Jessica Berson has been teaching credit courses in dance at Harvard since Fall 2009, when she created a new Freshman Seminar in dance. This year, she is teaching two credit courses through the Committee on Dramatic Arts, in addition to her Freshman Seminar. She will also re-stage one of her choreographic works for Dancers' Viewpointe 11 this spring.
When did you first get interested in dance?
I started dancing when I was six, at the Harlem Dance Studio in NYC. For some reason my first class was mixed ages, so my first memory is being at the barre, eye-level with the knees of the girl in front of me, watching her plié and being mystified as to how she did it. I was totally intimidated and ready to quit after that first class, but I kept at it and ended up dancing there until I went to college.
In college (at Haverford, though the dance program was at Bryn Mawr) I designed an independent dance major and had to think about how dance fits into a liberal arts education and connects to other disciplines and the world at large. It sounds terribly nerdy, but that's become the focus of my career. I don't think of dance as separate from the other things I'm passionate about-- the arts, education, social justice.
That's the best advice I can offer to students: there doesn't have to be a conflict between being an artist and being an active, engaged, even (gasp) intellectual member of society, even though there are a lot of people out there telling you that there is.
What is your craziest dance-related memory?
I have a few: missing an entrance in a performance as a teenager because I had stuck my feet in the armhole of my shiny spandex unitard during a sixteen-count backstage change (it was the '80s, the unitard was not my idea!); being in an experimental site-specific piece in Seattle where I had to give a lecture about Copernicus while dancing an impossibly fast turning phrase; shouting into a bullhorn and reprimanding an annoying professor in grad school as part of a performance art piece directed by Tim Miller.
What attracted you to Harvard, and what have you enjoyed most about Harvard so far?
I'm excited to be at Harvard because it seems like this is such a rich moment for the arts here-- everyone is really invested in discovering how the arts can enliven and deepen their academic work and vice-versa. It's going to be a fantastic year.