Doherty brings love affair
with dance to Oxford students
Hanging above Gayle Doherty's office door in Oxford's Old Gym is a pair
of clogging shoes, courtesy of retired Oxford physical education teacher
Judy Greer. "I put them up there for good luck," Doherty said.
"You know that old superstition about putting a horseshoe over the
door? I thought a hoofer's shoe would be more appropriate."
Definitely more appropriate for Doherty, who's spent the last eight years
making students with little or no dance experience look a bit more like
Baryshnikovs. A former professional dancer in Florida and Atlanta, she gave
up the uncertainty of a career in dance for a more stable life in Oxford,
and that suits her just fine.
"My job here is about as secure, civil and sane as I imagine a job
can be," Doherty said. "At the age of 47, I still dance, but now
I have much more control over what I ask of my body since I'm not dancing
in a company and trying to perform the choreography for each new piece in
Another reason she quit professional dancing for a day job was to spend
more time with her family: her husband Jim, museum craftsman at the Carter
Library, and their son, Ryan. These days Doherty does indeed get to spend
more time with Ryan, now 13, but only because he stops by the Oxford campus
each day on the way home from school. Turns out the life of a teacher is
not as peaceful as Doherty might have imagined.
"My job at Oxford is even more demanding than my life as a dancer,"
she said. "[But] I also have those wonderful breaks that are built
into the academic life, my catch-up times with Ryan."
Doherty's time the past few years catching up with another old friend
has produced a dance piece of her own creation. While attending the American
Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., in 1994, Doherty talked with her old friend
Martha Brim about her love-hate relationship with dance. The two had met
nearly 20 years before at Florida State University, and Brim now teaches
dance at Columbia College in South Carolina.
Doherty vented her emotions on dance into the wee hours until Brim simply
turned to her friend and said, "Oh shut up, Gayle!" After the
two stopped laughing, it dawned on them to create a performance devoted
to the maddening allure dance holds for them.
The result is "Mertle and Gertrude: Two Old Friends," which
Doherty and Brim have performed several times at colleges and universities
around the Southeast, including a show at Emory last March. Aside from the
piece "I, Primate," which allows the two woman to dance with wild
abandon in celebrating the sheer joy of movement, the show also incorporates
solo works. For instance, Doherty at one point assumes the persona of her
father, who died in 1995 from Alzheimer's disease.
"We've had a great time," Doherty said of performing with Brim.
"It's something I'm really proud of-it seems to work really well, in
terms of affecting the audience. The responses we've gotten have been very
good, and the other part of it, of course, is that [Martha's] my friend."
And even though Doherty's frustration with dance provided the impetus
for the show, it's obvious her love for it outweighs her hate. Describing
some of the moves in "Mertle and Gertrude," her eyebrows suddenly
furrowed, she let out an exasperated sigh and jumped up to demonstrate.
Climbing onto the arms of a wooden rocking chair, the same one used in the
show, Doherty proceeded to walk the chair across her office. She then pushed
it over to rest the front against the floor and undulated her body across
the overturned back in a snakelike motion. "I can't communicate it
in words," she laughed.
Doherty does not, however, have trouble communicating the joy she gets
turning her students on to dance. As director of the Oxford College Dance
Company, each fall she makes sure anyone who auditions is cast in that year's
show. Then she spends the rest of fall and much of spring molding the ensemble
of mostly novice dancers.
"I like the philosophy at Oxford, which is to try things you've
never tried before," Doherty said. "I do have some very advanced
dancers, but I also have people who've never done it before. In some colleges,
I don't think they'd get a chance to be a part of it as they do here. And
I also just like being around young people; it kind of keeps me young.
"I think many of my students are like I was at their age-they have
no idea where they are headed, and they are sometimes pretty anxious about
it. It reminds me of Joseph Campbell's advice that we should follow our
bliss; I followed mine, and eventually it led me to a place I really like."
to March 16, 1998 Contents Page