Originally from Nevada, Charlie Hodges is an inaugural Dance Academy faculty member.
This interview has been edited for length, clarity, and style.
How did you find yourself at Colburn?
Through James [Fayette] and Jenifer [Ringer]. James was the former general director at LA Dance Project, and he and Jenifer were tapped to lead the Colburn [Dance Academy]. We all knew of each other through the circles in which we ran, but LA Dance Project brought us into the same room, working for the same purpose.
James asked if I would help blur the line between ballet and contemporary dance, because the future of dance is going into a direction that is a little more universal. It’s helpful for young ballet dancers who want to be in ballet companies to learn how to do contemporary-based work.
How has your experience been working with the Dance Academy students?
The kids are great. I think they are all very eager and they never say no, which I think is a wonderful quality in a group. There’s a tendency in dance that if you focus in one area, you are less likely to consider movement styles and other areas.
In this case, these students are very focused on ballet. So all signs would indicate that they do not want to do contemporary work. In other situations, you run into a lot of conflict as a teacher, but here I’ve never encountered a student who said no or resisted. They all always try, which I think is really is a testament to the kind of environment or culture that they get here at Colburn.
What kind of environment is that?
It comes from trust, I think. I would say that Jenifer and James have always been incredibly transparent with what they expect of their students and how they will help their students. They don’t undermine their students’ growth or potential in any way. Their first priority is always what’s in the best interest of the student, at the expense of maybe losing a really great talent to a different school or to a new job. I think the students understand that intuitively.
Why do you think it’s important for students to be well-rounded or be comfortable in a wide variety of styles?
These days, everybody’s branding themselves, and is more proactive in their own journey and defining what it is. I think the dancer of the 21st century is this mix and amalgamation of all sorts of genres. They say in order to be in the right place at the right time, you have to be at all places all the time. So I think of that. Being a contemporary and modern teacher in a ballet program is helping these students understand how to be in all places at all times, so that they are in the right place at the right time.
How do you get students to think beyond ballet?
I like to go back to what’s universal. You could think of ballet as a grove of trees, each tree as a different choreographer and each branch is a different piece of repertory. You have your jazz tree grove and your modern tree, and contemporary, and a whole bunch of different groves of trees. I think that’s how people typically think of dance.
I like to go Avatar-style and think of one massive singular tree everybody prays to, and this is the tree of dance—only one. There’s a trunk on that tree that shoots off into the boughs of ballet and contemporary, and all those boughs break off into the branches for all the different choreographers and choreographies. But the question then is what is the trunk, what is universal about dance? And I think you could argue that every style of dance at some point is really just about throwing and catching body weight. That’s universal.
So I feel like in order to get a student to be able to go in any direction at any time, in order to be in the right place at the right time, they need to understand the universal truths at the root of all dance. Because if you can go back to the beginning, then you can take that foundation in any direction. If you only train at the bough, then you can never get back to the trunk in order to go down another path. It’s really like, what’s zero? How do you really get them to learn from zero and build from here, instead of from an assumed spot and just everything on the other side of that?
What other lessons do you hope to share with your students?
To me, so much of teaching is also psychology. As teachers, we’re teaching these kids how to perform a skill or craft, but we’re also preparing them for adulthood. Part of being an adult is coping with frustration, especially in art.
We’re always pushing to play faster, move faster, do better, be stronger. Everything is a push to an extreme. We break through one peak only to see that there’s another one, and another one. So to a degree where we live is a state of dissatisfaction, a state of incomplete, a state of unsuccess, whatever the word is. Years go by and you have never been good enough because you’re actually always working for the next thing.
So while you’ve made a lot of progress, we don’t moment-to-moment see that. So how can we as teachers best prepare the students to pause for a moment and recognize the big picture while at the same time, they’re really focusing on the tiniest picture? I think that balance is really critical and that’s not a given. We don’t intuitively as people understand this. I think this is just training. It’s like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, you don’t have it be used.
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