Office Hours With University of California, Irvine’s Molly Lynch
March 14, 2024

There isn’t a name more synonymous with ballet in Orange County, California, than Molly Lynch. Lynch has been a leader throughout the industry as founder of the National Choreographers Initiative (NCI), which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and as artistic director of Ballet Pacifica from 1988 to 2003 (it closed in 2007). She recently concluded her five-year tenure as the Chair of Dance at her alma mater, the University of California, Irvine, where she continues to serve as a professor of ballet, arts management, and senior seminar.  

Lynch trained under Lila Zali and received both her bachelor of arts and master of fine arts degrees in dance from UCI. She performed as a soloist and principal dancer with the Louisville Ballet and Ballet Pacifica. In 2023, she was the recipient of UCI’s Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of her contributions to the field for more than three decades. 

Lynch chatted with Dance Teacher about her role models as a dance educator, the current challenge facing teachers today, and her goal of championing women through her work.  

Molly Lynch. Photo by Skye Schmidt Varga, courtesy Lynch.

What is your favorite part about teaching at UCI?

I’ve been in the department for 18 years. My favorite thing about teaching at UCI is the students.  They are so smart, focused, and supportive of each other as a community. We’re a public university, but within our dance department, we’re kind of a conservatory program, so they all know each other and dance in one another’s works. That’s why I love teaching, because of the students. They keep you young.  

Having been part of the program for so long, what do you feel is the biggest challenge facing dance educators today and how have you navigated that?

I think one of the biggest challenges is health and wellness and injury prevention. As dancers, we want to push through things and be in all the performances. In our department, we try to set some guidelines that help limit the number of performances students do or the amount of rehearsal time they have in a given week. There is such enthusiasm, and they want to do everything, but we, as their faculty and advisors, need to help them learn about making good choices so they don’t overuse [their muscles] and injure themselves. We have a physical therapist that works in our department two afternoons a week that’s free to the students, so if they have something that’s bothering them, they have someone they can talk to.  

Have you had a role model in dance education?

I think because of going to UCI, Eugene Loring was a huge role model in what he was doing when he started the dance department. He diversified it so that everyone did ballet, modern, and jazz at that time. Now we also include hip hop. I would say the other person was Antony Tudor. He was [teaching] every winter quarter that I went to school at UCI. He taught in this sort of Socratic method of asking questions. He would ask, “Why are you doing that? Where does it come from? What does it mean to you?” It really made me think more about how to do certain things, why I’m doing it, and what it means to me when I move in a [particular] direction. I grew up with a strict Ballet Russe teacher that was all about doing technique and repetition, so it was really eye-opening for me when Antony asked us questions and I had to think about it. I use that a lot in teaching my arts management and ballet classes. That’s the beauty of teaching at a university. You have students that are smart; they’ve gotten themselves this far along and they are critically thinking. It’s a great time for them to be asked questions and to be thinking about things for themselves to make them a better dancer or teacher down the road.  

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Always keep your standards high and go for quality education whether you think someone will be a professional dancer or not. They will always know what discipline it takes. I think it’s also important to have an open door so students can feel supported by their faculty and have mentors who guide them. 

Nowadays, in the dance industry, there’s been a lot of attention around women in leadership roles, as artistic directors and choreographers, but it seems like you blazed that trail many years ago. What are your thoughts on that?

It has been something that’s been on my mind for many years as a woman director for Ballet Pacifica for 16 years and then going back into academia. In my NCI project, I always have women choreographers involved. It’s a priority for me. In my arts management class, I encourage my students to take on internships at a dance company or performing arts organization. I want them to know that arts administration is another avenue for women in the field. It’s always been something that I’ve been trying to support and foster on a day-to-day basis.  

What’s “one thing” that you love to do in your classes?

I really like tendus and dégagés. To me, they’re sort of the foundation. I like to start the class by checking in with everybody and seeing how everyone is doing—taking the temperature of the room.  

What is your advice for today’s dance educators?

Keep your standards high and stay in touch with the students. They have to complement each other.  

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