MFA Monday: Erin LawGood Morning! Framers, I am so pleased to bring you Megan Yankee’s next installment of MFA Monday, a rich interview her with colleague and friend Erin Law. Enjoy!
After the Master: Interview with Erin Law, M.F.A.
I am happy to present my interview with Erin Law this week. Erin and I met at Denison University where she was teaching as a visiting assistant professor in the 2012-2013 school year. We have since traveled to Burkina Faso (West Africa) together to perform a work by Sandra Mathern-Smith. Her warmth and expertise is something I greatly admire and I cherish her friendship and mentorship. If you have any questions for her, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will happily forward them to her. Enjoy!
M: How are you using the knowledge and experiences you gained in grad school now (outside of work)?
E: I think mainly the knowledge and experiences I gained serve as a reminder to stay true to myself no matter what. In school I had the opportunity to delve in deep, to explore and discover my aesthetic voice. I think that in this world that often devalues art as a valid form of work, it is important to stay connected to self and to have integrity in the face of adversity.
M: Do you have a regular movement practice (even if it’s atypical)?
E: I am sure to move (consciously) every day in some way, even if it’s not exactly how I desire. I have enjoyed walking a lot recently. I like to connect with the environment that way. Sometimes I do small dances while making copies, others I stray from the path that leads directly from point A to point B…
M: What was your focus in grad school?
E: I focused on improvisation as performance. Through collaboration and experimentation I discovered many modalities through which to become more specific and rigorous in improvising as a soloist, part of a group, and as a contact dancer. I also focused equally on developing my skills as a sound artist. I did this so to face my fears and self-judgment and also to be able to make things that I could post online without worrying about how copyright laws apply to the presentation of my work (live or online). Although it was my last semester I discovered film through a composition class we took and I fell in love with it. So while it wasn’t a constant focus when I was there, I have continued to explore it in my independent professional work.
M: How/did your employment status shift after grad school? What was the job search and application process like for your current position?
E: Each school year following graduate school, my employment status has shifted. After graduate school where I was a Teaching Fellow, I moved back to Tennessee and did some adjunct work at Middle Tennessee State University. This was a huge turning point for me as a dance educator because I was asked to teach Dance Appreciation as a general education course. I had to learn quickly how to shift from depending largely on my body as a teaching tool to becoming an engaging lecturer. I found that the vast array of things I had been exposed to in graduate school combined with my training from Integrated Movement Studies (Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis) served me here, because it prepared me with the skills to create meaningful hands-on activities for very diverse groups of students. I then became a Visiting Assistant Professor at Denison University as a sabbatical replacement the following school year. This was my first opportunity to work full time teaching both theory and technique courses, creating choreography, and advising students. This gave me the chance to expand on things I had been developing over the last several years of my teaching career in a very supported and focused manner.
This year has been the most challenging in terms of finding meaningful work. I have experienced a lot of potential opportunities, rejections, and a great sense of humbling. I am proud of myself for my perseverance.
I feel, despite the lack of fruitful employment after a year of searching, a freedom to imagine new and different pathways for myself in the near future. I am still applying for academic positions but I am also interested in freelancing and collaborating with dance artists with whom I really want to work.
M: What is your opinion regarding the state of adjunct positions in the US?
E: I preface my personal commentary by saying I have not researched the state of adjunct positions here, so I am coming from my own frame of reference as well as hearsay from fellow adjuncts. First, I believe it must be a very different experience depending on which school and region one works. I think there is a double edged sword with adjunct work: there is less institutional responsibility, freeing me as an artist to do other things with my time but then there are no health benefits, the pay is very poor and the teaching load can still be incredibly demanding. I have enjoyed having less institutional responsibilities this year, it has allowed me to do other things with my time. Then again, as someone who enjoys investing in my students, I find myself naturally inclined to advise and mentor students; it provides me great fulfillment. This is where boundaries are fuzzy because it is not part of my job description, I am not getting paid for it, but there I am doing it anyway. I think adjunct positions—specifically in dance—only exacerbate our masochistic cultural tendency to work (or in some cases, toil) for free “all for the love of dance.” It can create in me a sense of resentment and devaluing of my own skills. It is certainly not a sustainable source of employment, but I can see how it could be useful for some.
The thing I struggle with is that adjuncts and tenured professors could be providing the same level of quality teaching but are not receiving the same benefits for their work.
