Movement, Dance, Life

An interview with JMU dance professor Kate Trammell
By Jessica Lewis ('08)

Kate Trammell is founding artistic director of the Virginia Repertory Dance Company.

Kate Trammell is founding artistic director of the Virginia Repertory Dance Company.

MadisonOnline: How do you use your experiences dancing and teaching abroad in your classes at JMU?

Trammell: Whenever I perform or teach abroad, it places my work here at JMU in a new perspective. I remember, for example, teaching improvisation in Krakow, Poland, to dancers who were so hungry for new experience that they were willing to try anything, to the point that it was almost scary how much power they gave to us as foreign teachers. This definitely gave those us teaching things to think about regarding risk-taking, the setting of personal artistic limits, the politics of the guest artist/resident artist relationship and so forth.

When I taught creative movement to children in Chinese orphanages last summer, it was a transforming experience, an opportunity to see in action the reality that every child comes into the world with a birthright of creativity that cannot be taken away. The children we taught had grown up in the orphanage, most of them since they were just days old. They are the least valued citizens of some of the poorest cities in some of the poorest provinces of one of the most challenged nations on earth. They had never seen dance as a performance art, never been in a theatre, and probably never danced in a social or family setting. They had had no dance lessons, very little music in their lives, either recorded or live, no poetry, no formal “art experiences” of any kind. And yet when given the opportunity, they danced. They were born with everything they need to transmit life energy through movement. Without any external support whatsoever, the creative impulse somehow survived.

This taught me that nothing can take that away from us — no poverty, no abandonment, deprivation, or disability. Creativity is, quite literally, our birthright. Naturally, this very vivid experience changed the way I teach and the way I approach performance.

MadisonOnline: As director of the Virginia Repertory Dance Company, what do you hope to accomplish for the company in the future?

Trammell: We’re currently working on a Washington, D.C., showcase for the company for next spring. The idea is to introduce an annual performance in a professional venue in the D.C. metro area. We have lots of alumni there who are working professionally. Since that area is often the place our graduates begin their post-university careers, it makes sense to develop an event that introduces them to that particular dance scene.

MadisonOnline: How do you feel dance enriches everyday life?

Trammell: I am convinced that all of us are constantly dancing throughout our lives. The infant wiggling with excitement at the mastery of her first successful rolling over, the schoolchild using movement to find an entrance into challenging academic material, the elder creating a gestural “hand-dance” that tells important life stories. I have witnessed amazing dances from people in all stages of life, dances that communicate deeply about the experience of being human.

MadisonOnline: What’s the most enthralling part of performing?

Trammell: When you perform, it is sort of like plugging into some indefinable power source, I think this is why so often people describe an “electricity” when they talk about the performance experience. There is definitely a sense of a heightened reality, a space shared by performer and audience in which the molecules are somehow rearranged, reconfigured — something changes in the very air. There is a hush inside your body, a sort of “listening” quality, a sharpened awareness. I suspect if brain research was conducted on persons in the act of performance, very interesting stuff would be revealed regarding the chemistry of that state of being.

MadisonOnline: What advice do you give to students considering a major and career in dance?

Trammell: Treasure this subject matter as an area of investigation with transformative power. Respect and honor what you can bring to this profession as well as what it can bring to your life.

MadisonOnline: What has drawn you to the James Madison University dance program?

Trammell: My colleagues are consummate collaborators with priorities securely grounded in a love of the art form and a commitment to student growth. It is a team I am proud to be part of.

Editor's Note: JMU professor of dance and composition, Kate Trammell, has performed and taught throughout the United States and in China, Denmark, England, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Portugal with thompson & trammell dance company, ZeroMoving Dance Company, and as an independent teacher/performer. She is founding artistic director of the Virginia Repertory Dance Company.

About the author
Jessica Lewis ('08) interned for JMU's "Be the Change" communications campaign and is now a writer.