Emory Report

March 16, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 24


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 the repertory."

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."

-Michael Terrazas

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