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Dance Education Blog

NDEO's "Dance Education" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.

01Nov

Dancing Around the Topics of Legacy and Loss: Remembering Four Dance Icons

NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Pascal Rekoert, Assistant Professor and Dance Education Program Director at Central Connecticut State University. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.

As teachers, we spend endless time lesson planning, pondering the needs and joys of our students, and looking into our proverbial crystal ball. This process prioritizes our direct future, but what about the life learnings we implicitly share with our students? What about the distant future, the professional legacy we leave behind?

My summer was a period laden with loss and—in it—life learnings. Four of my most impactful mentors and friends passed away over the last few months. Instead of being overwhelmed by grief, I prefer to recognize the wisdom they offered me. These four dance icons pushed me to be the best version of myself. Through them, I have adopted considerable positive personal and professional traits, ranging from productivity to kindness.

The first and perhaps most impactful of the four is Jennifer Muller (pictured below), a charismatic nimbus in the global dance scene. Jennifer was a profound and creative spirit that touched the hearts and minds of innumerable dancers, students, children, artists, and audiences worldwide. She studied at the Connecticut College School of Dance, after which she trained at the Juilliard School. As a seminal creative influence for over 50 years, performing for José Limón and Pearl Lang, and launching her own company Jennifer Muller/The Works, Jennifer was dubbed the “American ambassador of dance” (Wild, 2023). During her career, she worked with luminaries like Yoko Ono, Keith Haring, and Keith Jarrett. Jennifer enjoyed infusing written and spoken language into her choreographic works and often wrote these texts herself. Jennifer created and taught the Muller Polarity Technique worldwide and was a treasured teacher and mentor. Informed by Eastern doctrine, her technique applies concepts of “rising and falling, gravity and lightness, and a yin-yang flow of energy that free[s] dancers to move expressively, as opposed to in conformity with codified steps” (Bauer, 2023, p. 11).

Black and white photo of Jennifer.  She is a white woman with dark hair, she is wearing a black jump suit.  One leg is extended in the air and the opposite arm is lifted by her ear.

Beyond their dance-technical virtuosity, Jennifer celebrated her dancers’ humanity and individuality, tirelessly mentoring them to become better dance educators, performers, and human beings. In me, she instilled a robust work ethic, high standards led through a deep sense of caring for myself and my community, a keen sense of artistry and business-savviness, and a deep understanding that—as an artist and educator—my key aim is to foster curiosity, wonder and self-expression. Once, after showing one of my choreographic works, she said, “I cannot wait for you to find your voice.” Having already been a dancemaker for over ten years, I took offense, but now I see she was right. Like a teenager who thinks he knows everything, I was merely starting to find my voice. With those nine words, she nudged me beyond my then-complacency.

Jennifer’s dance teachings effortlessly transfer to life learning. As part of my Program Coordinator work at Central Connecticut State University, I push our scholars to adopt perseverance, an unwavering dedication to dance and dance education, and a powerful sense of self-discipline. They indirectly can thank Jennifer for that.

“I’m not an abstractionist. A great deal of my work has a sense of celebration.” Jennifer Muller - The New York Times, 1983

Robert Kellogg, affectionally known as Bob and perhaps the least known of the four dance icons, studied Dance and Lighting Design at Connecticut College. After various dance and acting jobs on Broadway, Bob became a Stage Manager for productions like Grease, A Chorus Line, and Hair, but he also worked with dance troupes like Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. Having been a performer and stage manager with 45 years under his belt, Bob was a big dance advocate. After his retirement, Bob religiously visited dance performances, befriending many dancers. With heart and enthusiasm, he frequently told stories about celebrated theater folks, like Tommy Tune, Meryl Streep, or Joan Rivers, entertaining his entertainer friends and—perhaps without realizing it—becoming the glue of the New York downtown dance scene.

Bob taught me the importance of community and showed me the value of compassion and generosity. Through him, I am reminded to connect to my students and the learning environments they serve. I recall Bob’s kind and attentive presence whenever I feel overcome with long lists of to-dos, must-dos, and will-do-if-I-have-time. Sometimes, the sole thing one needs to do for their students is bear witness to them. Since dance is an interpersonal art form, its meaning lies in being witnessed by an audience. Dancers naturally thrive on being seen. Bob flawlessly oscillated between his two Connecticut College undergraduate learnings of performer and lighting designer, shifting from entrancing his audience to shedding light on the most powerful conversations. He was a guiding light in the dance community lightyears ahead of his time, and I am happy he was my friend.

“Do not ever expect anyone to say thank you. If they do, you know that you have a friend.” Robert Kellogg - personal correspondence, 2012

Gus Solomons jr was best described as a Renaissance man. During his life, he was an educator, performer, choreographer, and writer. After obtaining an architecture degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Rizzuto, 2017), Gus moved to New York City with a “burning itch to perform and make dances” (Banes, 2003, p. 105). He stood out as one of the few specs of color in downtown postmodern dance in the 1960s. Working with dance icons Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Donald McKayle, and (like Jennifer Muller) Pearl Lang, Gus stood tall, not only because of his height and long legs but also because of his warm and effusive stage presence. Gus’ teaching experience was extensive, ranging from mentoring choreographers to his 19-year employment as an Arts Professor at NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts. For over 40 years, Gus wrote dance reviews, including articles for The Village Voice, Attitude, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Gus was radiant with joy and wit, bringing his insight and expressiveness into his community. In a 2010 interview, he described himself as ecumenical (Merce Cunningham Trust, 2019). Gus was precisely that in the dance community, promoting unity, courage, and wisdom. During one of our teatime conversations, he prided himself on always saying yes to an opportunity. His statement, “Never have a bucket list. Instead, say ‘yes’ to life.” was made so casually but stayed with me to this day.

