The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Teachers matter. Dance artist Michelle Grant-Murray is just one of those teachers who've had a transformational impact on our community. What makes Grant-Murray so important is that she is more than just an associate professor and coordinator of dance at Miami Dade College's Kendall campus. She is also a student whose learning experiences have become valuable tools for teaching. In this interview with Grant-Murray, she discusses her role as a teacher and student, and how these two roles have helped to move South Florida's dance community forward.
Neil de la Flor: How has teaching dance influenced your own aesthetic?
Michelle Grant Murray: Teaching is such a powerful tool to examine the self and reflect upon your individual process. Not every dancer/performer or choreographer is a great teacher/educator. Dance education is a specific skill that requires patience, tenacity, vision, passion and compassion. These qualities are visible in my process as a choreographer, performer and teacher. As a teacher, I have realized the authentic quality of my personal aesthetic.
ND: How has being a student, especially most recently under Nora Chipaumire during MDC Live Arts Lab series, informed and/or influenced your aesthetic?
MM: I believe in life-long learning. I am a student in every process, even in the process of teaching. I always try to figure out how to explain, demonstrate, understand, envision and embodied ideas from different angles and perspectives. I was raised in the Deep South. We celebrate life with an enormous amount of compassion and love for people regardless of their circumstances, background, socio-economic status, politics, spirituality or religion. Love for people is love for people. This is a universal theme. The Nora Lab was unique in that it crystallized and nurtured my foundation as an African-American woman, educator, choreographer, mother and wife. For so long I have taken the value of my embodied movement and strong cultural heritage for granted. I didn't really understand the depth and richness of its power; and the time and space that existed within my body. Each learning experience opens another fissure/crevice of my body. The Nora Lab was absolutely essential for me because I was given the permission to expose the truth of my identity, implicating the self with honesty, without fear and going to the most vulnerable and visceral places within my being and beyond. Being given the space to go beyond this is life-altering!
ND: What was it like working with Nora Chipaumire?
MM: Being a Nora student (Norology!) is profound to say the least. She exists with such honesty, love and beauty that it is difficult not to relax and open up. Even with the most difficult conversations, she is always honest and inspires me to be honest, fearless and compassionate about life; not just dance but all aspects of life! Having the opportunity to work with one of the prolific contemporary artists in the 21st century is absolutely breath taking. Beyond this is the skill, intellect, ideas and devotion she brings to the table. She pushes me in unassuming ways but always with integrity and expects nothing short of brilliance. I love this about Nora.
ND: As a professor at Miami Dade College, you've taught countless numbers of students over the years. Could you reflect on your impact on the dance community in South Florida?
MM: I am grateful and appreciative that I have been blessed to share "the journey" with awesome people here in the community of South Florida and abroad. Legacy is an important process and commitment to your community is an even greater responsibility. I love people! There is such joy, peace and love that comes with teaching, sharing, learning, growing and observing. I could never get enough of this. Just yesterday, one my former students came to say goodbye. She was moving to Canada with her son and partner. No, she is not pursuing a dance career, but she is pursing life! The joy of life. I hugged her and her son goodbye, then I came in the house and cried tears of joy. She exemplifies the complete physical and spiritual manifestation of the life force.
ND: What is the future of dance in South Florida?
MM: Upward and onward! Miami is a young city with vibrant talent. We are a dancing city! We have no choice but to move forward. I want to be on that train in the first car moving full speed ahead.
ND: What's next for Michelle Grant Murray?
MM: I just completed my first book, Beyond the Surface: American Dance History. I am thrilled and super nervous about this project. Implicating my thought in black and white is always fragile for me. It is easier to stay quiet, silent and dormant without ideas, theories and beliefs. Even if those ideas change and the theories expand, and these belief systems are altered at, least you believe in something.
I have begun rehearsing with my company, Olujimi Dance Theatre and we are collaborating with Atman Dance (under the direction of JoAnna Ursal) to present “Dreams of My Mother” in April of 2014.
And, most definitely, I am looking forward to working with the students and the community at Miami Dade College Kendall campus' dance program. MDC is a magnificent institution, and I feel incredibly blessed to work with such an astounding group of people.