Last summer, Lindsey Matheis, a dancer currently performing in the Punchdrunk theater company’s production of Sleep No More, taught a contemporary improvisation and repertoire class at our Dance Teacher Summit. This class was one of two college-outreach classes held during the Summit in which current higher-education students were able to attend for free. The Summit supports the next generation of teachers and gears these classes specifically to their needs each year. —Haley Hilton
Dance Teacher: How can teachers support and nurture the next generation of professionals?
Lindsey Matheis: Be interested in the psychology of your dancers and getting them out of the self-shaming cycle. Teachers often propagate what they’ve been taught by their own mentors—which is to put fear in the bodies of your dancers in order to get results. This will give dancers anxiety about their body image, talents and potential to be good enough. I believe it’s the root of most dancers’ issues. Be interested in creating a healing environment where dancers can figure out the answers to the important questions they have about themselves.
DT: How can we as an industry advocate for healthy company environments?
LM: There are times in company settings where things can get anxious because of budget, or politics, and it makes it hard to go with the flow, but during my time with Sleep No More, I have felt totally supported. I don’t feel like I need to keep getting the job now that I’m here. They trust that, because they hired me, I am going to do a good job. Dancers should know that when they walk into rehearsal, they don’t have to constantly prove themselves to the person sitting at the front of the room. They can deflate the balloon of anxiety that they feel and realize that the director is just as human as they are.
DT: Can studios benefit from emphasizing both commercial and concert dance in their curriculums?
LM: They have more in common than most people think. They both have an attention to detail, an expectation for excellence and demand that you explore yourself internally in order for great work to manifest physically. Teaching dancers to immerse themselves in both will create performers that are more open-minded and well-rounded.