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Faculty Spotlight: Kathleen Kelley, MFA Dance

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Kathleen Kelley is a choreographer, dancer, and dance filmmaker serves as an Assistant Professor of Dance and Technology at Montclair State University. Originally from North Carolina, she received her BFA from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was the co-artistic director of the NYC-based Labor Force Dances, and her choreography has been shown at venues in North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York, including the Center for Performance Research, the Tank NYC, the Brick Theatre, the John Ryan Theater, Triskelion Arts Center, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Chez Bushwick, Dance New Amsterdam, Movement Research Open Performance, and the Dance Complex in Boston.

She is a recipient of the 2015-2016 LIMAY Fellowship at CAVE Arts, and her most recent work, “portlet”, appeared in the Rutgers University’s Momentum Technology Videos Festival and the Philly FringeArts Digital Fringe Festival and as a live performance at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn. As a performer, Kathleen has performed internationally with artists such as NYC choreographers Deganit Shemy and Mei Yin Ng.

What drew you into the field of dance?

When I was 5 years old, I was so floppy and uncoordinated that nearly every day I would do things like tumble out of chairs while sitting or trip while walking up the stairs. The doctor suggested ballet classes to my concerned mother, and I have stayed with this field ever since. I was trained in ballet for twelve years and then transitioned to contemporary post-modern dance after high school. I received my BFA in Dance and along with a BA in Psychology, and then worked as a professional dancer and dance administrator until I went back to graduate school to get my MFA. I still fall and tumble almost every day, but it’s usually by choice now!

I chose to stay with dance because its complexities fascinate me so much: it is a constantly shifting form with so many perspectives and experiences. I love that I can watch a street performer, a ballet, and an avant garde performance work and realize we are all asking questions about the body and its capacities; movement’s place in the world and the relationships between space, time, and movement.

What are some of your current interests within the field?

My current research interests are at the intersections between technology, the body, feminism, and improvisation. I am primarily a choreographer and a performer, and these themes constantly arise in my work as well as in my teaching practices. I am particularly interested in the ways embodied knowledge and theoretical knowledge interact and interrupt each other in the creative practice.

What are some challenges that you’ve encountered as you started in this field, and how were you able to overcome those challenges?

I think the hardest challenge I faced as an emerging artist was figuring out how to understand and communicate my artistic voice.  This was a huge part of graduate school for me, and I am so thankful for my faculty mentors in that process who kept pushing me throughout.

As a faculty member in the MFA in Dance program at Montclair State University, what are some of the benefits of Montclair State’s program compared to similar programs at other universities?

One of the greatest benefits of the MFA in Dance is its proximity to New York. We have access to some of the best performers, teachers, and creators in the world, and these fantastic artists will be involved in the program as faculty, as guest artists, and as the returning professionals joining us as students.

Based on your past experience and current trends, do you think there are going to be any emerging fields of study within dance which haven’t been deeply explored yet?

I think one of the biggest opportunities is to engage dance creatively with all the new ways people move through the world, such as virtual reality, constant social media, handheld computers and tablets, and streaming videos. I think we have a real opportunity to change the dialogue around dance through these media. There is a fundamental shift happening in the way people experience the world, and dance needs to be both reacting to this and also proposing new ways of imagining the moving body in both virtual and real space.

Do you have any suggestions for individuals who want to pursue a career in the dance field?

Learn how to write about your work, learn how to advocate for your work, find a group of peers whose art both inspires and challenges you, and practice radical generosity to your students, your audience, your dancers, and yourself.

What are some activities you enjoy in your leisure time?

I work a lot, but a lot of my work feels pretty luxurious. Rehearsing with my dancers, spending time alone in the dance studio, seeing dance shows in NYC, and building artistic collaborations with my friends are some of my favorite things to do in the world. When I’m really “off” though – meaning not doing dance stuff – I tend to read novels, cook elaborate meals, watch movies, or go see live music. My husband is a professional jazz and rock musician, so we get to see a lot of fantastic shows that way.

To learn more about Montclair State’s NEW low-residency MFA Dance program, click here or contact The Graduate School at Montclair State University at or 973-655-5147.