Jubilation Fellow Penelope McCourty

Penelope McCourty

New York NY
Fellowship: 2019

“Dance has the immense potential to shift how we see ourselves and the world around us. Dance teaches us how to be together, and develops creative pathways for living our best lives. Dance unites us.”

Penelope has more than 20 years’ experience as a facilitator of creative process and community engagement through dance and performance.

What led you to be a teaching artist?
The arts teachers I had as a young person. The process of learning and making work empowered me. My dance teachers gave me the opportunity to teach while still in high-school, and I really have not stopped since. I discovered that collaboration, rhythm, and moving together can enrich a community’s experience of each other. Now, my biggest inspiration is my students. I am constantly floored by their insight, artistic choices, and depth of understanding.

Teaching philosophy:
My teaching has three common threads: dedication to process that creates multiple points of entry for leaners; artistic rigor that focuses on exploration and experimentation; and investigation of the prior knowledge of everyone in the room whether it is cultural, personal, or environmental.

We start each class in a circle checking in with each other in smaller groups and then as a full ensemble. I use arts-based vocabulary (verbal and physical) to create a shared language. We collaboratively maintain the culture of our work together by ritualizing our structures. This includes: pre-class explorations, community circle, mind-body warm up, technique, composition, and showing. We check in about our work and give voice to moments of success and challenges. I often teach from different locations in the space so students can focus on each other and not me.

You’re a choreographer, regardless of age, when you’re a person who likes to organize space. I love it when a nine-year-old says, “We need to do this this this and this,” when they are absolutely clear about what they want to do.

I’m interested in dropping sparks so that we’re all inspired. I like it when I get to be invisible, I’m no longer the leader. It’s usually not even about giving them the tools, then stepping back; I’m reminding them of things they already know. And letting them lean into the natural movement.

But not everybody has that understanding; so sometimes I have to hold the space and take them through, like a mama bird; help them make artistic choices and chances. Some groups just want me to tell them what to do. “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it,” instead of being invested in the process and practice. But I believe that you doing this is helping you do everything else. It’s helping you live.

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