Thursday, November 1, 2012

Full Circle: Teaching at Penn State


That building is at one of my favorite places on the planet: Penn State University, University Park. I attended and graduated from Penn State from 1987 to 1991.

In that building, I took one of my very first college classes.  I had lucked into it, not knowing that people tried for many semesters to get into it. It was A History of Nazism with Dr. Spielvogel.

At the end of the semester, the class erupted into a standing ovation. I thought, "OH! This is how we do it in college!"  I quickly learned that that was an exceptional experience. I was never in another room that applauded their professor.

He was like...a rock star and he ignited a passion for teaching within me that I had no idea was there.

I set out, not long after that, on a journey into literature, assuming I would get my PhD and be another rock star professor.

Alas, life takes us on long, meandering paths sometimes, and sometimes, they come full circle -- just not in ways we expect.

I never got a PhD -- just an MA -- and I have spent many years of my life teaching writing and critical thinking in many different environments.

But my rock star self did not truly emerge until I started to teach movement.

And now...

Just this past week, I stood in a room of a couple hundred people (about the size of that Nazism class), in a room on that campus, and I was applauded over and over as we ventured through my elder dancer teaching methods, as I got people in dress shirts and nylons to get up and MOVE and groove and laugh and emote.

Between that large keynote and the next day's break out session, I walked that campus, falling into step with young students, floods of them hurrying to their next class, and the deja vu was so intense, I thought I might fall over from the power of it.

That 18 year old that I was in that Nazism class had so much pain ahead of her, was so immersed in pain, that I would not go back if you paid me.

And yet...to have that sense of beginning again, to be at the start of the journey and not in the middle, the thought of that is breath-taking as I approach my 44th birthday.

I am still her and she is now me.

I am her and more her all at the same time.

I could weep for her youth, her optimism in the face of so much to despair, and the shutting down she would endure over the time she was on this campus.

On this campus, she saw what a teacher could be. She loved and wrote and laughed.

But she also stopped acting. Quit dancing. Never sang.

Poured water on her fire. Drowned her passion and was to stay underwater, with no breath, for far too many years.

And now she has returned, fully on fire, having come full circle.