In August, Endalyn Taylor will begin her tenure as dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where she’ll head the conservatory’s classical and contemporary dance tracks. Taylor, who was a principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem before directing the DTH School, will succeed Susan Jaffe as dean (and interim dean Jared Redick).
Taylor’s performance and educational leadership experience is vast. In addition to her career with DTH, she also performed in the original Broadway casts of The Lion King, Aida and the 1994 revival of Carousel. For the last seven years, she has been on faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she taught ballet and musical theater dance and was appointed the Dean’s Fellow for Black Arts Research. Her choreography has been presented by BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center, the American Dance Guild, Collage Dance Collective and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Dance Teacher spoke with Taylor about her plans for UNCSA and what excites—and scares—her most about this new post.
What drew you to this position?
My own background in conservatory dance gave me a wealth of information and a certain rigor that I attribute to my being successful in the industry. It was a nice backbone for my later development—being able to reinvent and reimagine what other dance forms had to offer, all on top of a solid ballet background. In seeing this position open up, it seemed like an opportune time to get back to those roots but also join an organization with a history of excellence in conservatory training. It’s also an opportunity to bring my own expertise in working to diversify dance and the dance industry—not just in bodies but also in forms, to have a more equitable appreciation for different aesthetics and create more versatile artists. That’s something I’ve been working toward not just in my career but also in my life.
How will you approach UNCSA’s split ballet and contemporary program structure?
In my first year, I want to soak in and absorb what’s been done. Then, I want to collaborate: with the faculty, the administration, the other schools. I am so into what collaborations can do across forms and disciplines. I really think that, whether you want to commit to a classical track or a contemporary track, walking a mile in the other person’s shoes is only going to work for you. I hope to make opportunities for those in the classical track to really deeply embed themselves in the contemporary track, for example. I don’t know if that means creating an intensive semester where they spend more time with diverse forms—scheduling would obviously be an issue—or if that means taking classes together and bringing in guest artists. I want to bring in as many dance forms as I possibly can: West African, capoeira, flamenco. I’m interested in how culture affects classicism—different cultures need proper representation in dance forms, but it’s also about what they bring to the art form of dance itself.
What’s the most exciting thing about this position? And what’s the most daunting?
My mentor and boss for many years, Arthur Mitchell, used to always say to me, “Why are you so determined?” And then he’d say right after: “But I love your determination.” It’s the same thing, this idea of “daunting” and “exciting” living in the same space. I’m really excited about becoming a part of this community with these amazing dancers and faculty, these future game-changers. The daunting thing is that I need to acknowledge and appreciate the things that have been done and worked wonderfully, but also remedy the things that need work. It goes back to diversifying: to diversify this amazing program without any sense of the institution losing itself or its core values—that’s the daunting and most exciting thing. The goal is to enhance, never to erase.
You will be the first dean of an arts school at UNCSA who is a person of color. How much are you thinking about that?
I’m thinking about it, but without letting it be in any way oppressive. Because if I wear the weight of that in a way that brings me anxiety—the need to over-prove, to over-excel—then I will be doing not only myself but also the school, students and faculty a disservice. I’m confident that my being Black is not the reason I got this position. I know that I have the qualifications for this job. I can rest well at night knowing I bring a wealth of experience with me that makes me uniquely qualified for this position in this moment in time, where we’re moving towards racial reckoning and finding ways to value what diversity can bring to a program.
I don’t believe that we’re diversifying at UNCSA because it’s the right thing to do. We’re diversifying because it’s going to take this institution to the next level. There’s a wellspring of beauty and passion and learning and understanding in diversifying, and if we can mirror that in what we do as artists, that becomes contagious to the world.