When I came to Temple in 2017, I was 25 and knew that it was the right time for me to continue an education that I had started in 2011 at a different university. Temple spoke to me as a program for their value of both the academic side of dance as well as the techniques, opportunities for choreography, and the fact that within one department there are BFA, MA, MFA and PhD students all there to continue their studies and build on their passion of dance. Coming to Temple as a nontraditional student as well as a transfer student was one of the best choices I made. I was able to diversify my knowledge of different techniques, while working with teachers who were prominent in the Philadelphia dance community. The staff at Temple are willing to work with you, provide excellent feedback and help ensure that you are getting what you want out of your dance education.
What I learned at Temple…It is okay to start again, to say “I don’t know” and build yourself up from there. As dancers and artists, it is easy to feel like you need to know everything all of the time to justify and back up the choices you are making and the techniques you study. Not realizing that through study, hours of rehearsals, talking with your peers and teachers, attending guest workshops and performances that all of this will inform your answers and build character. I can say with certainty that I am not the same dancer I was before starting at Temple and I am glad. During my time, my main technical focus was in African Diasporic techniques, most of which I had not heard of nor studied before attending Temple. I started off uncomfortable with being new, with not understanding how to get my body to achieve the actions and spent much of my class time moving slow to figure it out. Through this experience of relearning my body and asking it change and unlearn prior habits I grew, not just physically but mentally. Dance once again became a broad and sweeping term that was more than I had known before.
I had the good fortune of being able to work with the late Dr. Teresa Benzwie before her passing and study Early Childhood Dance Education. My studies with Dr. B further affirmed my passion for education, and through her kindness and compassion she helped nourish the teacher in me. Her guidance and expertise in the field was a priceless gift from my time at Temple.
What I took away from Temple, was that it is important to take every opportunity that comes your way with the awareness that it might not be exactly what was expected or planned for…because there is something for you to learn. The teachers, your peers, the guests, and the administration all want you to succeed but success is not something that is easy or simply built. I hope to pass this information on to my students. There is a lot of value in being a lifelong learner, to take chances, and to make mistakes beautifully.
This fall, I started a new position as the dance teacher for the Capital Area School for the Arts Charter School (CASA) in Harrisburg, PA. CASA was a school that I attended in high school. I am living one of my dreams to teach in this school and continue to build a program that trains intelligent, well rounded dancers, and artistic collaborators. As I move forward, I would like to continue to explore dance by taking classes when possible and enjoying every opportunity I have to dance and do what I love.
Tori Sexsmith BFA in Dance 2019 Alumnus and Dance Teacher for CASA
When the Spring 2014 semester came to a close I was confronted by the long expanse that is “summer break.” With no required readings or writings in sight, I decided to use the summer months as an opportunity to engage in critical self-reflection, workshops, and seminars that could complement my research interests. This decision manifested in reading texts from my wish-list, acquiring some new improvisation skills at Movement Research’s MELT Workshops in New York City, and becoming certified in Autism Movement Therapy. Because my writing and thinking primarily exist at the intersections of dance and disability studies with a focus on autism and developmental disabilities, investigating a movement practice designed for and marketed to individuals with Autism seemed a worthy endeavor.
Autism Movement Therapy (AMT) was created by Joanna Lara, a former special education teacher in California and now an adjunct professor in Special Education at National University. Designed to exist as a 45-minute class, AMT intends to work on sensory integration using music, movement, and language as a conduit for processing information across the two hemispheres of the brain. For example, a primary component of the choreographed class asks participants to make a sound in relation to their movement, such as fluttering the lips while raising both arms. This and other exercises demonstrated throughout the class encourage multi-tasking and facilitate multiple forms of communication. Choreographically, the standard AMT exercises work within the sagittal plane of the body, as the limbs often reach across the space to signify the connection between the two halves of the brain.
What I found most exciting about AMT was its reliance on improvisation and composition in addition to existing as a set of choreographed therapeutic exercises. Within each section of an AMT class (a warm-up, moving across and around the room, working in groups, and crafting a final phrase), participants are encouraged to move outside of the given patterns. This can include asking a participant to come to the front of the room and lead a short movement pattern of their choosing, or having participants find ways to embody their names and teach that phrase to the rest of the class. These directives are not laced with movement expectations. Instead, they provide space for interpretations that range from isolating body parts to moments of stillness. What Lara calls “The Sense Poem” is an advanced exercise for participants who have attended several sessions. Each participant constructs a sentence about a specific object or subject in relation to one of the five senses and then develops movement in conjunction with those words. By teaching the sentence to others in the class, participants collaboratively craft a group dance.
The composition tools offered in the class encourage choreographers, not technical masters, to emerge. Thinking on one’s feet, interpreting ideas, and working with others are some of the many skills facilitated by AMT, all of which are made more vivid when situated within the epistemologies of dance.
The certification workshop I attended was held at the 92nd Street Y in New York. Lara offers workshops all over the world, and an upcoming workshop (February 21, 2015) will be held at my alma mater, Marymount Manhattan College. Obtaining a certification is costly, so I set up a fundraiser through a crowdsourcing website to help offset the cost. I have and will continue to share the information gleaned during the certification process with the donors, all of whom I thank again for allowing the experience to happen!