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Students and their alumni teachers work on an exercise in the Improvisational Practices class during Alumni Takeover week. Photo: Brett Simison

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Dance Alumni Takeover Gives Students a Glimpse of the Future

December 6, 2017


MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Entering the arts industry can be daunting, especially since there is no tried and true path to success. This uncertainty, which can be both exhilarating and terrifying, is what prompted Assistant Professor of Dance Christal Brown to try a novel experiment in her classrooms this fall.

For one week in November, Brown invited a group of young alumni back to campus to teach the entire Dance Program curriculum. They also threw in a performance of new work and offered career advice to students.

Brown says the idea came to her when she was thinking about how to cover classes while the Dance Program’s artist in residence was away this fall.

“Instead of covering his classes, I thought it would be a great idea to cover the entire week with alums and have their voices infuse our program with fresh perspectives and current experience,” says Brown. She started checking around on Facebook and was happy to find enthusiastic interest from alumni.

The 11 graduates who participated came from diverse backgrounds—some are active dance professionals, while others have incorporated dance and the arts into their work as teachers, administrators, tech professionals, and activists.

During their campus residency, they migrated from studio to classroom and back, teaching all levels of dance technique along with dance history, anatomy and kinesiology, improvisational practices, and the creative process. On Wednesday, they offered career advice during a panel discussion, and on Thursday they highlighted new work in a performance at the dance theater.

“Students were able to see their life after Middlebury through the lens of their peers,” said Brown. “Having alums be candid about their successes and failures along their career trajectory postcollege was encouraging for our current students.”

Brown says being able to spend time with emerging and established artists who began their careers at Middlebury gave students a deeper understanding of their transferable skills and the value of their liberal arts education, as well as “permission to pursue their passion.”

The takeover was cosponsored by the Dance Program, Music Department, Center for Careers and Internships, and Chellis House.