Tufts Creatives: The student becomes the master

For many of us, dancing is an activity we dare not attempt, lest we somehow manage to dislocate all of our joints and break every bone in our bodies. However, for an experienced ballerina like first-year Elizabeth Gleeson, dance is more than an activity or even an art: It’s a lifestyle. In fact, Elizabeth has expressed such an intense passion for dance that, last week, she was given the chance to teach a dance lesson for the first time in her life, an opportunity she eagerly accepted.

Julian Blatt (JB): Is teaching a dance class different from being a student?

Elizabeth Gleeson (EG): I realized immediately that teaching a class is an incredibly different experience compared to being a student. When you’re a student, dancing is about thinking about and focusing on yourself, but a teacher must pay attention to everyone else and try to minimize the disparity between how people are moving. So teachers must be incredibly nitpicky and give even the most minor detail their complete concentration. Nevertheless, I greatly appreciate the opportunity, and I hope that I have the chance to teach again in the future.

JB: How did you become interested in dancing?

EG: I actually didn’t start dancing until I was 13, but I used to love watching YouTube videos of dancers, especially classical ballets, and from there I became interested in modern and contemporary. It was fascinating to me to see how diverse one art form could be, and that there are so many different ways to express oneself creatively through movement. Eventually, I thought, “Oh, that’s really cool, I want to do that.” And then one day, my friend said that she wanted to take a dance class but she didn’t want to go by herself, so I took the class with her and now I can’t imagine myself not dancing.

JB: Why is dancing enjoyable for you?

EG: It’s an emotional outlet. It allows me to physically express my creativity. Also, I’m a member of both SOC and Sarabande, which are fairly large ensembles, and I enjoy bonding with the other dancers. I’m a freshman, so I’m able to look to the older and more experienced dancers for guidance; they’re amazing role models and my primary source of inspiration.

JB: Does dancing require you to close your mind to the outside world?

EG: Definitely. At my studio back home, my teacher always talked about dance as a kind of mindfulness. Even though it’s not your classic meditation, it necessitates being present and focused on what’s going on in the moment and not letting other things distract you. I definitely think that when I am dancing, either in a dance class or rehearsal, I adopt a mindset where externalities like homework and arguments with friends don’t matter, and I can devote myself entirely to dancing.

JB: How do you hope the audience reacts when you perform?

EG: When someone creates a piece of music or a dance, he or she shapes it from something that the person feels or has experienced and wants it to evoke a particular thought process or a certain vulnerability or emotion. And that’s what we strive for as dancers — we want to convey how we’re feeling to other people and make them feel the same.

JB: Most embarrassing moment in your dancing career?

EG: In high school, I vomited on stage during a dress rehearsal. I’m still recovering from that.