Written by Amelia Taylor, BFA Class of 2021
The broad mission of my teaching this year has been to offer possibilities for how dance studies can illuminate the intersecting crises we face as a country, and how can we as dancers use our embodied awareness to more deeply understand core truths about this time.– Molly Rogers
Molly Rogers is a professor at Dominican University of California, teaching dance history and theory for the students in the LINES Ballet BFA Program. She also teaches for the Training Program — for which she designed and implemented the inaugural dance history curriculum — and for the Summer Program. This school year, she is offering five courses at Dominican: Dance and Spiritual Expression, Critical Perspectives in Dance, Politics of the Body in Motion, and two Life Skills courses designed to give students the tools they will need to foster and navigate a curious and creative path throughout college and after graduation.
When I reached out to her for this interview, I knew I wanted to ask her questions about this semester — how different it looks and feels for her, teaching all her classes online. Throughout my past three years in the BFA program, Molly has consistently shown up to help me and my peers navigate new and challenging ideas. I felt that if anyone could provide clarity and illumination for this time, she could. (But no pressure!) Led by her values toward a more just and equitable world, Molly teaches courses which provide her students with the critical thinking skills they need to interrogate themselves, dance, and the world — skills which hold extra importance right now.
What has been challenging for you this semester, in adapting to online teaching?
I admire my students’ adaptive skills in this new environment, but their hardships continue to weigh heavily on me, and my own college experience feels like some kind of strange vacation in comparison. Like so much of current technology, the Zoom camera is an incredible tool and a deeply intrusive presence day after day. Online teaching as an act of surveillance — both of myself and others—hasn’t stopped feeling fraught, and despite having what feels like unwarranted access to my students’ lives as they sign on for class, I’m thankful for every small moment in which humanity and humor transcend the screen.
What has been rewarding (if anything)?
The BFA Fall Showcase was performed in the campus outdoor studio last November. It was a cold, windy night but the whole stage radiated in the darkness; standing in the audience feeling energy emanating from live bodies was a beautiful reminder of the essential power of this art form. It wasn’t that watching dance transported me away from the strain of this year — reminders of it were everywhere, including on the students’ masked faces. The power of that evening lay in the palpable commitment and care that the dancers took in bringing their choreography to life, summoning clarity and courage to meet the questions it posed despite their close proximity to mounting frustration and loss.
What has been one of your favorite lesson topics this semester?
I’m currently fascinated by the somatics of civil disobedience. In the context of revolutionary collective action, how have people prepared their bodies to engage in nonviolent protest? How do the physical techniques of protest become political statements and spiritual experience in and of themselves? (To use Alonzo’s words, how does the messenger become the message?) Inspired by watching Alonzo work with the Summer Program students — and using the work of dance scholars Susan Foster and Danielle Goleman as a guide — I designed a class that delves into some of these questions. Colin Kapernick’s protest is one salient example; we analyze his activism from a corporeal lens, unpacking his kneeling gesture as a multi-layered transmission of history and ideas.
Is there anything you’ve learned/are learning from this time that you’ll be carrying into in-person classes, when we go back?
As we head into the spring semester, pandemic teaching offers continued opportunity to reevaluate old habits and practices. I’m learning that trauma-informed pedagogy might be the key to a future educational model that is more accessible, inclusive, and fulfilling for all students, whether in times of calm or crisis. In my own lesson planning, I’m interrogating concepts of academic rigor and standards, and I feel continuing urgency to look critically at — and in many cases, fully repudiate — both what and how I was taught as a student of dance history. I’m reexamining all the small ways that white supremacy can infiltrate a classroom, whether as a prescribed set of cultural/behavioral norms or a defective historic lens.
Connecting this theme of reevaluation to dance practice more specifically, I’m wary of “tough love” as a driving force in dance education, and I appreciate that the pandemic has asked us to define, achieve, and measure our students’ growth differently this year. I remain curious as to what might happen when we as teachers continue to provide more stepping stones, more scaffolding, more compassion and more rest than what we were afforded in our own educational journeys. What happens when we give up some power and control by providing more transparency in decision making, more opportunities for collaborative problem solving? Can toughness be wielded with authenticity and vulnerability, and do students have ample opportunity to consent to and evaluate the efficacy of these high standards? There’s a lot that feels radical and destabilizing to me about these questions, but I firmly believe there’s no better time to ask.
In 2019, Molly Rogers was selected as Dominican’s Adjunct Faculty Teacher of the Year. As part of this award, she presented her work to Dominican faculty at an online conference. She gave permission for an excerpt of this presentation to be shared below—in it, she shares part of a lesson from her course, Politics of the Body in Motion.
About Molly Rogers
Molly Rogers, MFA, teaches courses in dance studies that examine the politics of identity and representation both on and off-stage. Molly designed and implemented the inaugural dance history curriculum at the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program, where she serves on faculty teaching Critical Perspectives in Dance. She has worked as a lecturer in dance at UC Irvine, as well as a guest speaker at St. Mary’s College and Sonoma State University discussing the work of Alonzo King. In addition to her academic teaching, Molly’s choreography has been commissioned by Scripps College and the LINES BFA Program at Dominican University, where she also serves as the dance department’s Integrative Coach. As a mentor and teacher, Molly is honored to guide students on their journey to becoming critically aware, multifaceted human beings. She was named Dominican University’s 2019 Teacher of the Year. She currently teaches for LINES Ballet’s BFA Program, Summer Program, and Training Program.
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