Emory University's Dance Program

The Dance and Movement Studies Program housed in the Department of Theater and Dance at Emory University “… invests in the traditions of modern dance, the cutting edge of movement invention, and the theory and analysis of movement research. The Program values individualism, innovation, and interdisciplinary approaches to learning and dance making.”

Lori C. Teague, director of Emory Dance and Movement Studies Program

How does Emory University’s Dance Program define a collaborative dance environment?

A collaborative environment is one that is always listening to the voices of others.  We are a community of artists who foster students' creative, intellectual, and communicative powers within the larger context of a liberal arts education. Our students have double majors in dance and the health sciences, social sciences, business, and the humanities. The opportunity for collaboration—where creativity, concepts, and ideas cross-pollinate—is on-going. Collaboration is a vital characteristic of our teaching styles and choreographic processes. When we invite students to engage intellectually and viscerally, there is a collaborative spirit in the way we share information. In addition, many of the faculty, as well as nationally-recognized guest artists in residence, create new work with our students.  Emory dancers contribute innovative movement vocabularies, bring their own narrative into the process, and think critically about how they perform the material. In this highly interactive environment, choreographers are highlighting the strengths of each dancer in their work.

Describe your organization’s mission and its work in 3 adjectives. Please explain the adjectives you selected.

  • Curious. The learning environment of the Emory Dance Program teaches students to research movement through improvisation, dance-making, and performance.  The classroom environment is alive because we challenge students to be in the moment, take risks, and invest in the nature of the art form.
  • Authentic. Moving authentically is an act of trusting who you are and being courageous when you demonstrate that. We value unique perspectives that emerge from the imagination.  We encourage beginners and our most gifted performers to move from the inside out and to feel empowered by their movement choices.
  • Reflective. Students and faculty actively reflect through journaling and discussions. Because movement is complex and evolving, there are many ways to create personal and universal connections through reflection.  Our program emphasizes moving holistically and training somatically. Deep kinesthetic listening develops skilled and uniquely expressive individuals who move and act with intelligence and sensitivity.   

Where do you see dance in the future and how does your organization fit within that vision?

Dance will continue to expand, transform, and deepen in terms of its relevance in our lives. The challenge will be to remain an interpersonal art form. The future of dance will continue to encourage connections between moving artists and diverse communities, which will strengthen the manner in which we communicate and relate to each other.

Dance making and performance will continue to be interdisciplinary, multicultural, and experimental.  Dance will create social change as artists tell their stories in unique ways.

The Emory Dance Program curriculum and the artists we present, fosters an evolution of movement languages that contemplate current issues of dance and performance. We do this as an inclusive, dynamic community, where students who do not have a trained dance background move with those who have, and where movement research engages scientists, poets, and health practitioners.  The experience of moving allows us to understand life through the body and to interact with each other three-dimensionally. We believe in movement's power to teach, heal, transform, express identity, and build relationships.

Who are some notable alumni of Emory University’s Dance Program, and how did they develop their artistic voice while at Emory?

Blake Beckham ('01) is a choreographer, performing artist, educator, and curator in Atlanta, GA. She co-directs The Lucky Penny, a non-profit arts organization that serves as a production outlet. Beckham earned a BA in English and dance and received the Sudler Prize for highest achievement in the arts.  She attended Ohio State as a University Fellow to complete her MFA in Choreography.  