Gus taught me to embrace life, bring people together through verbal and kinesthetic dialogue, and—perhaps most importantly—become a movement and language architect. He encouraged me to become a better choreographer and writer throughout the years. Gus’s charisma inspired many, and he will be missed.

“Architecture and dancing are exactly the same. You design using all the same elements — time, space and structure — except that in dance, time is not fixed.” Gus Solomons jr - Cambridge Black History Project, u.d.

Like Gus and Jennifer, Leda Meredith (pictured in featured photo) was a writer. After a career as an accomplished dance instructor, choreographer, and professional dancer (including for Jennifer), she chose ethnobotany, the science of plants’ uses, as her second career. As a prolific author of foraging and cookbooks, she enjoyed teaching urban foraging wherever she traveled. In addition to her impressive credentials, Leda was awarded an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts for her writing from La Universidad Leonardo da Vinci in El Salvador. Her teaching excellence was also duly recognized, as she was bestowed with Adelphi University’s prestigious Teaching Excellence Award.

Leda inspired me through her wisdom, grace, and enthralling enthusiasm for life. Her intelligence, curiosity, courage, and sense of adventure motivate me beyond what I assumed to be my limits. As an educator, dance artist, and writer, I aim to echo Leda’s joy and passion for life in my students. The last time we spoke, she knew she was dying. That did not stop her from proudly standing in her composed elegance, zeal, and bravery. I miss her. While she lives on through her teachings, recipes, and talent, I will always miss her. I will miss all four of them.

“When you started this life, you signed a contract with the universe to become whoever you want to be when performing on stage. No limits and no excuses. You must stay true to that.” Leda Meredith - personal communication, 2010

In speaking about her passing mother, Maya Angelou said, “Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I loved you. Go.”

I have never been a particularly religious person. However, I believe that spiritual energy—in this case, Jennifer’s grit and creativity, Bob’s kindness and generosity, Gus’s radiance and wit, and Leda’s elegance, zeal, and bravery—lives on in all of us. Although they have transitioned, they still walk, dance, and write with me. Their legacy moves on through me. I want my students to be business-savvy and creative like Jennifer. I want them to have Bob’s heart and Gus’s pride, but most of all, I want them to have Leda’s courage.

It takes savviness, creativity, compassion, and dignity to be a dancer, a writer, or a teacher. I adopted these professions to help people and pursued them with passion. My legacy is slowly coming into focus. I see it in the talented performers and educators I have taught. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to thank Jennifer, Gus, Leda, and Bob. That said, today, please thank the people that inspire you. Their rich histories became part of your story, and chances are that they are unaware of their impact on your career and life. A simple gesture of gratitude might inspire them to continue forging ahead.

Thank you for your life teachings, Jennifer.

Bob, you are the kindest.

You will always be a star, Gus, even in heaven.

Leda, I miss you every day.

I hope you will find the time to all dance together in heaven.

REFERENCES

Angelou, M. (2011, January 16). Maya Angelou’s master class quotes. Oprah.com. https://www.oprah.com/own-master-class/maya-angelous-master-class-quotes/all

Banes, S. (2003). Reinventing dance in the 1960s: Everything was possible, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Bauer, C. (2023, April 10). Jennifer Muller, choreographer whose dances told human tales, dies at 78. The New York Times, p. 11.

Gus Solomons Jr. Cambridge Black History Project. (2021, July 6). https://cambridgeblackhistoryproject.org/project/gus-solomons-jr/

Merce Cunningham Trust. (2019, November 19). Gus Solomons Jr, interview 8.12.2010. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kC_nkZl_iJk

Rizzuto, R. (2017, May 16). Gus Solomons Jr: How I teach Cunningham. Dance Teacher. https://dance-teacher.com/gus-solomons-jr-teach-cunningham/

Silverman, J. (1983, February 27). Jennifer Muller’s dance heritage. The New York Times, p. 7.

Wild, S. (2023, April 10). Jennifer Muller, founder of Jennifer Muller/the works, has passed away. BroadwayWorld.com. https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Jennifer-Muller-Founder-Of-Jennifer-MullerThe-Works-Has-Passed-Away-20230410

Photo of Pascal, wearing a patterned shirt, there is three photos of them each in a different pose. The photo is in black and white.

After a professional performance career in the Netherlands and the United States, Pascal Rekoert pivoted his focus to education. First, as a company member and Associate Artistic Director of Jennifer Muller/ The Works, he taught dance professionals and collegiate dance scholars across the globe. After, as an NYC K-12 educator, he taught students from Title 1 schools to pre-professionals at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts. As a Lincoln Center Scholar that finished his master’s degree in an inaugural partnership program between Lincoln Center Education and CUNY Hunter College, Rekoert helped revise the NYC DoE Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Dance. Currently, Rekoert is pursuing a doctoral degree as part of the Ed.D. Dance Education Program at Teachers College. He is an Associate Professor and Dance Education Program Director at Central Connecticut State University, currently the only one providing state certification for K-12 dance educators in the state.

Photo Credits: Both Action Shots by Tom Caravaglia, Headshot by Nico Illiev

Comments

Beautifully written, Pascal. I read every word. Through your writing I was able to learn more about these four persons and their impact to our dance community. Although I did not personally know your mentors, I have also written about grief for this NDEO blog. Please know that I am sorry for your recent losses, and I hope that your writing here has helped you through your grieving process, too. Thank you for sharing.
11/2/2023 5:16:23 PM |
Thank you, Pascal. What a beautiful tribute. Leda was one of my mentors at Adelphi, and I think of her often as I pass down so much of the imagery she used in her classes to my students. -Jessie (Niemiec) Ryan
11/2/2023 12:28:25 PM |
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