Faculty Spotlight: Erin Strong

“Dance is not something I just do. It is a part of who I am,” said Erin Strong, Head of the Department of Theatre and Dance. Strong performed with the Ellen Sinopoli and Deborah Damast companies and has studied dance with Mark Morris, Trisha Brown and Limon; she currently teaches and choreographs at Phillips Academy. Strong first felt the urge to dance when she was just two years old because of the 80’s television show Sha Na Na. Strong sensed a tingle in her toes and rhythm in her bones whenever she heard the melody of “Goodnight Sweetheart” on the show and would make her family do a kick-line to the song. Strong said, “When I was three or four my mother signed me up for formal dance classes. But I really attribute it to Sha Na Na [and] dancing in the living room [for] starting the bug. “ Strong tried several different styles of dance including modern, ballet, jazz, ballroom, tap, and hip-hop. Her favorite dance styles are ballet and modern. Strong said, “I love teaching ballet technique, but I love performing modern dance. I am very drawn to… the expression and creativity.” Strong went on to pursue a major in dance at Skidmore College before earning a graduate degree in dance education from New York University and finally coming to Phillips Academy. Her career in dance education came unexpectedly, since she did not initially consider combining her two loves: dancing and teaching. “Growing up, my childhood dream was to be a professional dancer and to dance on the moon. I was always torn; did I want to be a professional dancer or an astronaut?” said Strong with a smile. While she never pursued astronomy, Strong still kept her options open, telling people that she wanted be “a professional dancer or something else.” Her ideas included being a journalist and a history or social science teacher. Only later, while she was helping manage an outreach program of the Mark Morris Dance Group, did Strong begin to consider dance education. She was at a workshop at a performing arts high school when a member of the Mark Morris Company suddenly invited her to help teach the class. “The teacher said, ‘Erin, what’re you going to do, sit there? No, you’re going to come up here and be my co-teacher.’” Strong said, “And it suddenly clicked. Oh my gosh! I don’t want to be [organizing] dance, I actually want to be doing it.” Strong says she loves teaching dance because she is “able to guide students to make the material [on] their own, so they can present something refreshing and new.” She said, “I try to push my dancers to go beyond just technique and analyze their movement so they gain a deeper awareness of their body and what they can convey through motion.” Strong has been influence by many dance teachers and choreographers. One teacher in particular is Luigi, a dance instructor in New York. “His love for not just dancing, but life, and the joy he finds in dancing is so contagious,” said Strong. She continued, “The way [Luigi] teaches really empowers you and makes you realize why it is that you love dance.” Strong was also influenced by the work of the José Limón Company. She said she was drawn to the way the company conveys ideas of the human spirit through dance. She was particularly struck by the use of breath to dictate movement. Strong said, “[Limón technique] also [has] a concept of fall, rebound and recovery. Metaphorically speaking, this is looking at life and the human spirit’s ability to rebound and representing that in a physical way.” Currently, Strong is a part of Deadfall Dance, a company founded by another Phillips Academy dance teacher, Judith Wombwell. Now in her fifth year teaching at PA, Strong said, “What appeals to me is that [Andover] is not a performing arts school. So, when I teach here, I’m looking at how dance fits in to the big picture and our everyday lives.”