Teaching dance in an academic setting was never something that Judith Howard thought she would be doing in her early days of dancing, but it’s become a fulfilling aspect of her career. In doing so she has won several awards, her most recent being the prestigious SAGE award for Outstanding Dance Educator.
The SAGE awards are given to people in the dance world in Minnesota, and have been in existence for ten years, during which it’s grown more and more prestigious. A panel of professional peers select the recipients each year.
Judith has been nominated for the Outstanding Dance Educator award three times before, but this is her first time winning. “It’s an honor because everyone who’s in dance is an educator. At some point in your life, you’ll be an educator, so it’s hard to make that choice at the SAGE awards,” she said.
Judith identifies primarily as a dance artist. She built her career in the twin cities, working with her dance company as an artist and choreographer. “I think if you’re a dancer, you teach. You just teach, it’s just part of the deal, so inadvertently, I was teaching,” she laughed.
She started out teaching a class for professional and continuing dancers and classes at Macalester and other Twin Cities colleges, but she also worked to bring movement into the curriculum in primary and secondary schools across Minnesota, in classes such as the sciences, art, math and literature.
“I don’t teach anything without moving, as my students quickly discover,” she said. She came to Carleton in 2007, and became increasingly enamored with teaching. She loved the focus on teaching at Carleton, and learned to balance her identity as an artist with her role as a teacher.
“Even though I came here later in my career, I have found so many new things about teaching, because the emphasis is so strong. You can hardly turn around without getting some new ideas about teaching, so that’s been a real difference for me in terms of feeling connected to teaching,” she said.
It’s extremely difficult to merge dance with traditional academia, because it isn’t something that can be immortalized through text, and this is something Judith struggles with each day she teaches.
“There are other knowledges besides just what we think is thinking. Words have become symbols for meaning itself, so if it doesn’t have words attached to it, then it doesn’t have meaning.
Dance is marginalized, because it’s not associated with the written text.” This “other knowledge” is what Judith hopes to convey to her students.
The way Judith spoke about dance was infectious. She was constantly moving as she discussed different ways of thinking about movement. We spoke of dance as an oral tradition, of the importance of somatic learning, and the language of motion.
“People think of dancers as highly trained, so they don’t explore what the language is capable of. People think of, for example, ballet, which is just the tip of what our movement capacity is.”
She talked about the difficulties of teaching through motion in our society, when I asked her more about her teaching methods. She waved her arm quickly, in a simple, fluid motion that I almost missed. “Did you see it?” she laughed. Even that one, tiny motion held meaning, and it would never be seen again by anyone other than her or me. I was enthralled.
After reflecting on her experiences, she remarked, “I feel so lucky that I get to be immersed in what I love, and what I’ve loved all my life. Once it’s in the blood stream, it’s impossible not to dance.”