The Emory Dance Program has nurtured within me a sense of confidence and courage. When I was a college student, the faculty members were caring mentors who encouraged my growth by celebrating my curiosity and individuality. They dared me to assert my voice, and gave me the safe space in which to experiment, improvise, meander, fail and flourish. The program continued to support my growth as a young emerging artist, giving me the chance to return as a guest artist, and later a visiting instructor. Each of these experiences has been a stepping stone in honing my creative impulses as a choreographer and educator. My deep and ongoing connection to Emory Dance has also instilled in me the drive to uplift young artists and create opportunities for students to fortify creative connections beyond the walls of the campus. - Beckham
Elizabeth Dishman (’95) is a New York-based choreographer and founder of Coriolis Dance Inc. (now Dishman + Company Choreography). She studied voice performance and dance at Emory University and earned an MFA from The Ohio State University.  
Emory's dance program fostered my artistic voice in such a profound way, offering abundant support and endless opportunities for exploration and risk taking.  The teachers and students brought a passion for dance that was contagious, awakening in me a nascent love for movement and kinetic expression.  I'm deeply grateful for this community. - Dishman
Kathleen Wessel (’03) is an educator, dancer, choreographer, and writer with eight years of administrative experience for various arts organizations, non-profits, and a small education business in Atlanta, GA. She earned an MFA in choreography and performance at Florida State University.  
The curriculum and faculty at Emory encouraged me to contemplate, explore, and dissect movement, rather than just execute it. I learned to see dance as the ultimate expression of human existence, both literal and symbolic. And it was that belief that began to blur the lines between dance and my studies in psychology, women's studies, sociology, and art history. Kinesthetic intelligence, I realized, could not only add to, but also inform and broaden my understanding of the world. It was at Emory where I realized that movement, and especially the creation of movement, is worthy of lifelong study and could be a viable career. It was also at Emory where I learned to look at dance with a critical eye, to trust my opinions, and express them with clarity. I have since embarked on a multi-disciplinary life as an artist, educator, and writer. And happily, the Emory faculty is now colleagues and friends, as well as mentors. – Wessel
Christine Suarez (’94) is a Los Angeles based choreographer, performer, and educator. SuarezDanceTheater creates feminist dance-theater.
I was a theater/English major. I was learning all the classic narratives while actively participating in theater-making and performance. I grew up dancing and rediscovered my love for movement in a jazz class my freshman year. As my college career progressed, I was drawn more and more to the dance program. I knew I loved stories but I wanted to tell my own stories, which the dance program allowed me to do, cultivating a means of telling a story with words, movement, and sound. I was given a lot of room to be radical, personal, silly, and intense. I was never censored. I needed the broadness of the program’s definition of dance. I have carried that generosity with me all these years to the wide variety of students and dancers I have had the pleasure to work with. – Suarez
Irfana Jetha (’07) is a temporary Associate in the Performing Arts Program at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  She lives with her husband in Washington, D.C., and is currently working on a number of projects with arts organizations in the area. Jetha holds a BA in International Relations and Dance and Movement Studies from Emory University.

The exposure to significant dance artists through Emory's Artist in Residence Program was extraordinarily impactful during my undergraduate years.  Along with developing my artistic intuition and understanding of craft, these relationships were important in my transition from student to working professional.  Some of them led to jobs, some to continuing mentorship, and others were purely cheerleaders, encouraging me to stay in the field.  I still maintain many of these contacts today. – Jetha
Natalie Metzger (’07) is an award-winning filmmaker and choreographer based in Los Angeles.  Metzger holds a MFA in Dance and Integrated Media from California Institute of the Arts and a BA from Emory University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude. At Emory, Metzger received the Sudler Prize in the Arts, the Pioneer Award, and highest honors for her work Mindscape of the Pre-Dead.
I would never have discovered choreography if it was not for the Emory Dance Program. The faculty was amazingly nurturing and talented. I was guided through the creative process without feeling certain styles or aesthetics were pushed on me. I was allowed to develop my own voice and style.

Beyond choreographing, the main focus of my career is now in the film world, and I can trace my relationship with film back to my first choreography class with Professor Anna Leo at Emory. One of the assignments in her class was to choreograph something specifically for the camera instead of the stage. We were each given cameras and were set free to create whatever we wanted. Looking back, I laugh at the film that I ended up putting together, but the assignment sparked a fascination with seeing the body of a dancer through the lens of a camera that has launched my entire career as a dance filmmaker.  My career has landed me many awards, festival selections, etc., and it all comes back to an assignment in Choreography I at Emory.  Emory changed my life, and I know it continues to change the lives of each student that goes through its dance program.
– Metzger