Throughout the whirlwind of this first week of the Professional Training Program, Meredith Lyons began her transition from Admissions Director/Operations Manager here at Bates Dance Festival to her new position as assistant professor at Colorado Mesa University. I sat down to chat with her about this shift in her life.
BDF: How long have you been here at Bates?
ML: I think my first summer was the summer of 2007. I was in grad school at Smith College and received funding to study. A friend of mine, Kellie Lynch, had gone to the Bates Dance Festival the year before and I followed even though I didn’t know a lot about the BDF. I first came as work-study, then on a merit scholarship, and then as a counselor. I then took a break from the Festival to spend my summer in other places and grew in different ways. I wanted to be more exposed to everything.
BDF: What did you find inspiring about Bates?
ML: At the time, I remember looking at other summer programs and they had an age cut off. Bates doesn’t have that, which made me excited and it seemed like a much more adult program. When I came here I fell in love with it and found a sense of community that I hadn’t felt in the dance field. I also didn’t know who any of the artists were because I came from a different side of the dance field. The sense of dance history is different depending on your focus in learning. I feel that it’s important to remind students that it’s okay not to know everything about the artists, and that was an important part of my role here at BDF. I also found the legacy dancers, those who had been coming multiple summers in a row, very inspiring. I was like “I want to be like them.”
BDF: How did you arrive at this position?
ML: I was teaching and taking different positions as a director of dance programs. I was also a freelance teacher and performer based in Philadelphia. I saw Laura Faure at a dance event, and she asked me to apply for the job because Nancy Salmon was retiring. I had a lot of commitments that I had prior to accepting this job, which was tricky. While I was here I taught and traveled to set work in other places as well. The BDF position deals with every single student and parent, and handles donations during the year.
BDF: What is the new position that you have accepted?
ML: I have a tenure track assistant professor in dance teaching position at Colorado Mesa University. I have had a lot of administrative experience, but I’m excited to be in the classroom and moving. It’s what excites me most about the field. I’m interested in seeing what it’s like to not be in charge of fixing things and focus on creating and teaching.
BDF: What courses will you be teaching?
ML: I’m teaching intermediate-advanced ballet, intermediate-advanced contemporary modern, dance history, and an improvisation class. I also make a piece in the show each semester.
BDF: What made you pick this position?
ML: I feel disconnected from the dance community during the winter here because you all come during the summer, and the weather is difficult. The landscape and the sun are wonderful in Colorado. It’s not a huge dance community, but I will be around lots of dancers and helping lead the program. I want to be able to have a full life that isn’t just dance related. I feel very conflicted leaving here, but I also know that I have to take care of myself and take a risk.
BDF: What will you miss about BDF?
ML: The people and the environment. The great thing about the BDF community is that your teachers really do get to know you. And if you keep in touch with them and grow a relationship, they care about you. I love helping people grow, and that’s why I loved this job. But I’m looking forward to being just a student. I still know everyone here and will continue these relationships. I’m actually taking Choreo Lab 2 now to help with ideas for a piece that I will be creating for next semester. The connections here are incredible as well. A professor at Colorado Mesa used to come to BDF every summer, and she was on the search committee. The dance world is so small! I think it’s great that Alexandra is coming in because she’s attended BDF, so that’s part of her legacy. I’m really excited that she’s the candidate they chose. She will give a fresh voice and she has connections to BDF and the Maine community, which I think is really important.
Alexandra Bell, a Maine native and past BDF student, will be taking over as Admissions Director/Operations Manager in the fall. She is excited to be back in a familiar environment, and is ready to take on her new role with a fresh perspective.
AB: I am originally from the greater Portland area. When I graduated high school I left and went to Columbia College Chicago where I studied and received my BFA in choreography. Then I moved to New York and started making work with my dance partner and presented small things throughout the city. I’m currently making my own work and starting my own process wherever I go. Two years ago I moved back to Portland and am teaching modern, improvisation and a lot of hip hop classes locally. I’ve been beginning the process in some of my own new work.
BDF: What is your connection with BDF?
AB: I came here as a student for three years in total, both in the Young Dancers Workshop and as part as the Professional Training Program. It really influenced who I became as a dancer. The intensity and rigor of being here lead to a desire to dig in deep and really immerse myself. It introduced me to a professional world of dance outside of the smaller community that I was involved in throughout high school. It broadened my perspective a lot and awakened something in me. That’s what I loved about being here, forming friendships and relationships.
BDF: What is your focus in your choreography?
AB: I wouldn’t say it’s any one thing in particular. I build a lot through improvisation so that’s very informative in my work. There are four rules I try to follow that were taught to me by a group of improvisational artists, The Architects: show up, pay attention, tell the truth, and don’t get attached to the results. So that’s where I go when I start creating. It comes from a very deep and personal space, and whatever comes out and becomes shaped and formed into a longer piece of work starts from that place. I don’t always have an intention or grander scheme of things when I set out to create. But I find that if I follow those rules, I’m lead to wherever it is I’m supposed to be going.
BDF: What are you hoping to get out of this position?
AB: I managed a dance studio in New York, and I love that kind of work. It is such a struggle to be a professional dancer in providing for yourself financially. I’ve been in pursuit of that bridge building of being an artist and also making money. I’m glad to be back. This community feels familiar and safe, although it’s also brand new. I’m approaching things from a familiar, but also very different perspective now. I love the rigor and pace of this culture and environment. I love being engaged with people who are engaged in the work. Although approaching things from an administrative perspective, it’s still very much in the field and the craft that I love so much.
This post was written by Sydney Burrows. Sydney is the BDF Social Media Intern for the 2016 summer.