Finding joy in training: A conversation with Katie Faulkner | By Maya Kitayama

Katie Faulkner Photo by Adam Shemper

Katie Faulkner
Photo by Adam Shemper

Maya Kitayama: Tell us about your training and performing experience.

Katie Faulkner: I have always been a modern dancer, I went to a dance school growing up from the age of four that was a modern studio. That was kind of unusual and I didn’t know it was unusual until I got to college and nobody else knew what modern dance was. I trained in modern from 4 to 18, and took ballet class taught by modern dancers, then I went to college and didn’t study dance. I took a couple classes, but I was never a major or anything. A few years after college I decided to go back to school and get my MFA and that’s what made me move out here; I went to Mills to get my MFA. That was sort of the end of my training formally, but then I went on to take classes in the area. In 2003, I joined AXIS Dance Company and danced with them for about four years, and also danced with a lot of local choreographers, freelance choreographers and things. In 2006, I started my own project-based company and have done some performing with that, not a lot though. I’ve mostly been focusing on choreographing and teaching for the last 10 years.

MK: What do you try to communicate to your students in class?

KF: I think that all of training is just an opportunity to find joy and creativity. If you’re not putting those first, then what are you doing? Why are you there? I like to approach the process of creating and crafting a class plan as a creative exercise for myself because I want the spirit of play and humor and curiosity to sort of underlie the approach to training the body. If they’re going to have to be learning material that I create, I want it to have a spirit, a little bit of irreverence. I think teaching technique is such a puzzling thing. I think about it all the time: What does that even mean? What does that mean in the context of modern and contemporary? What does that mean right now, and what field am I preparing these students for? There are so many answers to that question, and then that changes for me all the time. I think I just try to enter it from a number of different places so that it can stay interesting for me, and so that it can stay relevant for them.

MK: What have you personally learned from teaching?

KF: Well, I’ve learned more about dance. Having to articulate a point of view, and having to articulate what’s required to execute something, it really forces me to understand it. I think I’ve learned more about my own body, I’ve learned more about how to see others, and I’ve learned more about having confidence in my perspective, because I’m not going to be able to teach everybody everything they need to know. Taking ownership over the things that I do know, and trying to present them with as much clarity and integrity that I can, and just trying to trust that that’s okay, that’s taken me a long time to arrive at. I’ve learned a lot. I feel like it asks me to be more empathic generally.

MK: Has your class plan evolved over time?

KF: It evolves all the time. It changes; the kind of class plan I teach here is different than the kind of class plans that I teach in other places because I’m trying to tailor it to a certain population, a certain amount of time that I have, a certain median amount of students that I think are gonna be there. It’s changed a lot, and I hope it continues to.

MK: Do you have a memory or moment that has particularly inspired and stuck with you?

KF: If I have to hone in one thing, my very first teaching experience was at a ballet school in Marin, I was the only modern teacher on staff. I was THE modern teacher in this ballet place. I had never taught before, fresh out of grad school and, I don’t know this for sure, but I get the feeling that the modern teacher that had been there before, hadn’t totally sold the students on what modern was. And I remember really taking that to heart, and feeling like I needed and wanted to be a solid ambassador for this form to these young people. I was there for about five years, and watching a number of them have the lightbulb turn on and having them realize what modern and contemporary can offer, the creativity imbedded in it, the freedom imbedded in it, but also the rigor. Seeing that shift in attitude on their parts, and them being not only willing to come along, but also hungry for it, was just incredibly exciting. A lot of those students I’m still in touch with, and I love them dearly and many of them have gone on to be modern dancers actually. Not all of them, and some of them are certainly very much devotees of ballet and some of them don’t dance at all, but just knowing that their world got a little bigger because of that and they had a little bit more access to themselves in different ways, and that they were happy and excited about that was pretty satisfying.

MK: What sets ODC apart from other dance schools and communities?

KF: I think the first thing is just its size and the breadth of offerings that they’re able to provide because of it. There’s no place like this on the West coast -maybe in the country- that has so many gorgeous studios and spaces that can provide just so many different kinds of training at so many levels and that it’s so accessible to so many kinds of community members. I think that that’s really what sets it apart. I think there are a lot of tremendous small studios that can’t offer a lot but what they can offer has a lot of integrity and that’s wonderful, but I think here, there’s just nothing like this facility. And it really attracts really remarkable artists, who want to come, work and train.

MK: Any other thoughts or comments?

KF: I just feel really lucky. I feel profoundly lucky that I get to do this and then I get to do it here, in this gorgeous space. I feel so supported here, I feel cared for, and it enables me to really care for my students.

Katie teaches her advanced contemporary classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10am. 

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