An interview on dance with Margaret Paek

By Mina Sao

Would you tell us specifically about what you do on a campus?

I see my job as opening students up to dance. In the conservatory, and [for] students in general, I see dance as transformative power. Specifically, I am teaching two courses a term: “Ensemble Thinking,” which is a group improvisation, “Dance Appreciation,” which tries to touch on many things just for a 10-week course, “Dance History” and other different forms of dance. I also bring different groups into campus and show people different possibilities of dance—what dance can be and what dance can do.

When I first arrived here, I realized there are many pockets of dance. All over the campus, there are dance clubs and dance teams—like modern dance club, African dance, Irish dance and so on. So I have seen that part of my role here is to collect and start a dance calendar, so that everybody can know what dance you can do on campus. I am also doing a dance series, bringing visiting dance artists in. So far this year, most people came from New York because that is where I moved from. So I am pulling my resources from New York.

But I also want to start including more local artists. I know there are great artists in Milwaukee and Madison, and other campuses have great programs. I have not yet really hooked into the local scene, but I think another part of my role is to reach out to the community, see what’s already happening and connect it to us.


What do you like best/worst about being a dance professor?

It is very different to be a dance professor at Lawrence because I was also a dance professor in New York. I am still a dance professor, an artist, a mother, a partner and a collaborator. So I wear many hats.


Would you describe the differences of being a professor in Lawrence and in New York?

One of the biggest differences for me was that in New York I was an adjunct. In New York, I had a semester in Marry Manhattan, a semester in a Manhattan building, and a semester at the University of Arts in Philadelphia, so I would be commuting certain days.

I think the biggest difference is the commute, it is having a balanced lifestyle, because here, I can see my family for dinner and have amazing experiences with these amazing students. I can have a balanced life doing my art, seeing my family and being connected to students.


Do you have any specific reason you chose Lawrence to teach students?

[There are three] huge reasons I chose Lawrence. [First,] the students are open, curious and amazing. I do not necessarily need to have ballet training or twenty years of training before getting here. What I need is just your open mind. The second reason is my colleagues. Everybody I met is so open, inspiring and ready to collaborate. Being surrounded by those colleagues is super amazing. And lastly, I can have a balanced life for family.


What draws you to dance? When did you know you wanted to be a dancer?

I was drawn to dance just because I have always been a mover. Before being an art professor, I was a gymnast. I started gymnastics at four. Many dancers have done dancing for their whole life, but that was not my path. I was a gymnast first, and my sister suggested me to take a modern dance program when I was in college. I said yes, took the class and loved it. Although I took ballet and a little bit of jazz, I was mainly a gymnast until I took the modern dance and loved it.

Later I discovered Nina Martin, who was my mentor, in Lower Left. At that time, I was majoring in psychology and was not expecting that I would be a dancer or a dance professor. I was about to graduate the university. I did not decide to be a dancer suddenly. It more just fell into my life, and I started to teach dance in Lower Left. Taking more dancing jobs, I realized that I was the one who should be dancing.


What is the best way to prepare for your class?

Be ready to have fun—be ready to be full of yourself and to be open-minded so that you can try anything.