Sharon E. Friedler
This digital story is reflective of my initial experiences in Ghana
where I continue to do research and teaching.
Sharon E. Friedler is Director of the Dance Program and former Stephen Lang Professor of the Performing Arts (2005-2010). Her areas of interest include dance composition, history and theory of dance (with special interests in cross-cultural study, gender, and dance as a social change agent), modern dance technique, and traditional and contemporary dances of Ghana. She is also the Faculty Advisor for Off Campus study.
All of the dance work I'm engaged with seeks to foster peace.
I dance and teach, choreograph, and write about dance in part because dance is a direct and yet complex way of communicating and developing meaningful conversations between diverse individuals and communities. My path has allowed me to research and practice ways to apply dance as a tool for communication in many arenas: educational, political, religious and social. The identifying markers we each carry which are often sources of both convergence and conflict between individuals and groups (age, gender, race, class, religious beliefs, profession, and place of origin among them), can be put into different perspectives when we are dancing or viewing the dances of others. It is not that the markers fall away when we dance, but that, engaged in dancing, we grasp them differently.
At Swarthmore my courses currently include dance composition, various history and theory offerings (especially courses on Africa, Gender, Identity, and Dance on Film), Modern Dance, Dance and Drum Ensemble, and, a seminar focused on the arts and social change that is cross-listed with other arts discipline.
As someone who dances her life, I welcome the conversations about self and community(ies) that arise from such engagement.
Several of my earliest memories have to do with being lifted, tossed, or carried by an adult and also with my own running, rolling in the grass, and spinning until I fell down and watched the world "dance " around me. My earliest dance training began at age five in Tap, a form in which the sounds took precedence over any specified body image. The myriad possibilities for improvisation in rhythm and for dancing in an ensemble were both nurturing for me. Ballet training and lots of social dance participation in middle and high school helped me expand my dance vocabularies and, when I studied modern dance with more focus in undergraduate school, I fell in love with the expressivity it offered.
Shortly after graduation from Colby College, where I received my undergraduate education, the varied threads in my art-focused practices (dance, music, and visual art) began to mesh into a desire to make dances and to perform. I danced in a contemporary dance company in Canada while studying dance education at the University of Alberta. Next, I attended graduate school and received an MFA in Dance from Southern Methodist University. Along the way, in addition to my modern training (in Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, and Merce Cunningham techniques) I continued to Tap and began to encounter additional dance styles: training in Jazz, various West African traditions, Flamenco, and, briefly, in Bharata Natyam.
My investigation of my own dancing and that of others deepened and broadened my appreciation for individuality, cultural constructions, stylistic "norms" and "assumptions" and for deviance. In Canada and afterward, I developed a passion for teaching dance that subsequently led me to join the faculties at the Universities of Missouri and Minnesota, Stephens College, the University of Ghana, and, most significantly, here at Swarthmore College where I have been Director of the Dance Program since 1985.
Now, I continue to study Ballet, Ghanaian dances, and Yoga regularly and other styles as time allows. My experiences in Ghana and elsewhere have been pivotal in helping me embrace ever-wider perceptions concerning imaginative, competent, and beautiful dancing, choreographic practices, and histories. Generally, when asked what my "home" tradition is, I say that I happily keep my feet in several worlds. All of the migration among styles has helped develop my physical and intellectual flexibility, strength, and competence. These skills ground me while I am dancing and teaching as well as at all other times. For all of this, I am deeply grateful.
My written research has three principal centers: dance and gender, traditional and contemporary dances of Ghana, and dance education/curricular development. I have co-edited a book on dance and gender (Dancing Female: Lives and Issues of Women in Contemporary Dance, 1997, Taylor/Francis/Harwood) and am beginning interviews for a second edition. My focus on Ghana takes me to that country regularly. I have been fortunate to be a visiting faculty member at the University of Ghana in the Dance Department, and have written articles and directed symposia and festivals on dance in Africa and the African Diaspora and on Yoga philosophy and practice. My interest in dance curriculum can be seen in the global dance focus and the intersection of theory, history, and practice within the design of the Swarthmore College dance program, which it has been my joy to be instrumental in building since 1985.
Additionally, I maintain an interest in building secondary school dance curricula and in providing workshops for secondary school teachers. Since 1999, I've had the opportunity to do this work through my association with the International Baccalaureate Organization for which I helped write a dance curriculum and currently serve as chief dance examiner and a lead workshop facilitator.
Choreographically and as a performer, I've been involved with a wide variety of dance styles and venues over the course of my career. They range from contemporary site specific and concert dance, to Ghanaian traditional, neo-traditional, and contemporary dances, Ballet and Musical Theater and also dances with intergenerational populations. In all cases, my greatest interest is in collaborating with other artists and with communities to create art that approaches the challenges and opportunities we all face by acknowledging our vulnerabilities, resilience, and need to find beauty.
A Selection of Service work to the field and community:
- Chief examiner for Dance for International Baccalaureate Organization - wrote the dance curriculum for this organization (which serves 2900 schools around the world) along with a small group of colleagues. For more information on IBO, go to: www.ibo.org
- Current board member for SSLA (Siena School for the Liberal Arts, Siena, Italy) HECUA (Higher Education consortium for Urban Affairs), and The Swedish Program
- Past Board member for CORD (Congress on Research in Dance), ADG (American Dance Guild), and TOVA (an arts organization committed to creating and performing artistic projects that speak to issues of social change)
- Regular reviewer for CHOICE (1985-present)
- External faculty reviewer for dance programs and individual faculty at colleges and universities in the U.S.A. (1991-present)
- Panelist for various arts councils and granting organizations (1980-present)
- Faculty member for the Annual International Contemporary Dance Conference and Performance Festival, sponsored by Silesian Dance Theatre, Bytom, Poland (2000-2006)
Please see Professor Friedler's Swarthmore College Faculty Bibliography for recent links to articles and books.