Adjuncts are left out in the cold when it comes to issues of health insurance, travel benefits, and general accessibility to the perks an institution can offer. We all need to be compensated fairly for our work and that is not happening.
M: How are you using the knowledge and experiences you gained in grad school in your current position?
E: I have several jobs right now so this question has different answers depending on which job I am discussing…I will start with my day job. I support a high school English teacher who is blind. This was her very first year teaching and she had a lot to learn. Although it was not part of my job description I found myself having philosophical discussions with her all year about how to approach teaching …I think I served her as a type of pedagogical advisor. I have helped her to consider how learning can be a hands on activity and a kinesthetic experience. I have been able to bring the analytic skills I acquired in graduate school to my job evaluating her work as well as the students’ work.
In my adjunct work, the connections are much more straightforward. As I discussed before the exposure to so many different contemporary artists helped prepare me to teach Dance Appreciation. I also feel that getting to teach and take several semester length technique courses in graduate school allowed me to understand the flow of a semester and how I wanted it to progress for my students.
I think one of the most instrumental or significant/sentimental ways in which my experiences in grad school affect my current work is in my independent choreography.
I feel much more adequately prepared to take on big projects and take really big risks. I am not as attached to my work and don’t treat as this precious thing that is an appendage of my own body anymore and I owe that to the critique process I experienced in grad school.
I seek out critical feedback which is something I never did before in Nashville.
M: Roughly how many times have you performed or presented your work since you graduated. How does this compare to the amount of times you did so during and before graduate school?
E: I have presented work about nine times over the last three years since I graduated. This includes the production of three dance films, two of which were presented as part of live performances. During graduate school I performed or presented work one to two times per semester over a total of four semesters. I was definitely making work and/or involved in others’ work during graduate school more intensely than when I left. A marked difference in the timeline of producing work is that I now seek my own opportunities to present work and thus decide (within reason) my own deadlines/show dates, whereas in graduate school, these things were essentially determined for me. In this way it feels equal. Before graduate school I presented work as part of annual or semesters’ end dance concerts more frequently than seeking alternative or site-specific performance spaces. I adhered more to a studio’s schedule than my own desire to make work. I enjoy that I am liberated from that now!
M: Is there a project you’re itching to get started on?
E: I am very excited to start on a project that I will present at the end of July. Earlier this year I had an anxiety dream related to work and it featured me digging through bags of underwear and markers. My friend (and collaborator) suggested I shed the anxiety aspect of the dream and explore the specific images of underwear and markers in a dance. That resonated with me immediately so I started dreaming up ideas. I am looking forward to working with a few improvisers to develop a performance score with these items and mainly the freedom they represent to me.
Erin Law is a movement educator, improviser, choreographer, and performance artist based in Nashville, Tennessee who is determined to both challenge and bring harmony to her community through dance. Recently she has completed a yearlong Visiting Assistant Professorship at Denison University where she restaged a choreographic work and taught Somatics, Understanding Dance, Laban Movement Analysis, Contact Improvisation, Senior Research, and Cultural Studies as sabbatical replacement for Dr. Gill Wright Miller. Previous engagements include an adjunct professorship at Middle Tennessee State University and Assistant Director of the co-curricular Vanderbilt Dance Program.
Originally from Massachusetts, Law attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY from which she graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. and high honors in dance. She went on to the Integrated Movement Studies program to certify in Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis (LMA) through the University of Utah and in the spring of 2011, Erin graduated from the Master of Fine Arts program in dance at Smith College (Massachusetts) with her MFA in choreography and performance.
In her independent work Erin is currently pursuing the integration of site-specific improvisations in movement, identity theory, sound, and film under the project heading salt_space. She is collaborating with fellow dance artists Janelle Bonfour-Mikes and Travis Cooper in a performance piece exploring both the repression and unleashing of humans’ animal nature with the working title “Underwear and Markers (We Are Animals)” which will be shown in late July 2014. Erin is delighted to have just returned from Burkina Faso, Africa where she had the honor of performing with Sandra Mathern, John Osburn, and Megan Yankee in Mathern’s multi-media work “I Am Relative to You” as part of Olivier Tarpaga’s 2014 Nomad Express Festival.
Megan Yankee’s MFA Monday arc began last week and continues next week!