivals across Texas as well as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

 Amanda has shown work as an independent choreographer in numerous venues including: the Big Range Dance Festival in Austin, the Brazos Contemporary Dance Festival, the Austin Fringe Festival’s Long Fringe and as a guest choreographer for Spank Dance.

 Currently, Amanda teaches undergraduate courses at Tarrant County College, the University of Texas at Arlington, and Collin College. She has participated in several community outreach residencies, and has extensive experience teaching dance to young children. Her teaching philosophy centers around building a sense of community within the classroom in order to both support and challenge her students.

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