WHO IS RACHEL?
I am a dancer, choreographer, scholar, teaching artist, and multiple award recipient based in Philadelphia and New York. I received a BA and MFA in Dance from SUNY Buffalo State University and Temple University, respectively. I am currently a second-year doctoral student in Dance at Texas Woman’s University with a focus on the Disability Aesthetic and its applications in choreographic practices in Contemporary dance. Currently, I am working as the Assistant to the Director of the Arnhold Graduate Dance Education Program at CUNY Hunter College, and as a teaching artist for Dancewave. I also founded and artistically direct RACHEL:dancers (Rachel and Dancers), a multi-medium, multi-modal, dance performance company, as well as co-direct a collaborative performance arts project, Bashi Arts, with Enya-Kalia Jordan. I have presented work nationally and internationally, at venues including the Off-Broadway Kraine Theater, Movement Research, the biennial Decolonizing Bodies: Engaging Performance conference at UWI Barbados, the 2018, 2019, and 2022 NDEO conferences held in San Diego, Miami, and Atlanta respectively, DaCi’s 2020 special performance series and 2023 National Gathering, the Institute of Dance Artistry, Mark Degarmo’s NYC Salon Series, Philadelphia Youth Dance Festival, and more. I have had the honor of working with esteemed choreographers including Sidra Bell, Abdur-Rahim Jackson, Wayne St. David, Dr. S. Ama Wray, Meriàn Soto, Awilda Sterling-Duprey, Carlos R.A. Jones, and as a principal dancer for Enya Kalia Creations, among others. I have been commissioned to create works for the UN’s World Water Day, the Utah All-State Dance Ensemble, Manhattan High School of the Liberal Arts, Pennsylvania State at Abington, the Buffalo State Dance Theater Company, Lawrence Public Schools, and more.
WHAT IS RACHEL:dancers?
RACHEL:dancers is a multi-medium, multi-modal, multi-sensory performance company making dance about the little things. RACHEL:dancers is committed to advancing a disability aesthetic in concert dance, and exploring ways to cultivate access for visually impaired audiences and artists through an access-based creative process.
A RACHEL:dancers work is a warm hug, a compliment from a stranger, a hot cup of coffee on a chilly morning. The works are inspired by the things that make us human: intimacy and points-of-connection. Works are created through a collaborative process with a rotating group of multi-disciplinary artists. Some recurring collaborators include Enya-Kalia Jordan, Lindsey Garnhart, Mijkalena Smith, and Christian Bleach. Please, click on their individual names to learn more about them!
I make dance about life through my eye. As a visually-impaired choreographer, designer, and movement artist, I create work that speaks to the ever-evolving human experience through my perspective as a disabled woman. I create through collaborative, intuitive, processes centered on play, and with artists from a variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, as well as dis/abilities. This process grounds itself in ideas of discovery of self, surroundings, and the world at large. My work takes a microscope to the mundane as a means to uncover the extraordinary through investigation of universal themes. Through this process, I call on improvisation and imagination to celebrate the ordinary, the unusual, and everything in between. I peer through the cracks of “difference” to explore the connections of collective experience. What connects us? What disconnects us? What do we know, and how do we know it? What does it mean to be human? And, where do we meet?
As a choreographer, scholar, and dance artist, I believe in student-centered, inquiry-based, and culturally-responsive educational practices which speak to students’ evolving experiences as young artists. I engage diverse populations of students through a process based in collaboration and play. As an educator, I invite students into this process by calling on their personal perspectives to generate classwork and educational objectives that are both far-reaching and practical, while meeting institutional goals and upholding academic standards. I aim to instill a sense of curiosity in my students, inviting them to explore their personal movement possibilities, as well as the histories of those who came before them, through Contemporary dance practices centered in a Disability Aesthetic. I believe in building equity into the roots of my pedagogical practice, disrupting traditional power dynamics to foster a true sense of community through which to learn.
As an educator, I believe in a democratic pedagogical approach which aims to dismantle racism and ableism in the dance classroom. It is my role as a teacher to facilitate student experiences which push them to achieve their goals through health-based and community-oriented methods. I believe in a somatic approach which pairs in-studio movement explorations with lessons in history, multi-modal approaches, and interdisciplinary collaboration. This student-centered approach underpins any class I teach, whether it be an undergraduate Contemporary technique course, a graduate level practicum course, creative movement with toddlers, or teaching non-dancers about simple somatic practices to improve their daily lives. I believe in practicing respect and transparency within the classroom, ensuring that the needs of all students are met on a continuous basis. I encourage students to seek out new opportunities both in and out of the classroom, as well as use their current resources to continue their growth as artists on their own. I believe that each student has their own unique artistic voice and path, and it is my role as an educator to guide them and facilitate their growth.
My student-centered approach to teaching extends beyond the day-to-day interactions with students, and into the evaluation and assessment process. At the beginning of any course, I spark group discussions with students to learn more about their own personal goals, and how they can be met using the course objectives. At the beginning of each class, students are asked to set an intention for the day, focusing on their personal goals and the overall goals of the class. To document these intentions and goals, I often ask students to journal their in-class experiences and discoveries. This is used as a tool to keep students focused and present throughout the learning experience, and as a way to reflect on their achievements throughout the course.
As a teacher, I strive to continue to grow as an artist and educator. I continuously learn from my students and co-faculty, as well as with individuals in my community. To be the best educator I can be, I maintain my own dance and movement practice and seek additional opportunities to hone my craft. I look to available resources and colleagues for guidance and advice when needed. Teaching is a core focus of both my research and interests as an artist. Through teaching, I am able to make connections with unique micro-communities of students and other artists. I believe that teaching is what connects me to the future, past, and present.
ABOUT “ALL YOU CAN EAT!”
ALL YOU CAN EAT! is an ongoing interdisciplinary process-based project which explores global mealtime traditions and their relationship to community and the individual. This work pulls from several reemerging ideas: mealtimes and eating, gesture, repeated routines, ephemerality, intimacy, and community/relationship building. Through these themes we investigate how mealtimes relate to individuality within a community. AYCE! uses dance as a foundation to reflect on how these relationships and routines are both impermanent and perpetual. Together, we explore how mealtime rituals and relationships are essential to the human condition, both as an act of survival and intimate shared experience. ALL YOU CAN EAT! was originally conceived as a choreographic inquiry of interpersonal relationships and their connections to routine. Ultimately, these connections were developed through investigations in American Sign Language, everyday aesthetics, and the disability aesthetic. This project has taken many forms including live concert dance performance, dance film, and multidisciplinary live performance. Each iteration of this project changes, as it is collaborative in nature and is built from the participants own lived experiences.