For those who love to dance, wish they could dance, or enjoy watching dance, there is a new face on campus that can assist with all three. Charlotte Griffin has joined Bowdoin's faculty as an assistant professor of dance.
The Department of Theater and Dance began looking for a new instructor last year to replace June Vail, who will retire this year after 40 years of teaching at Bowdoin. The hiring committee chose three candidates out of almost 90 applicants to come to Bowdoin and teach a sample class. Griffin's live choreography and professional work stood out.
"After reading her master's thesis and speaking to her in person, we were confident that Charlotte was a gifted artist who could also meet the intellectual demands of the Bowdoin community," said Chair of the Department of Theater and Dance Roger Bechtel.
Griffin's path to dance mastery began when she was accepted into the Early Admissions program at the Julliard School, where she received her BFA. Before Julliard, she had not formally studied modern dance or ballet. As her dance training progressed, she was introduced to the art of choreography.
"I was fortunate to be encouraged to choreograph when I was a student," said Griffin. "I was given a lot of opportunities to create work and to have that work performed."
Thanks to the encouragement of her mentor, Director of the Julliard School Dr. Benjamin Harkarvy, Griffin continued to choreograph for different ensembles at Julliard. Griffin worked simultaneously as a freelance dancer and choreographer, a new trend in the dance world at the time.
"In the past, your goal was to dance for a company and have a 52-week contract," said Griffin. "Today, there are whole generations of professional dancers that prefer contract-to-contract style. Artists are being really smart about sharing the cost of space and sharing dancers."
Griffin began her teaching career at Marymount Manhattan College, where she taught a dance composition class.
"It was a wonderfully nourishing loop," said Griffin. "Engaging with my students in that way and encouraging their sensibilities really fed into my own professional work."
After working at Marymount for a few years, Griffin traveled overseas to Barcelona, where she served as a guest artist at the Institut del Teatre. Her next destination was the University of Texas-Austin, where she received her MFA in dance. While at UT-Austin she taught ballet, modern and improvisation.
Her time at UT- Austin allowed Griffin to explore her burgeoning interest in choreo-cinematic form by making short dance films.
"The genre of 'screen dance' or 'dance for the camera' is blossoming right now," said Griffin. "Making choreography specifically for film and digital media is a great way to inexpensively reach a larger audience."
Griffin brought her passion for screen dance to Bowdoin. At the Bowdoin Dance Festival this upcoming spring, she will be curating an evening of selected screen dance films from around the world.
Since the Dance Festival is still months away, Griffin's current focus is on the two classes she is teaching this fall: Intermediate Ballet and Making Dances. This is the first time Bowdoin has offered a ballet class, but the College has decidingly embraced the move by providing a live pianist.
"With his [pianist] presence we have a really wonderful opportunity to connect to the musicality of the art form," said Griffin.
Bowdoin students have responded positively to the College's new course offering.
"I think the class adds a necessary element of diversity to the dance department," said Sarah Loeb '11. "Charlotte is very knowledgeable and a great resource for dancers on campus."
Griffin's other class, Making Dances, is open to all levels of dancers and introduces the art of choreography.
"It's about movement invention and the analysis of movement through time and in space," said Griffin. "I want my students to rely on the body and the mind as an instrument and delve into the process of self-discovery."
Griffin's teachings are relevant to everyone from beginners to seasoned dancers.
"She's helping me to deconstruct my formal training and just start from the basics of walking, running, skipping and building phrases," said Rakiya Orange '11. "I think it's making me a better dancer and a better choreographer."
Feedback like that is what Griffin strives for as a teacher.
"I want my students to discover the joy of learning through movement," said Griffin. "You immediately take material in and output it through performance, drawing on your skills with kinesthetic awareness, rhythmic awareness and musical sensitivity."
While she is especially partial to the polar bear statue, Griffin has already embraced the entire Bowdoin community.
"I appreciate that there's a sense of readiness from students, faculty and staff," said Griffin. "I feel people are open-minded and warm-hearted."
Griffin plans to continue exploring her new home in Maine through outside choreography projects.
Students with little dance experience should not be afraid to take a class with Griffin, who uses dance to convey core principles of sucess.
"Students who study dance learn about discipline and persistence and the importance of committed practice," said Griffin. "Commitment is the road to improvement and success, and that applies to anything you're studying."