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September 23, 2002

Opening steps

By Eric Rangus

Like most everyone, Lori Teague gestures with her hands when she speaks. It’s just that, having been a dancer and choreographer for much her life, Teague simply does it better than most everyone else.

Movement science is the area of expertise for the assistant professor of dance, which basically means she says more with a wiggle of her pinky than others convey in a three-minute monologue.

When Teague gracefully waves her arm to illustrate the enormity of space—as well as the beauty of it—that she saw while taking dance students on a study abroad trip to Italy this past summer, the image she creates is completely clear.

A faculty member for 10 years, Teague has seen the Emory dance department grow from a small, non-degree program into a still relatively small but quickly growing, degree-offering major.

That growth will continue with the opening of the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, across the street from Teague’s office in the Rich Building. The center’s dance studio will be 200 square feet larger than any other studio the department has previously had to work with, and Teague said that may result in the creation of more expansive dances or perhaps tightly contained dances where space has new meaning.

Regardless, Teague will have a chance to explore her creativity in the spring when the dance department hosts its first concert in the Schwartz Center, Feb. 13–15. Titled “Opening the Space,” (a word that pops up in several contexts in conversations), Teague will be the lone Emory faculty member to premiere a piece.

She is currently choreographing the seven-dancer work (Teague rarely dances in her own creations, and this will not be an exception) and is still tweaking the concept.

“I don’t really know the context, which is not unusual for me,” she said. “I typically start with images. My work is always influenced by the strengths and body types of the dancers, as well as how they convey the movement.” Normally, Teague has just 10 weeks to choreograph a new work, but with “Opening the Space” she will have all fall semester, plus some of January. While she is still exploring her content, one thing is for sure: A major influence will be her summer trip to Italy, where she spent seven weeks as a faculty member with Emory’s study abroad program.

“I was really struck by the sense of space in Italy,” said Teague, who had never previously visited the country. “We’d travel down these medieval streets that all of a sudden blossom into a piazza. I don’t know how I am going to capture that in a dance yet. But the way I collect images through life experiences is that they just become a part of my body somehow, and I trust that they’ll find a way out.”

And that way out is often very unique. For instance, one afternoon, the group took an elevator up into the bluffs overlooking Genoa in Northern Italy. The overlook, nestled into the surrounding mountains offered beautiful views of the town, as well as of the Mediterranean Sea beyond.

Offhandedly, while gazing at the city, Judy Raggi Moore, director of Italian studies and faculty leader of the study abroad group, said, “This would be a beautiful spot to dance.”
Teague and her students needed no more encouragement. While nondancers clapped accompaniment, Teague and her dancers improvised interpretation of the atmosphere. Some people milling about stopped to watch. Others even participated, dancing along or raising umbrellas in time.

“It was amazing, watching the students and seeing them shed their inhibitions about performing in public,” Raggi Moore said.

Since movement is simply another version of nonverbal communication, Teague’s perspective also was handy whenever students would visit Italy’s many art museums.

“She was able to make the students physically feel the sculptures and the paintings they were viewing, and that just brings a completely new dimension to looking at art,” Raggi Moore said. “They were actually able to feel what the artists were feeling when they created their works.”

The fact that Teague was able to connect with her students is not a surprise. She said she has always had great teachers and mentors, and that has helped keep her in the dance field. Because of the support she received from her elders, Teague said, she works hard to assist her own students in every way she can.

“I really value the one-on-one contact we have with students,” Teague said. The program’s five graduates this past spring marks its largest class. The major has been offered for three years.

“I like remembering students’ names,” Teague said. “I don’t think I’d ever want that to change.”

“She’s really inspirational,” said Kat Lenberg, one of those five 2002 graduates. A biology major when she entered Emory College, Lenberg had Teague as an instructor for a freshman dance course and eventually changed majors to double in dance and political science.

“If there is anyone I’d like to emanate, it would be Lori,” she said. “Not necessarily as a dancer, but as a person. She epitomizes what it means to be a mentor.”

Lenberg, now a graduate student in the Rollins School of Public Health, is an ideal case study in Teague’s effort to focus on student strengths. Although a talented dancer, Lenberg never saw herself as a performer. Instead, she focused her work on stage management—the first Emory dance major to do so.

“I love to dance, but I have this fear of stages,” Lenberg said. “Lori was the first dance teacher I had who was OK with that.

“She’s always been there for me,” Lenberg continued. “She helped me learn to express myself through movement, worked with me to find an internship and even find a position at a nonprofit.”

“I love to teach, and I’m very passionate about what I do,” Teague said. And that passion is not limited to work at Emory.

When her schedule permits, Teague dances with the Decatur-based Core Performance Company, as well as in the work of other Emory dance faculty. Teague also has choreographed work for Full Radius Dance, an Atlanta company made up of both able-bodied and disabled dancers; and she recently reworked a piece called “Speak” for the Moving in Spirit Apprentice Corporation.

Teague said the 10-year-old piece originally grew out of personal issues she had with assertiveness. When she restyled it for Moving in Spirit, a group consisting of teenage African American girls, she switched the tone to focus more on female empowerment.

The corporation toured with the piece over the summer, even performing for modern dance performer Catherine Dunham on the occasion of her 90th birthday.

“I’m really honored that she got to see the work, and these young girls danced it,” Teague said. “It’s changed me a lot to have someone younger than me [perform] my work and see how strong they are at that age. I don’t think I had that strength then.”