Maya Kitayama: Could you briefly explain your training and performance experience?
Taylor Strand: I grew up in San Diego doing ballet my whole life in a really small studio in a small town. I went to UC Irvine as a dance major, and then moved up here right after college and trained at ODC and performed with Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton, Stacey Printz, and Mark Foehringer.
MK: What do you hope to communicate to your students in your classes?
TS: First, I want to communicate to my students my love and excitement for dance. Thinking about the teachers that have inspired me, they are the ones who had a respect and passion for dance that were infectious. I also want to encourage my students and give them the tools to be present, engaged, and curious about movement. To be really investigative about whatever theme we might be focusing on for the day. In technique classes, we practice many movements over and over and I try to give them imagery and new ways to think about the same movement and I’m also always asking them to think of new ways on their own. Musicality and community are also things that are really important to me. We are so lucky to have live musicians here at ODC and I really hope to inspire a creative and fresh relationship between the dancers and the live music. Lastly, it is so important to me that the students have a positive and respectful relationship with their fellow dancers. To me, there is nothing more joyous than to be able to dance with, and share your dancing with others and I hope to encourage collaboration, support, and connectivity through my classes.
MK: You referenced focusing on certain themes, what do you mean by that?
TS: In my contemporary technique classes, [we might be] focusing on rolling through the feet or on musicality or arms that day. Whatever the focus might be.
MK: How do you approach teaching younger children versus older ones?
TS: With little ones, I definitely am a little faster paced and the transitions are quick, so I don’t lose them. I think usually for young ones teaching creative movement, it’s more of a conceptual approach to dance; teaching the ideas of dance. I do that as well with the older ones, but it’s focused more on technique in combination with those ideas, whereas with the younger ones I don’t focus on technique as much, it’s more just the ideas of the movement.
MK: What about teaching has personally affected you?
TS: I think that every student has something really valuable to contribute. Personally, I feel a little timid about my own creative input on things, like “is this right, is this worthy, is this valuable?” Within my students, I see a range of ability levels, but I’ve seen that every student has something so unique that I’ve never seen before and it’s so fun to see that through my students. I think it gives me a little more confidence just as a dancer and as a teacher. I think that dance is important for everybody. Teaching at a studio, we have kids that come here obviously to dance and are specifically interested in dance, but then also teaching at a school where [the kids] don’t necessarily sign up for it, but they can still enjoy it and learn it and be reminded that movement is just a part of who we are. That is fun to see, especially at a young age, where it’s core to our beings.
MK: What is one moment or memory from teaching that was particularly inspiring for you?
TS: I can’t think of one particular moment, and I think that’s what maybe is hard about teaching, you have little snippets where, in one class, you’ll see a student really get something for the first time. But I think the satisfaction of teaching over the years has been really special for me, to see students that I’ve been teaching three, four, or five years, seeing how far they’ve progressed in small ways over so many years. I’ll have these moments on my own suddenly thinking, “oh my gosh, they’ve come so far.” I would never be able to see that kind of long term progress had I only been teaching them for a year. Sometimes, certain teaching jobs are ten weeks and then you never see the kids again, but now that I’ve been teaching for a while and seeing the progress in the students over the years it’s so exciting. That is a benefit that I haven’t seen in previous years that I am just now starting to see.
MK: What sets ODC apart from other dance schools and centers?
TS: Specifically thinking about the Commons being 10 years old, the space is so conducive to community. I love that I can talk to anybody, any non-dancers, about ODC, and tell them that there is something for everybody here; the little ones get to see the adults dancing, and the adults get to see the youth and teens dancing. The fact that literally every age and every experience range can be in one place… I don’t know where else you can find that really. It seems so incredibly special.
MK: Any other additional thoughts or questions?
TS: In addition to teaching at the Commons as well as at outreach schools, I also used to work in the office. I worked at the front desk for a short time and in the school office as the registrar for the youth program for years. It feels like home to me, I can’t believe it’s turning 10 years old. I’m so grateful to the staff. Kimi Okada has just been such an amazing boss, teacher, and mentor to me. She is such an incredible and inspiring director and I feel so lucky that I get to work with her. All the staff has just been so supportive of everything, it is a dream to work here.
Taylor currently teaches contemporary within ODC’s Youth and Teen program and teaches at The Nueva School through the ODC partnership program.